How to Scan Beauty Product Labels for Animal-Derived Ingredients


Beauty product labels can sometimes sound more like a chemistry textbook than a helpful list of ingredients to nourish your skin. So how’s a conscious, and cruelty-free consumer to avoid unwillingly using a product that contains animal derived ingredients? Products marked cruelty-free often only indicate that they aren’t tested on animals, but the product may still contain animal derived ingredients. Here’s a handy cheat sheet to decipher the terms for the grossest animal abusing ingredients in beauty products:


Unlike some of the others in this list, this ingredient sounds as disgusting as it actually is. Squalene is the gooey oil squeezed out of shark livers. The beauty industry loves Squalene because it’s easily absorbed into skin without leaving a greasy residue, and an emollient that improves the appearance of skin, so you’ll find it in many moisturizers, sunscreens, and oils.


Don’t be fooled by the innocuous alternate names for the ingredient Guanine, including CI75170, Crystalline Guanine and Natural Pearl Essence. The iridescent, lustrous sheen in nail polish and lipsticks often comes from pulverized, scraped off fish scaled suspended in alcohol, or from the luminous white dropping, or guano, of birds.


Also known as: Aliphatic Alcohol, Cholesterin, Isopropyl Lanolate, Laneth, Lanogene, Lanolin Acids, Wool Fat, Wool Wax, Lanolin Alcohol, Lanosterols, Triterpene Alcohols, Lanthionine, the name Lanolin is so prevalent and widely used in the beauty industry, it actually might conjure up lovely images of healthy, nourished skin. However, the ingredient lanolin (or it’s pseudonyms) is actually the same greasy sebum that builds up in your own hair if you don’t wash it for a few days. While human sebum isn’t on the market, it’s wooly mammal (primarily sheep) counterpart, is used after it’s been cleaned. It’s found in everything from supplements to shaving creams, to breastfeeding creams to lipstick. While shearing can be a cool relief for sheep if done compassionately, as is often the case when an animal product becomes a commodity, consideration for the animal is overlooked. In order to get them to excrete more sweat and sebum, sheep are often kept in stuffy, hot conditions. Once their lanolin production wanes, they are sent to slaughter. If using a product that contains lanolin, be certain that it comes from a compassionate source.

Stearic Acid

This is a tricky ingredient, because while stearic acid can be found in plant form, it is a fatty acid most commonly derived from the lard of animals (primarily pork) used as an emulsifier in cosmetics. Most beauty products that use stearic acid, such as soaps, shampoos, deodorants and streak-proof make-up, won’t necessarily divulge if it comes from plant or animal sources, so do your research or look for a vegan stamp or symbol. Or make your own emulsions with plant sourced steric acid!


Again, collagen or elastin can be plant derived, and again, manufacturers do not always list the source for this ingredient. The animal derived version is a protein found in connective tissue and is often used in anti-aging products. It’s commonly derived from beef or pork as the two main sources. Rather than applying these products to your skin to boost suppleness, why not eat collagen boosting foods to beautify your skin from the inside out?


Also known as: Sodium Tallowate, Hydrogenated Tallow, Fatty Acids, Sodium Salts, Suet, Lard, Animal Fat, Stearic Acid, Dihydrogenated Tallow Phthalic Acid Amide, Hydrogenated Tallow Betaine, Oleic, Benzoic, and Myristic Acids, tallow sounds like something long ago used by pilgrims, or rendered by the characters in the movie Fight Club. However, tallow is very much a real ingredient. Created by boiling down the carcass of animals, the fatty result is an old fashioned ingredient in soap. Old fashioned or not, tallow is used today in skin creams and salves.


Also known as: Polypeptides Protein, Hyaluronic Acid (can also be derived from rooster combs — equally gross), Placentine and Protein Hydrolysate, placenta is a hard-to-believe ingredient lurking in beauty products, but it’s true. Placenta is an actual ingredient in some shampoos, cellulite treatments, moisturizers and hair products! The hormones in the placenta may help promote tissue growth, but come on…it’s placenta!!!


The gritty abrasive in your polishing toothpaste or skin exfoliant may actually be the ground up bones of slaughterhouse animals! Opt for products that use abrasives and exfoliants made from sodium bicarbonate, salts, sugars, Aluminum Oxide, or crushed walnut or other nut shells.


Also known as: Estrogen, Conjugated Estrogens, Premarin) and Urea (Uric Acid, Allantoin, Alcloxa, Aldioxa, Carbamide, Imidazolidinyl Urea), this animal ingredient is another horrendous and scary drug to look out for. As if placenta in your face cream isn’t gross enough, how about the urine from pregnant mares in your moisturizers, perfumes or even birth control pills?!?  In products where the hormone boost isn’t required or necessary, like deodorants, hair color and dental care, urine from non-pregnant animals is used under the name ureaand hormones listed as estradiol, estrogen, etc. may also be used for this purpose.


Also referred to as: Gel, Hide Glue, Gelatine, Isinglass, Kosher and Halal Gelatin, most animal-friendly folks know the truth behind this yucky ingredient found in kid-friendly Jello boxes and luncheon fruit molds. Gelatin is made from boiling down the bones, marrow, tendons, ligaments and skin into a gelatinous goo that is used in shampoos, face masks and cosmetics, nail treatments and polish removers.


Wait a second…cholesterol?! Turns out the waxy gunk that clogs up your arteries is also be used to give skin a radiant youthful glow in anti-aging lotions and creams. Its hydrating abilities may plump out wrinkles, and protect from damaging environmental elements, but it’s the very same cholesterol derived from animal fat. Gross!

With a little knowledge, it is possible to have cruelty-free products in your medicine cabinet, and some conscious companies even label their products for easy distinction. PETA also has a complete (and somewhat staggering) list of animal derived ingredients on their website. Additionally, the Environmental Working Group offers a free database of complete ingredient lists, as well as product ratings according to health and environmental hazard.