The beauty industry is full of buzzwords that are hard to define or verify. On social media, I see a lot of “natural” and “naturally-derived,” for starters. What exactly does that mean? There is no official definition. These buzzwords can range from vague - wildcrafted, clean, anti-aging - to trend-driven, like “glass hair” or “cloudless skin,” to broad categories of ingredients, like adaptogens and CBD.
While a lot of these terms are confusing and not clearly defined, one that is very easy to describe is vegan. It simply means “not containing or utilizing animal products.” So that should be the end of that, right? Well, sort of. This definition hasn’t stopped people from using the vegan label in potentially misleading ways all over the beauty world.
Lately I’ve noticed a trend on Instagram: people are equating the word “vegan” with “nontoxic” or “green” when it comes to beauty products and cosmetics. This is, of course, not the case. Stating that a skincare product is vegan is great information, but it does not inherently mean that that product is safer, cleaner, or greener than any other out there. After all, petroleum and cigarettes are vegan, and neither of those is something we want on or in our bodies. Vegan doesn’t equal safe, non-toxic, natural, organic, or green - you have to do a little more homework to know what’s going on your skin.
So how do we unravel this misconception that labeling a product “vegan” somehow identifies it as healthier? First, we will say that we completely respect and admire those who decide to stick to a vegan diet or a vegan skincare routine. But, for those of you who choose to use select, consciously-sourced animal products, there are some incredible, non-vegan products that are also wholesome and healthy.
Here are some of the most common ingredients green beauty companies and brands like ours will use that make some of their products not vegan:
- Milk or condensed/powdered milk
- Buttermilk powder
For example, we at Osmia see the value of certain animal-derived ingredients in a few of our products. While all of our products are always cruelty-free, we’ve found that honey, beeswax, certain milks, and lanolin can be incredibly beneficial for certain skin-types and conditions. We source these ingredients very carefully: we only use suppliers who treat the animals with kindness and respect, understand that without healthy bee communities the planet will suffer, and are transparent about their practices. We use a bunny logo on each product page of our website to show which items are ‘cruelty-free and vegan’ and which are just ‘cruelty-free’. It’s also indicated on every product’s packaging, and full ingredients lists are on the website and packaging as well. Whether your main concern is finding vegan products or making sure your products are non-toxic, learning to read labels should be your top priority— knowledge is power, right?
While we’re debunking terms used in the beauty industry, what is the preferred term for safe, healthy, conscious beauty brands like Osmia? How do we describe this beauty movement? I went straight to my favorite expert, Osmia founder, Dr. Sarah Villafranco, to get her take!
“I like green beauty. It’s positive, and there are not that many brands that are truly green. Clean beauty is often misused. And non-toxic isn’t quite accurate because even lavender is a toxin if taken in the wrong dose.”
The widely-accepted thinking in the industry is that “green” beauty identifies a brand’s consciousness in decision-making, around every aspect of the product, from packaging to sourcing to producing to marketing. Since there is no set governing body that labels products as being green or not green, and, of course, there are also shades of green, it’s ultimately up to the consumer to get educated and decide what is important to her/him when purchasing a product. In fact, finding brands you trust may be the most important step in your green beauty journey.
Now that we’ve got our terminology settled, here are some examples of products we love from a few fellow green beauty brands. We’ve picked one vegan and one non-vegan product from each line.
We LOVE this brand, and we’re not alone. Their vegan Nudist Multi-Use Color Duo gives you two great colors for brightening up your face and doing a little subtle contouring. They come in one cute package at a very affordable price. Their award-winning mascara is still green, but not vegan as it contains beeswax.
The Balance Shampoo and Conditioner are vegan hair care at its best. They smell amazing, leave your hair soft and shiny, and work effectively to treat most scalp conditions. And, while we adore Josh’s Vital Balm Cream, it’s not for vegans, because it contains nourishing honey!
HAN stands for Healthy And Natural, and the brand is both in spades. Their concealer is free of silicone and dimethicone and comes in five shades. It can be used to brighten the skin under your eyes or to cover spots and blemishes, all while soothing the skin with argan oil, shea butter, and Vitamin E. We also love HAN’s lip gloss, but it’s only vegetarian, not vegan, since it contains beeswax.
- Detox Exfoliating Mask contains honey, which serves to nourish the skin and counteract the potentially drying effect of charcoal powder in the mask.
- Serenity Milk Bath contains skim and buttermilk powders, which soften the skin with lactic acid and butter fat.
- Lip Doctor contains beeswax, which helps the product stay on your lips and provides a mild barrier function for moisture retention.
- Lip Repair contains lanolin, honey, and beeswax. The lanolin and beeswax serve as a powerful barrier to water loss, and manuka honey is antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and hygroscopic, meaning that it draws moisture to the skin.
- Pumpkin Facial Soap has honey to moisturize the skin alongside the gentle brightening effects of organic pumpkin puree and tomato paste.
- Lavender Pine Soap uses buttermilk powder to increase the exfoliating power of the bar with lactic acid, in addition to the red sandalwood powder that provides the delicious scrubby texture.
- Milky Rose Soap has buttermilk powder for the creamiest lather of all time.
- Oh So Soap also has buttermilk powder, which can be soothing to eczema and other dry, flaky skin conditions.
It’s unlikely that we’ll ever have industry-wide rules for what can be considered “green” or “natural” anytime soon, but determining if something is vegan or not is already perfectly clear. You might just have to know how to look for it yourself, and, while you’re at it, it never hurts to know what else is in your favorite products and why. Don’t be afraid to ask questions! I always find if alarming if I can’t find the ingredient list on a product’s packaging or on a brand’s website - never a great sign. And, if the brand won’t answer questions on social media or online, that’s also not ideal.
Transparency is what empowers consumers, and if a brand doesn’t want you to feel empowered, well, as they say, there are other fish in the sea, er, other brands on the internet, rather! Look for the ones who readily tell you what’s in the product, why they like that particular ingredient for its purpose, and bonus points if they can tell you exactly where an ingredient comes from! If you care enough about your health and the planet to want vegan products, you might also want to know what else is in there!
Here at Osmia, we promise we’ll always be open about what we use and why. Plus, since our team is in charge of every ingredient and formula, you can be sure we actually know! And by holding brands accountable for this kind of information, together we will ensure safer products, a cleaner earth, and healthier skin!
With love and transparency from us to you,
ABOUT OUR WRITER, EMILY BARTH ISLER
She's a writer, Young Adult Fiction author, and natural beauty editor. A former child actress, she performed all over the world in theatre, film, and TV. She spent several years in New York writing episodic television for the web with Emmy-award winning PhoebeTV, and a lifetime writing YA short stories and plays.
She holds a B.A. in Film Studies from Wesleyan University, where she took all the creative writing classes she could find, including one which was taught by none other than Lemony Snicket himself! Her work as a Beauty Editor/Writer can be seen online in many publications. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children.