7 Animal-Derived Cosmetic Ingredients You Might Not Have Heard About

Cosmetics are a part of most people’s everyday lives. And yet, if you’re like me, you probably do not spend too much time thinking about how it’s made.

Well, if you’re like me a few months ago.

I honestly never used to read the ingredient list on my cosmetic products. If the label on a shampoo said “For shiny and strong looking hair”, it was good enough for me.

But all that changed when I became  a vegan. If only I had known what kind of junk I was using every single day!

And I’m not even talking just about animal-derived ingredients but also all the harsh chemicals that are supposed to “nourish your skin”.

So to make myself better educated I started doing some research. And here I am, sharing my knowledge about some of the most commonly used animal-derived ingredients in cosmetic products.

My hope is that the next time you purchase cosmetics, you will at least know if the products contain animal fat or crushed insects and can decide for yourself if you want that.


Does it have other names? Carminic acid, cochineal, crimson lake, natural red 4, C.I. 75470, E120.

Why is it used? It provides a red color.

Where is it used? Carmine is commonly used, so almost any product that’s colored can contain it – lipstick, eyeshadow, eyeliner, blush, foundation, or even shampoo, conditioner or nail polish.

Are there any alternatives? Some natural alternatives exist such as beets, turmeric, saffron, annatto, alkanet or fruit pigments, but synthetic dyes are also available.

Carmine is a bright-red pigment that is derived from scale insects, most commonly the cochineal. These insects like to hang out in cactus farms in South and Central America where they feed on the plants. Red dye is made by drying and crushing the insects, and eventually, adding some aluminum salts for a more intense pigment. Ironically, insects produce carminic acids in order to protect themselves from other predator insects.

Carmine is used for imparting color to various beauty and personal care products, also food. Although it provides a nice red color, around 70,000 creatures are killed to produce only one pound of dye.


Does it have other names? Ossein, osseine, gelatine.

Why is it used? It restores moisture to skin and hair.

Where is it used? It’s mostly used in hair care and skin care products, although it can also be found in other decorative cosmetics.

Are there any alternatives? Almond oil, amla oil, avocado oil, olive oil, soy protein and etc.

Collagen is a protein derived from bones, skin and connective tissues of animals such as cattle, horses, pigs, rabbits, or fish. It is often stated that collagen has anti-aging qualities because of its firming effect on the skin, but in reality, it mostly acts as a moisturizer.

Collagen is an important protein in the human body which helps to keep our joints and tendons strong and gives our skin elasticity. However, that doesn’t mean that using collagen derived from animals has any positive impact on our health. Firstly, it has not been proven that applying products containing collagen to human skin results in any significant “anti-aging” effect. Secondly, you can keep your collagen levels high by eating a healthy diet which includes plenty of fruits and vegetables that contain vitamin C.


Does it have any other names? CI 75170, natural pearl essence.

Why is it used? It gives a shimmering effect.

Where is it used? It’s often used in nail polish and shampoo, as well as blush, highlighter, lip gloss, eyeshadow and other shimmery cosmetics.

Are there any alternatives? Aluminum or bronze particles, faux pearls, leguminous plants, mica minerals.

Guanine is a crystalline substance obtained from various fish including herring, menhaden, and sardine. It helps the fish to camouflage and to protect themselves from predators by making their skin super reflective and shiny. To make guanine for cosmetic use, scales of the dead fish are scraped-off and processed in alcohol until “pearl essence” is created.

In cosmetics guanine acts the same as on the fish – it gives a shimmering, pearly effect. It can also be used as a colorant by imparting a white color to a product, for example, in skin lightening cream. Still, there are plenty of alternatives providing the same effect.


Does it have other names? Sometimes it can be called hydrolysate proteins, hydrolysates or just proteins, although it can be plant-derived too. The only way to be certain is by contacting the manufacturer.

Why is it used? It replenishes skin, hair, and nails.

Where is it used? Mostly in hair care products such as shampoos, conditioners, and other hair treatments, also in nail care products.

Are there any alternatives? Various plant-derived ingredients including amla oil, almond oil, aloe vera, rosemary, soy protein and etc.

Keratin is a protein found in mammals. For cosmetic use, it is derived from the horns, nails, claws, hooves, and hair of animals. Products containing keratin are promised to treat and restore dry hair and weak nails by filling in the damaged surface. Although it provides a stronger and healthier appearance, it is not a permanent fix – eventually, the effect will wash out.

Keratin is another important protein in the human body – it’s a building block of hair, skin, and nails. In order to keep hair and nails strong, you don’t have to apply keratin products – a balanced diet is way more effective. Eating foods rich in proteins and biotin as well as having plenty of fresh vegetables and fruits not only keeps keratin levels high but also can boost its production when needed.

Don’t forget the significance of using natural cosmetics in the first place – healthy ingredients repair hair and nails without doing any damage.


Does it have other names? Laneth, lanogene, lanichol, laniol, lanosterol, isopropyl lanolate, wool fat, wool wax, wool grease.

Why is it used? It makes the skin smooth.

Where is it used? Lanolin is commonly used in skin care products and can also be found in decorative cosmetics including eyeliner, foundation, lipstick and etc.

Are there any alternatives? Various plant-derived ingredients such as coconut oil, olive oil, shea butter and others.

Lanolin is a fat found in sheep’s wool which helps to protect their body from the cold and rain. A thick and greasy substance is extracted from the sheared wool and then prepared to be used for cosmetics. Lanolin is an effective moisturizing ingredient for someone with extremely dry skin – it keeps all the moisture in the skin and makes it soft. However, a plant-derived fat such as coconut oil can be just as effective as lanolin.

It may seem that lanolin is a cruelty-free ingredient, yet it is not. The fat is usually a by-product of meat manufacturing where sheep are slaughtered. And even if the lanolin comes from the wool industry, the procedure of sheep shearing is often cruel and abusive, with many animals getting injured.


Does it have other names? Placental proteins.

Why is it used? For its conditioning qualities.

Where is it used? Hair care and skin care products, such as creams, conditioners, masks, shampoos etc.

Are there any alternatives? There are plenty of natural alternatives such as kelp, wheat or plant-based oils.

The placenta is an organ in mammals that develops during a pregnancy. It keeps the growing baby safe by providing nutrients and oxygen, not to mention its other complex functions. The high nutrient value of the placenta makes it a desired ingredient in cosmetics – it’s full of minerals, proteins, vitamins, but also hormones. Some studies suggest that products containing estrogen might be harmful and even increase the risk of breast cancer.

For cosmetics, placenta extracts are derived from animals such as cows, pigs, and, most commonly, sheep. It might seem that the extraction of the placenta is cruelty-free – it naturally develops and is useless after a baby is born. However, most often placenta is a product of forced pregnancies of animals who are caged and abused all their lives.


Does it have any other names? Sodium tallowate. Oleic, palmitic, stearic, myristic and linoleic acids can be derivatives.

Why is it used? It is an emollient.

Where is it used? It is found in personal care products as well as cosmetics including soaps, shampoos, deodorants, lipsticks, eye makeup etc.

Are there any alternatives? Plant-based ingredients such as cocoa butter, coconut oil, shea butter, and soybean oil.

Tallow is a fat obtained from fatty tissues of animals such as cattle and sheep. The production of tallow starts with the extraction of suet – a hard fat found around the loins and kidneys – from an animal carcass. Then the suet is boiled and all the impurities are removed. The final product is tallow – a thick fatty substance which is used in cosmetics as well as other industries.

Tallow is most often used as a conditioning ingredient – it locks in the moisture and forms a protective layer making the skin or hair soft and smooth. Many plant oils have the same effect, yet tallow is often the ingredient that’s used because it’s a cheaper alternative.

Is that it?

I‘ve mentioned only seven of the most commonly found animal derived ingredients in cosmetics, however, there are many more in everyday products.

Some of them are clearly stated in the list of ingredients but you can never be completely sure about the origin of others. For example, after finding lactic acids listed in the description, you might assume that it comes from milk, yet it may be plant derived. The same goes for numerous other ingredients as well.

Basically, there are two options for finding out what exactly are you using:

  1. Google it! The internet is full of information about specific ingredients and products or policies of a particular brand.
  2. Contact the manufacturer. Probably the best way to be certain, however, it might take a while until you get a response if you get one at all.

All in all, there are hundreds of brands which sell vegan cosmetics, so nowadays it’s easier than ever to find cosmetic products you truly like that are not only cruelty-free but also natural. It requires a tiny bit of time and research but finding a friendly solution for you and other living beings is well worth it. 🙂

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