Animal Derived Ingredients: What, How and Where

If you caught my 5 tips for going cruelty free post, you’ll have seen the section about animal derived ingredients and probably been very confused. Navigating the many names that the ingredients can come under, understanding them and being able to spot them can be a challenge – one that I am in fact still tackling myself. I’ve been reading a ton recently about what exactly goes into our make up and how exactly you can end up with crushed beetles in your lipstick. It’s not pretty, but it’s useful to know since even brands that advertise as cruelty free can contain these ingredients.

animal derived ingredients

Animal Derived Ingredients: What You Need To Know

So here we are; a breakdown of the most common animal derived ingredients in your cosmetics, how we get them and where they come from.

  • Carmine: Going back to those crushed beetles I mentioned. Carmine, or Cochineal Dye does in fact come from the Cochineal Beetle. Female Cochineal Beetles eat red berries from cacti, meaning that when you crush them you’re left with red dye. You’ll find this in lipsticks and blush’s most commonly.
  • Guanine: Guanine is a shimmery, light-diffusing ingredient in cosmetics that comes from fish scales. It’s this crystalline material that gives a pearly, iridescent sheen.  You’ll find it in bath and personal care products, lipsticks, nail polish, mascaras and skin care.
  • Gelatin/Tallow: These are two separate animal derived ingredients made in similar ways – and you’ve probably heard of gelatin before. Gelatin comes from boiling up tendons, ligaments, bones and so on producing the gel type substance that holds creamy formula together. You’ll find it in creamy cosmetics. Tallow, similarly, is rendered animal fat that’s found in lipsticks, foundations and other base products, as well as some eye make up. Some gelatin alternatives include agar gel and carrageen. Hard fats that can replace tallow in the likes of soap include cocoa butter and palm oil (though palm oil is an ethical minefield of it’s own). 
  • Squalene: What a gross word. Animal derived squalene comes from shark liver oil (who knew?), and is used as an emollient in cosmetics in anything from hair conditioner to face creams and bath oils. This can be plant derived, so check with brands as to the origin of their ingredients.
  • Retinol: The long and short of retinol is that it comes from retinoids, which are also listed as Vitamin A. Retinol is pretty much always animal derived – while the alternative, carotenoids, are plant based (carrots are good for you, friends!). There’s not a whole bunch of information online about how exactly retinol is extracted, or which animals it comes from, but it is a common ingredient in skincare and deserves a mention. Plant based alternatives come from carotenoids, the other group of retinoids. 
  • Collagen: Collagen is most commonly found in anti aging products even though it has absolutely no effect on how your body’s collagen acts itself. One of the most common ways that animal derived collagen is made is from chickens feet ad ground animal horns. Delightful. There are synthetic and plant based alternatives available, so it’s worth checking with brands on the origin. 
  • Keratin: Often found in hair treatments, Keratin comes from horns, hooves, feathers, and hair. This is commonly used as a hair strengthener/conditioner and alternatives include amla oil, almond oil, and soy protein.
  • Hyaluronic acid: Again another common skincare ingredient common in anti-aging products. This is found in umbilical cords and rooster combs but is largely produced industrially from the latter. There are alternatives made from a biofermentation process which is why it’s worth checking on the origin before buying. 
  • Beeswax: Beeswax is everywhere in lipsticks, mascara, skincare, foundations, hair care and everything in between. It’s secreted by honey bees. There’s some debate as to whether or not honey/beeswax/propolis/roal jelly/other bee derived ingredients are vegan or not but unfortunately beekeeping isn’t always being surrounded by cute lil fluffs – so a massive number of vegans avoid the products. There’s more info on this here. In the meantime, you can use products containing carnauba wax, candalilla wax or Japan Wax, which are all plant based. 
  • Casein/Lactose: Casein and lactose are milk-based and found in many cosmetics including face masks and creams, as well as some hair care. Alternatives include soy and other dairy free milk proteins + sugars.  
  • Lanolin: Lanolin is a greasy, wax like substance which comes from the wool of woolly mammals. It’s pretty similar to letting your hair get really, really greasy and lank then using it on your face. Lanolin has a dozen derivatives including Cholesterol/Cholesterin, Isopropyl Lanolate, Laneth, Lanogene, Lanolin Alcohols, Lanosterols, Sterols, and Triterpene Alcohols. As Lanolin is typically used as an emollient alternatives include cocoa butter and palm oil. 
  • Lacithin: Lacithin is a waxy substance that commercially comes from eggs or soy beans, but is found in many animal tissues and is found in many eye creams and skin care products, lipsticks, hand creams, lotions and soaps. This can be synthetically substituted or derived from corn, and soy beans.

It’s important to remember that some of these animal derived ingredients can be listed under various names – there’s all kind of derivatives from the raw ingredients that are commonly used and some ingredients are trade marked for sale.

This is by no means an extensive list, but I’ve tried to highlight some that I see most commonly and others that have surprised me. It’s important to remember that many animal ingredients can also be synthetically made which again highlights the importance of checking with a brand on the origin of their ingredients and question their suppliers.

As a general rule, if a brand cannot be clear on this I will usually stop purchasing their products.

Do you have any more to add to this list for future reference?

Brianne xo

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6 thoughts on “Animal Derived Ingredients: What, How and Where

  1. This was SUCH a helpful post! I’m in the process of going cruelty free so this post was definitely helpful in figuring out what to look for on products.

    Lee –

  2. This is such a great post! I had a sickened expression on my face the whole time I was reading it 😂 The thought of putting any of these products on my body is just gross.

    1. I felt so sick researching it too! Some of the stuff is so awful and I didn’t want to be too gory but there’s not really a nice way of putting it!

  3. This is so helpful! I’m replacing all my products with cruelty free ones so this will come in handy if I get stuck. There’s just so many hidden things and random names!

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