There are certain myths about vegan products that have proven particularly tricky to shake off, namely that they are more expensive and that there isn’t enough choice around. While a year ago, these preconceptions may have rung true, now, it’s a completely different story due to plant-based beauty’s shift to the mainstream. In fact, insights from The Body Shop reveal that ‘vegan’ now surpasses both ‘gluten free’ and ‘vegetarian’ in searches in the UK and searches for ‘vegan beauty’ have doubled every year since 2012 - demand is now higher than ever.
That being said though, it’s hard to know where to start if you’re looking to give your makeup the Veganuary treatment. It can be a minefield, something that Em-J Williams , top vegan and cruelty-free makeup artist and partner of Bosh! co-founder Henry Firth, found out when she decided to make the switch a year ago. “It all started when a friend of mine asked me what false eyelashes are made of,” she says when I ask her why she wanted to go vegan. “At the time I replied ‘plastic...I think’. The googling began and before I knew it, I had a long list of stomach-churning ingredients in regular products that were either made of animals or animal-derived. Even more shocking, is that these products were being listed as ‘cruelty free.’”
When she first started shopping for vegan-friendly alternatives, there were certain products that proved difficult to find. “In particular, I struggled to find vegan pencils, mascaras and many eyeshadows,” she tells me. “Carmine (crushed beetles) is found in a lot of makeup to create colour. Guanine (fish scales) is used to create metallic effects, and is often found in eyeshadows, lipsticks and eye pencils. Many mascaras have honey or beeswax, glycerin (it’s often hard to tell if it’s plant or animal-derived) and even collagen, found in some mascaras to help lashes grow.”
Nowadays though, the vegan shopping experience is a lot easier. “There’s such a huge spectrum of brands at different price ranges doing vegan beauty which is so exciting,” says Em-J. “It means that it doesn't have to be expensive to shop vegan makeup at all. High street brands such an Elf, Milani and The Body Shop all have super affordable products, and then brands like Charlotte Tilbury, Inika, Tarte and Hourglass offer luxury options. All are either entirely vegan, or have a great vegan selection.”
That’s not to say though that there aren’t some areas that could be improved on. While vegan cosmetics can definitely give their non-vegan counterparts a run for their money in Em-J’s experience, there are a few pro products that she’s struggles to find alternatives for, such as a ‘flash palette’ (a cream-based palette of bright colours) and a good airbrush brand too. Labelling of vegan products in big high street stores and vegan false lashes could also be better, as could brand transparency when it comes to glycerin still. “It’s a hard one as it can be from plants or animals and I have found that many brands don’t know when I’ve asked them!” Sustainable packaging and the availability of a greater wealth of palm-oil free formulas could also strengthen their eco credentials too.
If you’re looking to make your first steps towards making the contents of your makeup bag vegan, Em-J recommends looking out for certain vegan credentials. “I try to look for either The Vegan Society, Peta, Leaping Bunny or vegan.org logos,” says Em-J. Certification provides a clear and easy way to decipher if a product is vegan or not, but that’s not to say that ones without it aren’t. “I have spoken to many brands who are working on getting these accreditations,” says Em-J. ‘However, I understand that it can take a while, so if I see that they don’t have the label and I would like the product, then I will look at the ingredients and check it against my ‘common ingredients list’ which you can find on my blog .”
Her second piece of advice is to start slow. “I would say to not put pressure on yourself to do it all at once and waste products that you have already bought,” she says. Your first switch could be your makeup bag (I’m currently housing my products in this stunning mermaid-like Neptune Makeup Bag from Em-J’s pro kit line ) or a mascara to give you a feel of what’s out there. She also recommends checking online resources such as Logical Harmony and Cruelty Free Kitty for product reviews. You can also check out Em-J’s reviews on her Instagram and blog .
What’s inside Em-J’s vegan makeup kit
“I have three kit essentials for a flawless base. Charlotte Tilbury Light Wonder , £32, is easily buildable and gives a radiant finish. It works perfectly with Arbonne The Real Conceal Liquid Concealer , £26. This concealer gives fantastic coverage as well as being light and blendable (quite hard to find both of these qualities in one concealer!) It sets without cracking under the eye too. I am not a huge fan of powder as I personally prefer more of a glowy look than matte however, Inika Baked Mineral Foundation , £33, has a wonderful pearlised finish which feels and looks like silk on the skin. It sets the foundation but still lets skin glow from within. I love to use this as a finishing powder or it can be built up to create more coverage if needs be too!”
“ Charlotte Tilbury Hollywood Filter Illuminator , £30, is THE DREAM. It has just the perfect amount of shimmer with not one speck of glitter (which I find a lot of illuminators do have!) It works amazingly under foundation, mixed in with it or by itself. Cover FX Custom Enhancer Drops , £23.80, are stronger and work beautifully on top of foundation on the high points of the face. My favourite powder highlighter right now is by ZAO , £23.50. It comes in an adorable bamboo pot which is refillable. Its candlelight tone suits a range of different skin tones too.”
“BBB London is at the top of the brow game! They have seven shades in their range which means no brown brows on redheads! Woohoo! There really is a colour for everyone. Their trusty Brow Sculpting Pomade , £18, when used with an angled brush is perfect for creating a defined brow, their Brow Definer Pencil , £17, has the tiniest tip which is amazing for creating individual hairs, and their Dream Brows Palette , £25, has two brow powders and a brow bone powder for a softer look.”
“I tend to mostly use cream blushers as I feel that they melt into skin and look more natural so I love Charlotte Tilbury’s stick blushers , £30. Charlotte’s Cheek to Chic powder blushers and bronzers , £30, are also gorgeous - high in pigment and sit so softly on the skin. For more of a shimmer finish, I would highly recommend The Body Shop’s collection , £16. Just a pop of these on the apples of the cheeks gives a healthy and youthful look.”
“Did you know that Models Own is mostly vegan? Their lipsticks’ should be shouted about from the rooftops! Their packaging is very swish and the pigments and staying power are fantastic. From hot pink to matte nude, their wardrobe is bursting with vibrancy! Charlotte Tilbury lipsticks are also glorious. She offers an array of matte and velvet finishes, each long-lasting and soft on the lips.
“For glosses, I’m a big fan of The Body Shop Shine Lip Liquids , £7 - they taste and smell delicious and there are simple coloured glosses as well as ones with a holographic effect. My go-to clear gloss is always Mehron Glosstone , £7.80, which is the perfect consistency for lips and also for a glossy lid.
“If you’re looking for a liquid lipstick with ultimate staying powder, I highly recommend Milani , £6.30! Some liquid lipsticks can end up a little drying, however, I have found these to have great staying power and they don’t leave lips feeling any different. Elf does a wonderful range of metallic liquid lipsticks, £6, too.
“I have found vegan lip pencils hard to find, but my go-to would be Charlotte Tilbury's , £16, (can you tell I’m a CT fan yet!?) They’re soft and not powdery at all. She also has a colour that would match most lipsticks.”
“ Elf palettes are lovely. They’re really high in pigment and come in a delicious array of colours that include mattes and shimmers.
“Everyone needs at least one or two Charlotte Tilbury quads , £39, in their life. They feel luxurious and they are all so wearable. When it comes to mascara, I would recommend Elf’s , and Charlotte Tilbury’s Bedroom Black Rock ‘n’ Kohl Liquid Eye Pencil , £19, is by far the blackest eye pencil I have ever used. It really is the most wonderful pencil for either sharpening or creating a nice flick as it sets beautifuly and doesn’t budge. It can also be applied and buffed out for a softer finish. Big fan.”
“My go-to lash brand is Nouveau Lashes for strips and individuals, they are super natural. For a stronger luxury lash, I love Illamasqua and Tarte - they’re made beautifully and you could reuse them over and over. Elf has a selection of lashes at just £5 too which I would also recommend for a quick strip lash that won’t break the bank.”
Read more: 10 myths about being vegan, busted