What is vegan skin care and is it better for you?

Is it worth trying?
Vegan skin care
Vegan skin care products can have many benefits.Getty Images

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/ Source: TODAY
By Chrissy Callahan

It's easy to wrap your head around a vegan diet, but the concept of vegan skin care can be a bit confusing. Is it the same as cruelty-free skin care? Are there certain ingredients you should avoid?

There are plenty of questions that come along with this emerging trend. TODAY Style sought the help of experts to help break down the benefits of vegan skin care and determine whether it's worth trying.

What does the term vegan skin care mean?Getty Images

What is vegan skin care?

In general, vegans follow a diet free of meat and animal byproducts such as milk or cheese. Much like these dietary restrictions, vegan skin care also forgoes animal-derived ingredients when formulating products.

“By definition, vegan skin care products are not produced from an animal or an animal byproduct. This means that traditional ingredients like beeswax, honey, collagen, lanolin and keratin are not used,” said Dr. Hooman Khorasani, chief of the division of dermatologic and cosmetic surgery at Mount Sinai Health System.

There are plenty of other animal-derived ingredients that vegan skin care brands avoid, including carmine (a colorant derived from beetles) and silk, and they tend to use plant-based or synthetic ingredients instead.

In most cases, vegan products even steer clear of animal byproducts that are ethically sourced.

“The term ‘animal derived’ isn’t always such a clear designation. Lanolin, a fantastic moisturizer, comes from the washing of sheep’s wool. It doesn’t hurt the sheep and it’s actually necessary to shear the sheep so their coat doesn’t get too heavy. But many vegan products avoid this ingredient,” cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos said.

If a product is vegan, does that also mean it's cruelty-free?Getty Images

Are vegan and cruelty-free the same thing?

When you hear that a product is vegan and free of animal byproducts, you’d think it's also cruelty-free, right? Not necessarily.

“'Cruelty free' simply means a product or its ingredients have not been tested on animals by a supplier, manufacturer, producer or any third-party entity. Some brands may be cruelty-free without being vegan, so if you are looking for the latter make sure it is explicitly stated,” said Dr. Anthony M. Rossi, assistant attending of dermatology at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

Cruelty-free products can be ethically sourced but still contain animal byproducts like beeswax, carmine and lanolin, so it pays to read the ingredients list.

You might also assume that vegan skin care products are always considered organic or natural since they tend to use plant-based ingredients. But since they often use synthetic colorants or fragrances, that’s not always the case.

“'Organic' means that the product was grown without the use of pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or (genetically modified organisms). The term ‘natural,’ on the other hand, means that the product does not contain anything artificial or synthetic,” Khorasani said.

There are a few ways to tell if a product is vegan.Getty Images

How can you tell a product is vegan?

Keep your eyes open for several telltale ingredients, including aloe, shea butter, grapeseed extract and green tea, according to Dr. Debra Jaliman, a board-certified New York City dermatologist and author of the book “Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist." She added, "Many essential oils are also vegan."

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But if you’re pressed for time and don’t feel like poring over an ingredients list, you can also look out for several common vegan seals on products you’re considering purchasing.

“There is no one official certifying agency, but there are groups such as PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) that do label certain products as being vegan or cruelty-free,” said Dr. Robert Anolik, a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology.

Vegan Action has a list of vegan-certified brands as does the Vegan Society.

Vegan skin care can have several benefits.Getty Images

Is vegan skin care better for you?

In theory, more plant-based ingredients should be better for your skin, and vegan skin care products can offer a range of benefits.

“Vegan products tout the same general benefits of a vegan diet in terms of reducing environmental damage and promoting kindness towards animals, but they can also be really beneficial for your skin," Khorasani said. "Vegan ingredients such as aloe vera, ginger, garlic, mint and lavender have been used for centuries for their healing and cosmetic properties.”

Additionally, vegan products are often rich in vitamins filled with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, and since they typically contain fewer ingredients, it can be easier to understand exactly what you’re putting on your skin.

“If you can do without certain popular ingredients such as honey, elastin, lanolin and collagen, vegan skin care could be better for you especially if you have sensitive skin. While many of the nonvegan ingredients are not harmful, when you use vegan products you probably are getting more vitamins and minerals from the ingredients that come from plants,” Jaliman said.

At the same time, vegan skin care products can still potentially cause irritation.

“Just because something is vegan doesn’t mean you can’t be allergic to it," said Rossi. "Many plant-derived ingredients, or plants themselves, can cause irritation or a contact allergy.”

Hoping to minimize potential irritation from vegan skin care products? Check the label for the words "preservative-free," since preservatives can often aggravate skin.

The shelf life of vegan skin care products varies depending on the ingredients used.Getty Images

Do vegan products expire faster?

Since vegan products use a lot of plant-based ingredients, you might wonder how long they last.

"Vegan products can have preservative ingredients that are not animal-derived, so if that's the case, the shelf life can be comparable to nonvegan products," Anolik said.

If vegan products forgo chemical preservatives, however, they can expire faster and require storage in lower temperatures in order to extend their shelf life. That's why it's so crucial to read those labels and do some research on the brands you use.

"Any reputable cosmetic company will stability-test and include a period after opening date on the label that indicates how long it’s good for. So check the label for a symbol that looks like an open jar to see what the period after opening date is. Be careful of any product that doesn’t indicate the shelf life," Dobos said.

Vegan skin care products to try

Looking for a new skin care obsession? These products are all totally vegan and are PETA-approved for being cruelty-free, too!

  • 1. Skyn ICELAND Hydro Cool Firming Eye Gel, $15 (4-Pack), Amazon

Celebrities swear by these vegan, cruelty-free de-puffing eye masks — and TODAY Style loves them, too!

  • 2. Dr. Loretta Gentle Hydrating Cleanser, $35, Nordstrom

This skin care line is the brainchild of a dermatologist, and features several gentle yet effective solutions, like this hydrating cleanser.

  • 3. Pacifica Beauty Wake Up Beautiful Mask, $15, Amazon

Like to multitask? Treat your skin to some TLC while you catch some z's with this overnight mask from Pacifica.

  • 4. DeVita Moroccan Rose Facial Toner, $24, Amazon

This toner from DeVita is said to help reduce the appearance of pores and tackles the premature signs of aging with beneficial vegan ingredients.

  • 5. Nature's Gate Moisturizing Papaya Lotion, $19 (Pack of 2), Amazon

The delicious smell of papaya in this lotion comes from all-natural fragrance, and features notes of apricot and pansy.