The surprising skincare ingredients that aren't vegan – and what to switch to

You might have perfected your beauty routine to find products that work perfectly for your skin.

But do you know where the hardworking ingredients in your fave serums and creams actually come from?

Skin-perfecting heroes retinol, hyaluronic acid and collagen are all frequently made using animal products including shark guts, fish bits and even cockerels’ combs.

If you’re as shocked as us that retinol isn’t vegan, then read on to discover the animal-free alternatives to popular skincare ingredients.

Retinol

Retinol, as you’ve traditionally known it, is usually derived from animal sources such as beef, chicken liver and fish.

The miracle of this vitamin A derivative is that it reduces the appearance of fine lines by encouraging your body to produce collagen (which naturally reduces as we age).

Swap it for: Bakuchiol, a plant-based retinol alternative gaining traction in skincare circles. It has vitamin A’s benefits without the side effects, redness or skin irritation.

Distilled from the seeds and leaves of the Indian babchi plant, bakuchiol has been used to treat skin conditions for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine.

Try: Peace & Pure Timeless Elixir Facial Serum (£69). This organic antioxidant-rich serum contains bakuchiol and blueberry and tomato carotenoids to boost skin elasticity, while lightening dark spots and discolouration.

Squalene

Squalene was originally extracted from shark liver, a process that the sharks don’t survive, and is commonly found in beauty products such as moisturisers.

Swap it for: Squalane, a plant-based super-moisturising solution derived from sugarcane, rice bran, olive oil and amaranth oil. It’s every bit as effective and helps reduce hydration loss. Use it on your face, body and even your hair.

Try: Biossance 100% Squalane Oil (£25).

Collagen

As we age, our body loses its ability to make collagen protein, so collagen supplements and collagen-infused beauty products help to stimulate collagen production and replace our reduced levels — it’s almost always animal-derived, usually bovine or marine collagen.

Swap it for: Soy protein, Amla oil or collagen boosters such as vitamin C. There are plenty of collagen stimulating ingredients, such as stabilised vitamin C, which can promote and stimulate your body’s own collagen production.

Try: Vitaskin Vitamin C Collagen Boosting Night Cream (£15).

Hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is a skin thirst-quencher, delivering a super-dose of hydration, but it was traditionally animal-derived, from sources such as cockerels’ combs.

Swap it for: Choose a vegetable derived or fermented hyaluronic acid. Plant-based beauty expert Jennifer Hirsch, aka The Beauty Botanist, explains: ‘The vegan alternatives come from microbial fermentation of vegetable material and work the same, promoting healthier and hydrated skin.’

Try: Q+A Hyaluronic acid serum (£6.50).

Lanolin

A brilliant balm for protecting chapped lips and dry skin — even cracked nipples when breast-feeding — lanolin is a natural beauty ingredient that comes from sheep’s wool (it keeps the fleece waterproof) and is found as a base in lots of beauty products.

Swap it for: A vegan alternative such as cupuacu butter or Covasterol. ‘These are natural alternatives rich in long chain fatty acids that act like an emollient, helping to rebalance sebum production,’ explains Hirsch.

Try: Ethique Saving Face Serum Bar (£25).

Lactic acid

In the beauty industry this is used as an exfoliant. It’s known for its antibacterial properties and for regulating the acidity of products — you’ll find it in many products. ‘Our bodies produce lactic acid but it can be created by fermenting dairy products or meat,’ says Hirsch.

Swap it for: Plant-derived alternatives from beets, plant milk or sugars. Vegan-friendly alternatives are produced by fermenting carbohydrates such as sucrose or glucose found in beets, corn and cane sugar and are just as effective.

Try: Ren Ready Steady Glow Daily AHA Tonic (£27).

VEGAN MAKE-UP HEROES

Milk Makeup Bionic Blush

Buy it for £19 from Cult Beauty

Flower Supernova Celestial Skin Elixir

Buy it for £8.49 from Superdrug

KVD Beauty Kitten Mini Everlasting Liquid Lipstick Mother

Buy it for £8.50 from Boots

Lid Lustre in Blonde

Buy it for £30 from Victoria Beckham Beauty

This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on purchases made through one of these links but this never influences our experts’ opinions. Products are tested and reviewed independently of commercial initiatives.

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