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By Fraser Hill, Founder and CEO of Skinega.
When I first got into the skincare business, I had no idea that so-called vegan skincare brands even existed. I naively thought that all skincare was vegan, but clearly that isn’t the case.
Just a point to note, as I often see confusion over the vegan and cruelty-free skincare designations. A vegan brand can still exist without being cruelty-free. It’s highly unlikely, in the Western world anyway, but vegan is obviously ‘made without animal products’ or some derivative of that definition, whereas cruelty-free is ‘not tested on animals.’ It’s a subtle difference, but it exists. So this article is about vegan skincare. If you want to read up on cruelty-free skincare brands, I also posted a separate article, All Cruelty Free Skincare Brands Include Ingredients Tested On Animals.
There are some obviously non-vegan skincare products or ingredients like beeswax, for example, although beeswax in particular has a debatable designation between the die-hard vegans and their mostly vegan friends. However, it wasn’t until my years of deep-dive research leading up to launching a vegan skincare brand, that I was horrified to find the dead animal bits lurking in some of the most unsuspecting skincare products.
In this day and age with all of the possibilities that exist in ingredient formulation and alternatives to animal by-products, I think vegan skincare, as a statement of differentiation, should become a thing of the past, hence the title “Death to vegan skincare brands.” In other words, I long to get to the point where it is universally accepted that skincare is vegan. In this utopian world, exceptions would be forced to label their products as such, rather than the current situation where vegan skincare brands, like Skinega, can use this as a marketable advantage. I should add, it’s only marketable advantage by default, as it helps those wanting to avoid animal ingredients to identify products they can use.
In my view, labeling non-vegan skincare products should be like in the food world where even a jar of peanuts has to have a sign on the packaging saying ‘contains peanuts.’ Yes, that law was the result of the Food Allergen Labeling and Consumer Protection Act (FALCPA) in 2006. So before you challenge the suggestion to include “made with animal products” as being ridiculous, putting ‘may contain nuts’ on a jar of peanuts, shows that anything is possible. I am fully aware that peanut allergies are deadly but “Peanuts” on a jar of peanuts should be sufficient without having to include “contains,” (as the law requires) especially given how hyper-aware those with allergies will be when out shopping.
So as ridiculous as it sounds to write “contains animal products” on skincare it would be a much more productive exercise than vegan-friendly products being able to use the label “vegan” as a marketing tool. Sure, that wouldn’t do much for us vegan skincare brands, but I didn’t get into the skincare to just sell products. As the articles you may read will hopefully indicate, I came to this industry, in part, to raise awareness of some of the dreadful shortcomings that exist in the skincare world, and to encourage consumers to speak up and use their voice to create a better, more transparent skincare industry. In my view, the Four Most Abused Terms In Skincare: Toxic, Clean, Natural and Organic, covers off some of the other areas we can start to clean up in skincare.
So why do I believe it would it be more productive to include “contains animal products” on non-vegan products? There are really two answers to that. Animal products in skincare are, for the most part, completely unnecessary. What do you think forcing skincare brands to include “made with animal products,” or words to that effect, would do to their formulation strategy? That’s right; they would be forced to think again, and reach out for the glaringly obvious vegan alternatives that exist.
We’ve seen this process happen with the ridiculous parabens scandal which at first became a marketing exercise for those that formulated products without parabens. These companies for a while were able to market themselves as “paraben free,” and many still do. However, over time, there was such a significant shift in negative sentiment towards parabens, driven by semi-informed consumer demand, that now, even on the adverts of the most famous drug store brands, they’re announcing themselves as “now paraben free,” like they did this of their own accord.
I believe this can happen for vegan skincare. Right now, like with the paraben free development, we’re at the stage where vegan skincare brands can differentiate themselves because of the vegan nature of the products. To get to the next step, where we force the hand of lazy formulators and brands who still use unnecessary animal ingredients in their products, the best way is to change labeling laws so they must include “contains animal products.” Now that is a big ask, mainly because the key government body that would have the power to do such a thing is the FDA.
The FDA can’t even update the 1938 FDA Act that relates to cosmetic and skincare products. Even the updates to this act that are being proposed are so weak and flawed that it really is going to take a lot of consumer voices to effect change in this regard. In another article I wrote recently, Why USA Government Beauty and Skincare Reforms Deserve A Nancy Pelosi Clap, I referred to one of the recent Personal Care Acts (2017). In this proposed Act, their only real reference to any change to labeling was that they would include warnings for certain products not to be used on pregnant women or children, for example. There was nothing about the blatant abuse and lack of definitions for things like “organic,” “natural,” and “clean” skincare. Nothing. I’ve written about these along with a suggested action plan in the previously referenced article, The Four Most Abused Terms In Skincare: Toxic, Clean, Natural and Organic.
So, it may be an uphill struggle, but any cause driven by the need for better transparency is a cause worth pursuing. Certainly, with the current status quo, companies using animal products can hide, safe in the knowledge that there are no consequences, and consumers are often blissfully unaware that they contain animal products.
Sure, not everyone cares about using vegan products, and some may even believe that vegan skincare is like vegan ‘meat’ where there is a perceived compromise in taste and texture. In skincare, there is no compromise. So for those that don’t care one way or another, their neutral views can be taken out of the equation, leaving only those that care about vegan skincare to push forward the cause. In time perhaps we can completely kill off the vegan skincare brand label by getting so far ahead, that it becomes as ridiculous as putting “may contain peanuts” on a jar of peanuts. What do you think?
WRITTEN BY FRASER HILL, FOUNDER, AND CEO, SKINEGA INC.
Fraser is the Founder and CEO of Skinega, Inc. He grew up and was educated in Scotland before going on to forge an 18-year career in executive consulting and research, living and working in London, Hong Kong, Poland, Canada, and in the US, working for companies including J.P. Morgan, as well as starting Consulting firms in Canada in 2008, and London in 2012. With his background in research and technology, Fraser embarked on a consumer-driven journey to seek out cleaner, vegan, more effective luxury skincare. He sought a “free from” list that went beyond just harmful ingredients to include ingredients that serve no purpose to skin’s wellbeing like synthetic thickeners, colors, fragrance, and other texture modifiers. His search was unsuccessful, so Skinega was developed over a two-year period, then formally established in 2017.