This article aims to help you distinguish vegan from non-vegan products.
It is a guide that covers non-vegan food ingredients that go unnoticed, and it also gives you some insight into cosmetics, clothing, shoes, and related industries.
How to know if a product is vegan? There is no quick answer, it depends on what product it is. Is it food, make-up, a coat or a pair of shoes?
In a nutshell, a product is vegan if it displays the vegan and cruelty-free symbol or if the label or tag does not include any ingredients or raw materials that may be of animal origin. The product or the ingredients in it must also not be tested on animals.
In this complete guide, you will find all the information on how to tell if a food, cosmetic, or clothing/footwear product is vegan.
How To Know If A Product Is Vegan
Veganism is a lifestyle that aims to eliminate animal cruelty as much as practicable possible, and therefore is not only limited to food but also to all other products that use animal ingredients or in some way exploit animals, such as cosmetics, the textile, and entertainment industries.
In a simplified way, a product is considered vegan if:
- It displays the vegan and cruelty-free symbol;
- It is free of any ingredient that may be of animal origin – find out which ones below.
- The company does not test on animals;
- The company does not sponsor events that use animals.
Which Foods Are Not Vegan?
The vegan lifestyle excludes all foods that are of animal origin, namely meat, fish, seafood, eggs, milk, honey, and any other food/ingredient that has an animal origin.
Processed meat-based foods (ham, sausage, mortadella, salami, etc.) are not vegan. And dairy products (yogurt, cheese, butter, whipped cream, etc.) are not vegan, since they are derived from animal milk.
The different types of vegetarian diets often lead to confusion, but there are clear differences among them:
- Ovolactovegetarian: excludes meat and fish but includes eggs and dairy products;
- Ovovegetarian: excludes meat, fish, and dairy products but includes eggs;
- Lactovegetarian: excludes meat, fish, and eggs but includes dairy products;
- Strict vegetarian: excludes all foods of animal origin.
A vegan practices a strict vegetarian diet and has a philosophy of life that aims to abolish animal cruelty as much as humanely possible, and that includes all products, not only food.
How to Check If Food is Vegan
We already know that meat, fish, eggs, dairy, and honey are not vegan.
Processed foods like cookies, bread, and ice cream contain an endless list of ingredients, many with names we don’t understand. Some of these ingredients are not vegan.
A large number of processed products contain dairy products that may appear on labels as the following:
- Skim milk solids
- Whey, whey powder
- Milk powder, skim milk powder, whole milk powder
- Casein, milk protein, hydrolyzed milk protein
- Butter concentrate, butter oil, butter, milk fat.
Besides dairy products, the most common animal ingredients in processed foods are:
- Lactic Acid – usually derived from plants such as beets. When of animal origin, it is found in the blood and muscle tissue of animals.
- Albumin – usually of animal origin, typically egg white.
- Flavors – can be of vegetable or animal origin.
- E160a Beta-Carotene dye – generally of vegetable origin, but often used in conjunction with animal ingredients.
- E120 Carmine Dye – comes from the female cochineal insect, it is necessary to kill a large amount of these insects to get some of this dye, widely used in the cosmetic industry but also in reddish filled cookies.
- Disodium inosinate – a flavor enhancer that can be of animal origin (meat).
- Gelatin – produced from animal bones, ligaments, tendons, and skin.
- Disodium Guanylate – flavor enhancer that may have an animal origin (meat or fish).
- Lecithin – of vegetable or animal origin. When of vegetable origin it is often called soy lecithin or sunflower lecithin.
- Mono- and Diglycerides of Fatty Acids – of vegetable or animal origin.
- Omega 3 – of vegetable or animal origin.
- Vitamin D3 – foods fortified with vitamin D3 are not vegan unless the packaging states otherwise. Generally, vitamin D is obtained from lanolin, which is extracted from sheep’s wool.
In addition to verifying that the product is free of animal ingredients, it is important to know if the company that owns the product practices animal testing and/or sponsors animal events.
For example, The Coca-Cola Company sponsors rodeos in the USA, and because of this, many vegans prefer not to consume their products.
How to Check If Cosmetics Are Vegan
Cosmetics can be divided into two main issues: ingredients and animal testing.
Cosmetics include several ingredients that can be of both animal and plant origin, with glycerin being one example. For brands that include a vegan logo/seal on the product, it’s easy to determine, but if you don’t have a logo, then you need to learn about the potential non-vegan ingredients.
Some ingredients are never vegan, knowing which ones will make it much easier for you upon choosing a cosmetic product.
Ingredients of animal origin that are common in cosmetics:
- Snail slime
- Cera alba – produced by bees.
- Carmine dye E120 – is extracted from the cochineal insect and can be found, for example, in lipsticks.
- Royal Jelly – produced by worker bees to feed the queen bee.
- Lanolin/Lanolin Alcohol – obtained from sheep’s wool.
- Milk and Milk Derivatives
- Honey – lots of creams and moisturizers include honey in their composition. Honey is produced by bees and is their food, so it is not vegan.
- Silk/Silk Protein/Silk Amino Acids – a substance secreted by the silkworm.
- Bee’s Poison
Common ingredients in cosmetics that may or not be vegan:
- Stearic acid – when of animal origin it is a fat derived from cows, pigs, sheep, etc. It can also be of vegetable origin, namely from cocoa or shea butter.
- Allantoin – uric acid from mammals, usually cows. Also found in many plants, especially comfrey. Can also be of synthetic origin.
- Cetyl alcohol – From wax originally found in the spermaceti of sperm whales or dolphins, but now more often derived from petroleum.
- Cetostearyl alcohol – This is a mixture of fatty alcohols, cetyl, and stearyl alcohols.
- Ceteareth – This is made from cetostearyl alcohol.
- Glycol distearate – It is derived from stearic acid.
- Spermacetate – a waxy substance originally derived from the sperm of whales and dolphins, but now more often derived from petroleum.
- Sorbitan stearate – derived from sorbitol and stearic acid.
- Glycerin – derived from oils and fats of animal or vegetable origin.
- Isopropyl palmitate – a complex mixture of stearic acid and palmitic acid.
- Polysorbate – derived from fatty acids. It is made from polyethoxylated sorbitan (a chemical compound derived from the dehydration of sugar alcohol) and oleic acid, a fatty acid found in animal and vegetable fats.
Some say that animal testing is required to test the effects and safety of products or substances before these can be consumed by humans.
However, despite being regarded as necessary, it doesn’t change the fact that it’s an unethical and rather cruel practice.
Animal testing has been banned in Europe since 2013. However, many brands do not test on animals but sell in countries that mandate testing, namely China.
It might be true that the brand and its suppliers do not test on animals, but to physically sell their products in mainland China, the country’s authorities will test them on animals.
Thus, any company that physically sells in Mainland China has its products subject to animal testing. Since it is not the brand itself that does the testing, the products can be sold in Europe.
If the products are only sold online, they are not subjected to these tests.
Companies that produce in China are not required to test on animals, but they can choose this method if they so choose. However, even if these companies choose not to test on animals, if they sell their products in China, they may still be subject to animal testing – when authorities randomly test products that are on sale on the shelves.
Some organizations have cruelty-free certification programs, such as Cruelty-Free International’s Leaping Bunny program. To be certified cruelty-free and be able to display the Leaping Bunny logo, companies have to meet several criteria.
There is also Peta’s certification, Beauty Without Bunnies, but it doesn’t seem to be as rigorous in certifying the companies.
These organizations do not take into consideration the parent companies. Often vegan product brands are owned by giant companies that test on animals or own other brands that test. Some vegans prefer not to make a profit for these giants, since their money may end up investing in animal testing.
More and more products feature the Vegan logo -” this logo only considers ingredients, even in cosmetics! Only the cruelty-free logos consider animal testing, Leaping Bunny being the most credible.
How to Check If Clothing/Shoes Are Vegan
When we think of non-vegan clothing, clothes made of animal skin, tiger and snake patterns immediately come to mind. But many other fabrics are of animal origin:
- Sheep wool/ Lamb/ Alpaca/ Angora/ Mohair/ Merino/ Lama/ Vicuña/ Camel/ Qiviut (wool).
- Cashmere / Cashmere wool
- Leather / Leather bicast (leather)
- Feathers (down)
- Bombazine (unless otherwise indicated)
- Flannel (can be made of wool, cotton, or synthetic)
- Twill (can be made of wool, cotton, or linen)
It is easy to find vegan clothing made from cotton, organic cotton, hemp, linen, bamboo, Tencel, modal, viscose, polyester, acrylic, nylon, etc. The last 3 are plastic-based fabrics and therefore are not degradable and release microplastics during washing.
It is more difficult to find vegan footwear, especially winter footwear because most include leather. Many companies also use glue with animal ingredients in the manufacture of footwear. The most common animal ingredient in glue is casein, a milk derivative.
Today there are several vegan alternatives to animal leather such as polyester or polyurethane-based faux leather, pinatex, apple leather, and mushroom leather.
Ideas For a More Sustainable and Ethical Wardrobe
When we talk about vegan fashion it is also interesting to consider the environmental impact this industry has, as well as where the products are manufactured and under what conditions.
Some ways to have a more sustainable and ethical closet are:
- Give new life to clothes you no longer wear – turning them into other items, rags, bags, etc.
- Sell what you don’t like to wear or what doesn’t fit and buy 2nd hand.
- Select clothes that no longer fit or suit you and give/exchange with family and friends.
- Give it to people who need it.
- Give the items you don’t want to stores or organizations that recycle/reuse them.
- Buy clothing made from more sustainable materials such as organic cotton, hemp, and linen.
- Buy from companies that are local and pay a fair wage to their employees.
If the product has a vegan or cruelty-free seal, our job is made easier – as the product is almost certainly vegan.
If the product has no certifications, we should be looking for a few things:
- The label must not have animal ingredients;
- The brand must not test on animals;
- The company selling the product must not sponsor animal events or other types of cruelty.
If it is not clear that a company does not test on animals, or, there are dubious ingredients, you can do a quick search on the internet (someone may have already written about it) and/or contact the brand.
Regarding animal testing, when we contact the brands we should be very detailed in the questions we ask. Some brands give vague answers, or manipulate the answer in their favor, making it look like they don’t test on animals when in reality, there is one or several countries where their products are subject to animal testing.