11 Ingredients to Avoid in Cosmetics

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

If you’re plant-based and use cosmetics, there are some common, controversial animal products you should know about. While there are thousands of new chemicals added to the market daily, here’s a list of 11 animal-based ingredients you’ll want to avoid.

Note: If anyone gifts you with anything containing these ingredients, donate it or re-gift it. Since the damage is done, please don’t throw it in the garbage.

What are Humane Cosmetics?

In most cases, Humane Cosmetics are cruelty-free, eco-friendly, and don’t contain toxic ingredients. There are no by-products, and the manufacturer plainly lists the ingredients. While this isn’t a standard rule, most companies concerned with animal welfare concern themselves with your health and the planet.

Standard cosmetics paint quite a different picture. Most contain toxic ingredients, known carcinogens, and by-products of the animal industry. These companies also perform regular animal testing—a barbaric practice that is both unnecessary and inaccurate. Manufacturers can hide ingredients if they fall under a certain percentage, or would divulge a trade secret. You can download the FDA’s Cosmetic Labeling Guide here.

Companies using truly natural ingredients are certified cruelty-free and note if their products are vegan, eco-friendly, cruelty-free, etcetera. It’s best to research claims and contact companies directly, as marketers know they can “put a green leaf on it… they’ll think it’s natural!” It’s easy to claim mineral oil or petroleum as “natural,” since the original source is crude oil, found deep in our Earth’s core.

As I’ve stated in a previous article about the dangers of our beauty routine, I support transparency and truth-in-labeling.  To aid you in your journey for cruelty-free and safe ingredients, here are 11 products that are not cruelty-free. Not only is the method of obtaining these ingredients questionable, but they are harmful to your body.

Note: I discuss beeswax in a separate article; it is controversial ingredient to some, but is an incredible healing agent in skincare products.


  1. Allantoin: is an emollient and wound-healer. While it’s found in herbs like comfrey, the standard protocol is to obtain it from cows.
    Common uses: toothpaste, mouthwash, other oral hygiene products, shampoos, lipsticks, anti-acne products, sun-care products, clarifying lotions, various cosmetic lotions and creams, and other cosmetic or pharmaceutical products.
  2. Bismuth Oxychloride: this is a highly processed ingredient found in many popular brands of mineral makeup. It’s used as a replacement for talc and it gives makeup the infamous shimmer effect. Since 1977, the FDA lists it as a synthetic coloring agent.  The crystalline effect makes it dangerous for some, as the crystals clog skin pores and tears them. This compromises the skin’s ability to protect us from invasive bacteria and infection.
    Common uses: eye shadow, lipstick, bronze highlighter, foundation, blush, eyeliner, concealer, hairspray, mascara, moisturizers, and many other products.
  3. Cochineal Dye/Carmine (AKA crimson lake, natural red 4)this is a wine-coloured or deep red colouring agent taken from crushed cochineal or “scale” insects. Manufacturers extract the colour from the insect’s body and eggs.
    Common uses: used to color lipsticks, blushes, food products, fabrics, art products, pharmaceuticals, and much more. If your skin product or food is red, check the ingredients. 
  4. Collagen: is a fibrous protein produced in animals. The protein is extracted by cooking cartilaginous material such as bones, connective tissues, or the skin of dead animals.
    Common uses: Collagen is a temporary plumping or firming agent found in lotions, creams, lip-plumping gloss’s, and supplements. There is no proven effect on human collagen production.
  5. Estrogen/estradiol: this is a hormone-based product obtained from the urine of pregnant horses.
    Common uses: perfumes, restorative creams, lotions, hormone-replacement therapies for cancers and menopause (known as Premarin).
  6. Guanine: is a light-diffusing ingredient obtained by scraping the scales off dead fish. Soaking it in alcohol creates its pearly essence.
    Common uses: used to create the sparkles in mascara, blush, eye shadow, and nail polish. Bird feces are used in fertilizers.
  7. Keratin and Gelatin: like collagen, these are proteins found in mammals. Keratin comes from the hair, nails, wool, and horns of animals. Gelatin is the boiled skin, tendons, ligaments, and bones of animals.
    Common uses: Keratin is a popular ingredients in hair products and supplements. Gelatin is much more common in the food and cosmetic industry. It’s used in foods that require a binding material, such as Jello, marshmallows, and Taco Bell sour cream. You will find it in cosmetic gels and nail treatments.
  8. Lanolin: this a greasy by-product from sheep’s wool and is a common allergen.
    Common uses: lotions, tattoo aftercare, A&D ointment, crèmes/salves, lip balms, and Vitamin D supplements.
  9. Retinol: manufacturers obtain retinoids from animal by-products; it’s anti-aging benefits are nothing short of another clever marketing ploy. A vegetarian source is synthetic, derived from carrots or carrot seeds.
    Common uses: 
    skin cremes, lotions, anti-aging products.
  10. Squalane and Ambergris: companies obtain squalane from squeezing oils from shark liver, and ambergris from the lining of a whale’s stomach.
    Common uses: Squalane is common in moisturizers, foundation, eye shadow, baby products, lip balm, and more products than I can list here. Ambergris is used to make the scent of perfumes “set.” (And here you thought they made perfumes with oils! They often derive Musky scents from the anal glands of exotic civet cats, too.)
  11. Tallow: is rendered animal fat. If you’ve ever scene Fight Club, you’ll remember the scene where they jump over the fence, spilling bags of liquified fat. Manufacturers boil the carcasses of slaughtered animals, producing a fatty skincare ingredient.
    Common uses: eye makeups, soaps, shaving creme, lipsticks, bases, and foundations.

For more information on cruelty-free companies? Search for the bunny on products, or check out Leaping Bunny‘s guide. You’ll find my cruelty-free certificate here. Check www.EWG.org or www.PETA.org, for further ingredient information.

What other ingredients would you like added to this list? 

What are your thoughts?

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