Decoding your beauty shelf: Vegan and cruelty-free labels explained

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1 January 1970

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Walk down any beauty isle and you’ll see both skincare and make-up products labelled with the words ‘Vegan’ and ‘Cruelty-free’. But what do these really mean? We break down below.


Although unregulated, declaring a brand as cruelty-free should theoretically mean the company does no animal testing at any stage during production, under any circumstances. This means their finished products or ingredients aren’t tested on animals, by them or any third parties, and also means they don’t purchase raw materials from suppliers who test on animals. The quickest and easiest way to tell if a product is cruelty-free is to look for a bunny logo on the packaging. There are also some fantastic online resources that provide comprehensive, up-to-date lists of cruelty-free brands, such as PETA’S Beauty Without Bunnies website and the NZ-based SAFEshopper app.


The veganism movement has expanded from the diet world into the lifestyle realm and is now a key trend in beauty. To qualify as vegan-friendly, a product must not contain any animal products, by-products, or any other animal-derived products, like beeswax and mānuka honey. Vegan doesn’t always mean natural or organic, because while some vegan ingredients are plant-based, they can also be synthetic. Products should state that they’re vegan or vegan friendly, but below is a list of just a few animal-derived ingredients to look out for.

Beeswax: A natural wax secreted by bees to build their honeycombs. It’s used in cosmetics as an emollient and emulsifier.

Lanolin: This waxy substance is found naturally on sheep’s wool, and it’s often used in hair and skin moisturisers.

Carmine: Derived from crushed female cochineal scale insects, this red dye is used as pigment in make-up.

Collagen: This protein, often sourced from cows and fish, is used in many beauty products and supplements.

Guanine: Created from scales and skin of fish, it makes a pearlescent powder that’s used in cosmetics.

Shellac: This resin is excreted from lac insects and collected from the branches they live on. It’s used in nail lacquers and polishes.

Squalene: Extracted from shark liver oil, this can be found in face oils, cleansers and body products, although many companies are now using plant-derived squalene.

Keratin: Obtained from ground horns, hooves, claws, nails, hair and scales of animals, this is used as a hair and skin conditioner in cosmetics.

Want to start moving away from products that are tested on animals – or contain animal by-products? Look no further. We spotlight nine cruelty-free and/or vegan skincare superstars we’re loving here.

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