Learning about formulating vegan products could be a hugely transformative experience, even if you aren’t vegan! Vegan skin care offers the same health benefits as other natural products, but you also can go a step or two further and make products that are considered even more ethical. Because no animal-derived ingredients are used in formulating vegan products, and neither the products nor ingredients have been tested on animals, no harm has come to animals at any part in the production process. This makes vegan products not just natural, but also cruelty-free.

So, even if you are not vegan, there are some serious thumbs-up when it comes to creating skin care products that conform to a highly ethical code, especially if you intend to make products to sell. Cruelty-free and vegan products can be a huge boost to business!

We’re going to shed some light on this movement, and open it up to those of you who may not be familiar with it, or may not see how it can be a benefit to your skin, your beauty products, or your business!

Keep reading to discover:

Vegan Skin Care 101

Veganism refers to someone who does not use or consume animal products. It is a plant-based lifestyle, and most adherents follow a path that is driven by consciousness around personal health and vitality for all living creatures—and ultimately, for the planet as a whole.

The vegan movement is rapidly advancing and growing on a global scale. “The plant-based foods industry has gone from being a relatively niche market to fully mainstream,” said Michele Simon, executive director of the Plant Based Foods Association (PBFA). The global vegan cosmetics market size was estimated at USD 12.9 billion in 2017 (source: Grand View Research). There is huge growth in this sector; the sale of vegan prestige beauty products in the UK reported an increase of 38% in the 12-month period from February 2017 to end of January 2018, according to the NPD group.

In terms of skin care, vegan products are products that are not tested on animals, and that don’t contain any animal-derived ingredients. This means that, barring a few exceptions, vegan products are typically cruelty-free, and can be considered as highly ethical.

While it’s true that choosing to formulate vegan products does limit the variety of ingredients that can be used, vegan-safe and cruelty-free options do exist! There is still a fantastic array of ingredients from which to choose… especially because natural skin care largely consists of plant-based ingredients in the first place!

With a few tweaks to your products, you can not only have something that is natural or organic, but also cruelty-free, ethical, and vegan.

Vegan products are just as potent as non-vegan ones, and can provide everything your skin needs to heal, nourish, and renew. You won’t be missing out on vital skin care ingredients by choosing to buy, use, or make vegan skin care products.

You also don’t have to be vegan to enjoy vegan skin care. You may want to do so for ethical reasons, or you may simply like the way a certain vegan product works for you.

Whether you want to formulate vegan skin care products for ethical reasons, or simply want to explore the cruelty-free ingredient options currently available, your products can still be high-performing, and will still deliver the results that you seek!

How to formulate vegan skin care products: ethical and good for business Skincare Formulation

vegan products are typically cruelty-free, and can be considered as highly ethical.

Why Vegan Skin Care Might be Right for You

Quite possibly the number one reason why people are drawn to vegan products, and a vegan lifestyle, is to support animal welfare. For vegans, avoiding harming or killing animals is of paramount priority. Even for many non-vegan, eco-conscious consumers of natural beauty products, if a skin care product is available that has been made without harm to animals, that can be a huge plus.

Not too long ago, vegans were relatively uncommon. But today, the vegan movement is mainstream, and there’s no sign of that growth stopping. Vegan cafes, shops, food stalls, cosmetic brands and even entire aisles in supermarkets are popping up everywhere.

In fact, these days, being vegan is considered both healthy as well as trendy!

Actors, musicians, models, and even sports stars are changing to vegan lifestyles, and bringing more visibility to the fact that it is possible to make ethically-conscious, thoughtful choices and still reach healthy, peak performance. Celebrities such as Joaquin Phoenix, Casey Affleck, Jennifer Lopez, Moby, Thom Yorke, Petra Nemcova, Alicia Silverstone, Anne Hathaway, Natalie Portman, Stevie Wonder, Lewis Hamilton… they’ve all been proud to speak about their vegan lifestyle, bringing it to the attention of a mainstream audience.

Like it or not, when famous people get on board with something, more attention is drawn to it and lots of people tend to follow!

Making products that are natural and/or organic is a wonderful choice with a large and growing market. But you could take your products to another level with a few simple tweaks and make them vegan—and that means you’d enter into the fast-growing segment of the natural and organic beauty market that’s also in search of cruelty-free, vegan, and ethical products, while still appealing to the broader natural beauty movement.

Going vegan with your skin care products helps you to hone in on a growing target market—and the market impact you could create could be even greater.

And you don’t have to change your approach to labeling, or worry that making a natural product vegan will turn away potential customers. With the right labelling, people who aren’t vegan won’t be turned off by the fact that it’s cruelty-free, for example, while people who are looking specifically for vegan products will see that it also meets their needs.

How to formulate vegan skin care products: ethical and good for business Skincare Formulation
How to formulate vegan skin care products: ethical and good for business Skincare Formulation
How to formulate vegan skin care products: ethical and good for business Skincare Formulation

Formulating with Vegan Ingredients

While there are significant benefits to formulating with natural and organic ingredients, most of the benefits to formulating with vegan ingredients are that you’re avoiding things which might have caused animals to be harmed. For our students who are especially concerned about the ethical and environmental impact of their ingredients, this can be a huge reason to switch. What could be more impactful than avoiding pain in other living beings?

From the marketing side of things, there’s also the audience-appeal factor to vegan products. This means that, with the right swaps, you won’t have to compromise the effective and functional qualities of your products, while also broadening your potential customer base.

If you’re interested in learning more about certifications available for vegan products, you can check out:

  • Vegan Society: UK-based organization certifying vegan products.
  • Vegan: US-based organization certifying vegan products.

Due to the significant overlap between vegan and cruelty-free, it’s worth it to also consider those organizations as well:

Non-vegan ingredients and vegan alternatives

Whether you are formulating products yourself or checking the ingredients of product you buy, here are some things to look out for. Some of the ingredients below can be obtained from both animal and vegetable sources, and you will need to check with the supplier of the ingredient or product to find out which one they are using.

Non Vegan Ingredients & Origin


Vegan Alternative

Beeswax (INCI Cera Alba)

Produced by honey bees

Emollient, occlusive, and also a firming agent

Carnauba wax, candelilla wax, and many more.

Lanolin (and Isopropyl Lanolate)

A product of oil glands of sheep and extracted from wool

Emollient. Occlusive, moisturizing

Plantsoft L manufactured by Kinetik is a vegan lanolin alternative with similar emollient, occlusive and moisturizing properties. Other emollients such as vegetable oils can also be used as a replacement.

Hyaluronic Acid

Poultry (rooster coombs) or bacteria-based biofermentation

Skin conditioning agent, humectant

Derived from plants through bacteria-based biofermentation.

Squalene Oil

from shark livers 


Plant derived versions are available, for example olive squalane. Reasonable amounts of squalane are also found in wheat germ, rice bran oil, and amaranth oil.

Capric/Caprylic Triglyceride

Liquid fatty acid from plant or goats milk


Capric/Caprylic Triglyceride can be derived from plant sources such as coconut oil.


A protein derived from ground hooves, horns, feathers and quills, and hair of various animals

A key structural protein which forms hair and nails 

Hydrolyzed vegetable proteins can be a suitable alternative to keratin (although they don’t provide exactly the same effect). Some suppliers sell Phytokeratin, which is a blend of hydrolyzed proteins.


From uric acid from cows and other mammals 

Skin conditioning agent and protectant 

Plant-derived (eg from comfrey root) and synthetically made allantoin is available.

Retinoids (eg retinol and retinyl palmitate)

Animal sources (eg fish, eggs, milk, cheese) 


Most of the retinoids used in cosmetics are made synthetically. If you wish to use natural alternatives, you can use carotenoids. Carotenoids, like retinoids, are also derivatives of Vitamin A but the difference is they are found in plants. A well-known example of a carotenoid is beta-carotene, which can be found in macerated carrot oil and sea buckthorn oil, so these are possible vegan alternatives.


A byproduct of soap manufacture which sometimes  uses animal fat 


Glycerin can be derived from vegetable sources and is sold as Vegetable glycerin


Pigment (red) derived from crushed female cochineal insect 


A vegan (and natural) alternative to carmine is red iron oxide – it’s has a more earthy-dark hue. Plant based pigments, such as beetroot powder, can also be used to add color to cosmetic products.


Excretion of certain insects 

Provides a resinous glaze 

Plant waxes and zein (corn protein)

Milk/Yoghurt Powders

Goat milk or cow’s milk 

Act as gentle exfoliants and emollients 

Coconut milk and soy milk are a good substitute for the emollient function animal milks.

Formulating vegan products can be as simple as choosing carefully the source of an ingredient (for example choosing vegetable glycerin over other versions).

It may mean substituting one ingredient for another. For example using an alternative emollient to lanolin. Or using carnauba wax instead of beeswax. If changing an existing non-vegan formula to a vegan one you may need to alter the percentage that you use the substitute ingredients to achieve a similar end result.

It may mean simply not using certain ingredients such as keratin.

Spotlight: Vegan Alternatives to Beeswax

Our students often ask about a vegan alternative to beeswax. Luckily, there are plenty to choose from! But you do need to be aware that different waxes may need to be used at different amounts to achieve the same hardness in a product.

We carried out an experiment with vegan waxes (carnauba wax, candelilla wax, jojoba wax and rose wax) and how they compare to beeswax. Our Diploma in Natural Skincare Formulation includes the full experiment and report so you can easily see how much of a vegan wax to use to replace beeswax. Plus we also compared other characteristics such as how the waxes felt on the skin, for example do they feel sticky, greasy, silky, etc, and how easily they were absorbed. Here is a summary of what we found:

How to formulate vegan skin care products: ethical and good for business Skincare Formulation

Switch It Up! A Sample Vegan Lip Balm

We have previously shared a simple, but luxurious, formula for a Cocoa Butter Lip Balm. It’s very easy to change this into a vegan product by switching the beeswax for a vegan wax. In the case of this formula, we used beeswax at 16%. As you can see from the chart above, at percentages between 15-20% beeswax, candelilla wax and carnauba wax create a similar level of firmness, so you can keep the percentage the same. Outside of this percentage range you might also need to change the percentage used.

Original formula:

73.5g sunflower or sweet almond oil
16g beeswax
10g cocoa butter
0.5g essential oil of your choice (eg orange, peppermint or geranium)

Vegan formula

73.5g sunflower or sweet almond oil
16g candelilla wax or carnauba wax
10g cocoa butter
0.5g essential oil of your choice (eg orange, peppermint or geranium)



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