Veganuary and the power of plant-based

Veganuary and the power of plant-based

With more consumers choosing sustainable, ethical and transparent brands, it’s no surprise that vegan beauty is in high demand. Now a multi-billion-dollar market, whether you’ve embraced plant-based products or need some convincing, Vitality editor, Becci Vallis, looks at everything you need to know…

Last year a record 400,000 people signed up to the Veganuary challenge and it’s predicted to be even higher in 2021. Google has reported that the ‘vegan beauty’ search term has doubled every year since 2012 while searches on Pinterest are twice as high compared to 2019. Whether it’s for environmental or ethical reasons, or both, there’s no denying that what’s on the menu is changing - and not just in restaurants - for hair and beauty salons too. And as brands are proving, vegan products don’t mean compromising on quality, or efficacy, or even luxury. What was once deemed ‘hippy’ is now ‘hot’ and if you’re a new brand launching that isn’t vegan, you’re missing a trick.

With the vegan cosmetics market alone forecast to surpass $20 billion in the next five years, it’s an upward trend and the slew of product launches are testimony to its impressive growth. As well as new brands springing up, well-established brands are changing their ways too. Hourglass transitioned to becoming 100% vegan by the end of 2020 after they reported that ‘vegan’ was the number one search term on their website and Aveda has just announced it is now entirely vegan. “Every year we set sustainability milestones that reduce our impact on the planet and in 2021 it was to be 100% vegan. We were born cruelty-free and focus on being naturally derived but as we used honey and beeswax, we were vegetarian not vegan. We’ve spent 3 years evaluating over 900 ingredients to check that they’re all vegan or finding vegan replacements that still have the same pay off,” explains Aveda’s Global Brand President, Barbara de Laere.


Beauty often replicates trends from the food industry so it was only a matter of time before our industry would want a slice of the vegan pie. “Those making conscious choices around vegan foods will often then want other aspects of their lifestyle to reflect this, including their skincare routines,” says Elsie Rutterford, co-founder of cult vegan skincare brand, BYBI. “We sometimes find consumers that perhaps aren’t ready to commit to a 100% vegan diet will start by making switches in other areas, like beauty. When we launched in 2017 it was clear veganism was something that our customers were highly passionate about and the demand has only continued to grow. From dedicated vegan skincare sections in mainstream retailers such as Boots to increased press and a boom in vegan influencers on social media.”

There’s also the steady flow of vegan celebrities making the movement more mainstream while every A-lister who launches a skincare or cosmetics line now ensures it has that all-important vegan stamp of approval. Rihanna’s Fenty Skin, Miranda Kerr’s Honest Beauty, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Juicy Beauty make-up line and Selena Gomez’s new beauty range, Rare Beauty are all 100% vegan.

And let’s not forget the way these products work. “There are a lot of similarities when it comes to raw ingredients and how our body and skin utilise them,” explains Dr Anita Sturnham, dermatologist and founder of skincare brand, Decree. “We are a Dr-led cosmeceutical brand driven by science, nature and aesthetics and who are passionate that all new product development has to be focused on vegan and cruelty-free.”

Finally, there’s the new wave of conscious consumers. “Led by ethical values, consumers are educating themselves on what they can do on a daily basis to promote doing good for themselves and the planet and are opting for clean, cruelty-free, vegan lifestyles - hair and beauty products included,” says Emma Chiu, Global Director at Wunderman Thompson Intelligence. With documentaries such as Cowspiracy and What the Health opening people’s eyes to the environmental impact too much livestock has on the world, reports of climate change on the news are becoming unavoidable. “The amount of methane produced from animal farms and the amount of land required to grow crops to feed those animals far outweighs the cars we drive and fossil fuels we burn so part of the thinking is that we need to demand less animal products and lean towards green plant alternatives. A big part of that is skincare because choosing vegan products is one of the easiest changes to make,” says Susie Ma, founder of Tropic Skincare.


In short, vegan beauty means the absence of animal products or byproducts - things like beeswax, lanolin, carmine, gelatine, keratin, milk, egg whites, squalene, snail mucus - in the formula. However vegan and cruelty-free are not the same thing. Cruelty-free doesn’t necessarily mean something is vegan as it’s only guaranteeing that the products haven’t been tested on animals. Similarly, just because something is vegan doesn’t mean it won’t have been tested on animals - although that is a highly unlikely scenario. It also doesn’t mean that the ingredients are natural, organic or sustainable, many just presume they will be.

At present there isn’t an overriding certification for vegan products but the two with most prowess and recognised the world over are PETA and The Vegan Society. If you see either logo on the packaging, you’re in safe, ethical hands. “All of our products are certified by the vegan society, They do amazing work and ask the questions you need to know about ingredients,” continues Susie. “For example, hyaluronic acid can be extracted from rooster combs - who would have known that unless you ask the question so by having your products listed with someone like The Vegan Society they make you check with your supplier to confirm your ingredients are indeed vegan.” If there isn’t a logo to reference, PETA has a list of animal-derived ingredients on their website so if you’re unsure about something you can cross-reference the inci list there.


Choosing to follow a vegan hair and beauty routine does not mean scrimping on active ingredients or forgoing insane lash-lengthening mascaras - it just means that they may have taken longer to formulate. In this realm, skincare has it easiest. “It takes some research and willingness to step outside the more traditional rules of formulation but where beeswax and lanolin are often used in products such as balms to create that creamy, glossy texture, we found a fruit wax as a substitute,” reveals Elise. For Tropic it was Candelilla wax that replaced the beeswax in their lip products and ‘vego jelly’ is used in place of lanolin.

At Green People, it’s always been their ethos to make plant-powered products using blends of botanicals. “We use protein-rich ingredients like quinoa and artichoke to make our hair-strengthening shampoos and are a vegan-alternative to gelatine and keratin; we use natural plant waxes like berry and Carnuba instead of lanolin (from animal skin) and instead of carmine (derived from cochineal beetles) in our lipstick we use natural earth mineral pigments,” explains founder, Charlotte Vohtz.

Things get trickier when you start formulating make-up: “It’s very hard to create high volume mascaras without beeswax but after many, many trials we were able to produce the results we want using a combination of synthetic beeswax and conditioning hemp-derived cannabis seed oil which is how Milk’s vegan KUSH mascara was born,” says Dianna Ruth, Product Development and COO at Milk Makeup. “We are always able to find vegan ingredients that have the same, if not better efficacy than the non-vegan options.”

Similarly, it wasn’t an easy ride for the formulators at Scandi vegan hair brand, Maria Nila when they decided they wanted to launch hair waxes. “Due to higher ingredients costs and the fact that vegan ingredients are less stable when it comes to pressures and heating in the production compressors, it took us nearly three years to develop a vegan substitute that could deal with the same conditions. It’s why we’re extremely proud to have launched the first vegan wax collection in the world,” explains Hedda Mirrow, head of marketing at the brand.


If you’re investing in a vegan skincare regime at home or using vegan make-up, it’s no surprise that you’re going to want any paid-for services you have to have the same ethics. Whether it’s a spa treatment, a manicure or a hair colour (one of the most demanded vegan skews) by offering these options you’re opening yourself up to a wider audience. “As with the growing trend of dedicated vegan restaurants, vegan beauty salons will be on the rise,” continues Emma from WTI. “STILL London is a vegan nail and wellness salon dedicated to clean beauty for conscious consumers and Fabi’s hair salon in New York have an Organic Color Systems offering 100% vegan hair colouring.”

Even if you’re freelance, it could be worth re-thinking your kit. “Many of the beauty professionals that we work with like MUAs and facialists are switching out products to reflect a vegan assortment which is largely driven by demand from their clients. It’s why they’re always excited to find out everything in the BYBI line is 100% vegan as it saves them having to read ingredients,” shares Elise.

For Maxine Christians, celebrity MUA and global brand ambassador for vegan brand, Jillian Dempsey, she’s seeing the shift more and more. “Some actors and models will show up with their make-up bags filled with clean, vegan beauty and ask me to use that or they’ll send the production team a list of vegan make-up they want on the shoot. Personally, I love it and have started to change my kit to include more vegan make-up. We’re wising up and becoming more aware of the importance of what ingredients are in our make-up and also our impact on the environment.”


Ingredients-wise, what’s getting the masses excited are alternatives like vegan collagen. With brands coming up with various formulas, Pacifa’s vegan collagen is produced via a plant-based fermentation process that means the structural, biochemical, physical and biological properties mimic those of animal-derived collagen. Again, influenced by the food and wellness arena where there’s a spotlight being shone on adding collagen powders to your morning smoothie, vegan alternatives are starting to crop up there too.

As for the audience, this isn’t just about millennials anymore. They might have been the driving force but it’s becoming a lifestyle choice adopted by the masses. “We strongly believe that vegan beauty is for everybody, vegan or not vegan,” says Hedda. “Our customers stretch from all ages, genders, ethnicities, lifestyles and values that basically look for great products while also protecting the environment and animals.”

Brands also need to look at how the business runs from the inside out - it can’t just be lip service. “Being vegan is not enough, consumers are after holistically ethical products and brands that are organic, natural and better still, carbon neutral,” says Emma when asked what she thinks the future will hold for vegan beauty. Compostable packaging, agri-based inks, biodegradable formulas and recycled ingredients are just some of the wider practises that can be adopted. Other avenues include supporting the farming communities where brands source their ingredients, providing an education for locals and reducing their carbon footprint. “At Aveda we manufacture our product using 100% wind power and have a zero waste to landfill philosophy - over 80% of waste is reused or recycled,” says Barbara. “By 2023 we want to be carbon negative and we have sustainable supply chains that support the eco system and pay farmers fairly.”

Most brands who work by these rules live by them too but there is the odd case where a vegan brand is owned by a parent company that isn’t singing off the same vegan hymn sheet, so if you’re unsure, always do some digging. That said, with the vegan market’s annual growth rate reported at an impressive 6.5% between 2020 and 2025, it’s likely that more companies will fall in line with the wants and wishes of today’s compassionate and caring consumer. “We think in the not so distant future, it’ll be more common for skincare to be vegan than not,” admits Elise from BYBI. Susie Ma at Tropic agrees: “For the companies not using vegan ingredients I think it would be interesting for them to self-assess and explain to their customers why they’re not because as we continue to find alternatives and more innovative plant-based ingredients, I believe vegan products will simply become the status quo.” Looking like more of a prerequisite than an option, the vegan trend is here to stay.

Stay Safe: Just because a product is vegan doesn’t mean it’s safe to use during pregnancy or on patients undergoing certain treatments. Many formulas still contain actives or ingredients like essential oils that can cause irritation for vulnerable groups so it’s always best to check with a doctor first.