It’s some of the best beauty advice I’ve ever received: Don’t put anything on your skin you wouldn’t put in your stomach. Our bloodstream absorbs all ingredients through the pores of our skin, yet we often don’t put the same consideration into the ingredients in our serums as we do those in our snacks.
A UC Berkeley study found a 27–45 percent drop in chemical exposure when teenage girl participants stopped using toxic beauty products (oh, and don’t even get me started on how important it is to use organic tampons—but that’s another story). So I make sure all my beauty products are vegan (and cruelty-free) and try to limit ingredients as much as possible to things that I can pronounce and are plant-based. And, with vegan and natural products stocking more and more shelves, it has become even easier to avoid all the nasty stuff.
Over the past few years, I’ve been lucky to test many different vegan beauty products, and I have plenty of impressive options when it comes to choosing my favorites. With the entire state of California recently banning animal testing on all cosmetics, my hope is that vegan, cruelty-free beauty will soon be the rule rather than the exception—and your purchasing power can help make that happen.
These are the products I find myself coming back to again and again. Per my personal preferences, they are devoid of synthetic fragrances, mostly err on the uber-natural, whole-plant ingredient side, and are safe for the most sensitive of eyes, skin, and hearts.
There's a TL;DR breakdown of products at the end if you want to see if your favorite made the list.
Steeped in vitamins and plant-based acids and minerals, of the many serums I’ve tested, this oil-based serum from Lavido is one of the best. (For reference, my skin tends to be sensitive, dry, and prone to clogged pores.) If you’re looking for something at a lower price that works great, isn’t filled with junk, and feels luxurious, I’d also highly recommend Mad Hippie Antioxidant Face Oil.
This undereye concealer from Pacifica has caffeine in it, which definitely makes me feel at least mentally better. It goes on smooth and makes you look slightly more awake every morning, without irritating sensitive eyes or looking too heavy.
Lipstick is one of the most important beauty products to make sure isn’t filled with chemicals, because you know you end up eating half of whatever you put on before the night is over. Enter Obsessive Compulsive Lip Tar, which is not only vegan, but keeps its ingredients to a minimum while providing those of us who aren’t great at lipstick application with a foolproof, not-sticky bold red lip.
I hope Better than Sex mascara from Too Faced isn’t actually better than the sex you’re having, because it sure as hell won’t give you any orgasms. That said, it has indeed earned its reputation as one of the best vegan mascaras on the market. I can vouch that it won’t irritate sensitive eyes or clump (until it gets to be about three months old). It lifts and lengthens for a look that can be subtle enough for daytime wear, or layered for a more dramatic lash. Endlessly Beautiful Mascara is a close second, sans cruelty, clumps, and artificial ingredients.
It’s hard for me to find an eyeliner that doesn’t irritate my sensitive eyes if I put it on my inner lids, which is why I love 100% Pure’s black eyeliner. With vegan, natural ingredients, it lives up to its name. It goes on smooth and smudges well for a smokier look, and I also like the way it wears throughout the day; it doesn’t rub off so much as become a little more naturally smoldering as the night goes on. A side note: 100% Pure also makes one of the best (and most natural) vegan mascaras (and also the only one that smells like blueberries, to my knowledge). It doesn’t earn my top recommendation only because it sometimes flakes and ages a bit faster than the less-pure options I suggested above. Still, if you really want to go all-natural, it’s definitely the best mascara I’ve found that uses only whole ingredients.
Honey Belle is a small vegan brand uses only whole plant ingredients, and its products smell amazing. I especially recommend the Luxe cleanser, with organic cold-pressed apricot, rosemary, bergamot essential oil, and vitamin E. If you haven’t used an oil cleanser instead of soap yet, you’re missing out—oil cleansers leave your skin just as clean but much softer and more moisturized than regular facial soap. This is the brand that converted me.
As I mentioned, I’m no longer a huge fan of soap as part of my beauty routine, but my partner absolutely is, which means all soap samples go directly to him. These Yuzu soaps were his favorite gift all year. Completely vegan, they all smelled great and left his skin smooth and clean. He loved them so much he even remembered the brand’s name, which, if you knew him, is enough to earn Yuzu a spot on this list.
I use this sunscreen and all-in-one beauty balm from Andalou every day. Unfortunately for people with darker skin tones, it comes in only one “shade,” though it blends to create a brightened look that is somewhere between a BB moisturizer and just plain moisturizer. Perfect for those of us whose sensitive skin gets irritated by synthetic ingredients, it smells wonderful and is great for freshening up your complexion without foundation, while also protecting your skin.
As you may have noticed by now, I really like products with essential oils. But there’s no reason you can’t make them on your own! Simply buy a few carrier oils, like coconut and jojoba; invest in an essential oil starter set; and check out this guide I wrote on the best oils for different ailments. I’m particularly a fan of making my own natural bug repellant by mixing citrus, tea tree, frankincense, clary sage, and a bunch of other oils bugs don’t like. It works and doesn’t make you smell like garbage, unlike chemical-filled repellants.
If you know you’re just not going to make your own potion, then I highly suggest Desert Essence Coconut Jojoba & Coffee Oil as a feel-good body moisturizer or massage oil. It has only three ingredients but makes you smell downright good enough to eat and energizes you, maybe because some of that coffee enters your system. (Their even-more-basic Coconut Jojoba Oil also smells and feels amazing as a nighttime option.)
If you’d like to do some experimenting with ethical beauty (and why wouldn’t you?) but you’re unsure where to start, a curated and ethical online market like Good Cubed is a solid place to do some browsing. That said, if you prefer someone else make your beauty sample choices for you (no shame, it’s nice to get presents!), cruelty-free, vegan beauty subscription services, like Petit Vour or Love Goodly, also make excellent gifts for yourself.
- Lavido Replenishing Facial Serum, $59
- Mad Hippie Antioxidant Face Oil, $20
- Pacifica Under Eye Brightener, $12
- Obsessive Compulsive Lip Tar, $15
- Too Faced Better than Sex Mascara, $24
- Endlessly Beautiful Mascara, $18
- 100% Pure Creamy Long Last Liner, $26
- 100% Pure Fruit Pigmented Ultra Lengthening Mascara, $26
- Honeybelle Luxe Cleanser, $14
- Yuzu Soap Sampler, $22
- Andalou Naturals Vitamin C BB Cream, $15
- Wasserstein Essential Oils Gift Set, $22
- Desert Essense Coconut Jojoba & Coffee Oil, $12