8 Animal Ingredients Common In Natural Beauty Products

4 Mins Read

What’s in your natural beauty products? There may be hidden animal ingredients.

Contrary to popular belief, not all natural beauty products are vegan-friendly. Just because they don’t contain synthetics doesn’t mean they don’t use animal-derived ingredients, which is considered “natural”. Here are some ingredients that are commonly found in everything from make-up to facial creams that are actually derived from animal sources and are not suitable for vegans. 

1. Squalene

Squalene is often used in skincare products due to its anti-aging properties, but it’s often harvested from the livers of sharks. The name itself originates from the Squalidae family of sharks, where the compound was first discovered and extracted from. It is now commonly used in lip balms, tanning oils, creams and moisturisers. Some brands do use vegan squalane (with an a, not an e), which is made from plant-based ingredients like olives and wheat germ. 

Read more about the beauty industry’s use of squalene here

Image: Wikimedia Commons

2. Carmine

Carmine, a red colourant, is commonly found in blush, nail varnish and lipsticks in the cosmetics industry. It’s also widely used as a dye in the food industry, colouring everything from sweets and baked goods to seasonings and jams. It comes from cochineal insects, which are crushed to extract their crimson colour to make this dye. On ingredient lists, carmine can also be hidden under the names natural red 4, E120 and CI 75470. 

3. Guanine

Guanine is derived from the scales of fish and is used for its shiny, shimmery qualities. The crystalline compound made from crushed fish scales is mostly used in nail varnishes, lipsticks, eyeshadows, highlighters, bronzers and some mascaras too. 

4. Honey

Contrary to popular belief, vegan beauty products should not contain honey. Honey comes from bees, which makes it an animal-derived ingredient and not animal or cruelty-free. This byproduct of nature’s pollinators are often used in body balms, scrubs, lotions and creams. 

Read more about why honey isn’t vegan here

5. Lanolin

Lanolin comes from sheep’s wool and acts as an emollient in beauty products, meaning it softens and soothes the skin. Lanolin is most often found in lip balms and glosses, hair products like conditioners and face and body creams or moisturisers. There are some plant-based lanolin alternatives, which brands will specify if they are derived from plant fats such as olive oil, coconut oil or shea butter. 

6. Shellac

Shellac is an amber coloured resin that is made from the tiny scale insect called the lac. Because of its thermoplastic qualities and glossy appearance, shellac is used in nail varnish and hair lacquers. 

7. Glycerine

Glycerine is used as a moisturising agent and is found in a wide range of beauty products, but most commonly in soaps. While there are plant-based glycerine, which will be specified on the ingredient list as coming from vegetable origins like soya, coconut oil or palm oil, many are derived from animal fats. 

8. Collagen

Collagen is prized for its anti-aging properties, so is widely used in beauty products that are aimed at improving the skin’s elasticity or reducing the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. The fibrous protein comes from the tissues and bones of animals, as well as animal skins, ligaments and tendons. Most of the collagen used in the industry comes from beef or fish. 

All images courtesy of Unsplash, unless otherwise credited.


  • Sally Ho

    Sally Ho is Green Queen's former resident writer and lead reporter. Passionate about the environment, social issues and health, she is always looking into the latest climate stories in Hong Kong and beyond. A long-time vegan, she also hopes to promote healthy and plant-based lifestyle choices in Asia. Sally has a background in Politics and International Relations from her studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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