Are animal cosmetic ingredients still used?

Nicola needs to know…Is it true that rendering plants sell animal by-products for use in cosmetics?


Left Brain Illuminates:

It has always amused me that people will gleefully eat steak, lobster, and fried chicken, but are appalled to imagine animal ingredients would be used in their cosmetics. What do they think should happen to the inedible parts that come from food production? Just be deposited in landfills and allowed to rot? I’m sincerely curious.

Animal Ingredients in Cosmetics

But enough of that. To answer your question, YES, it is true that there are still some animal ingredients used in cosmetics. Their use is not nearly as prevalent as fringe cosmetic companies like Arbonne would suggest, but they are still in there.

For a big list of possible animal ingredients used in cosmetics, see this one put together by PETA. We’re not endorsing this list as gospel, but a brief review found it covered most ingredients you’d likely find. Of course, in true fashion of a fearmongering group, it also includes sketchy information including ingredients you won’t find anymore. Also, it lists animal-derived ingredients like Honey, Milk, and Lanolin without mentioning that these materials are gotten without harming animals.

Major Cosmetic Animal Ingredients

The truth is that most companies now go out of their way to avoid using animal ingredients. Any minor cost savings achieved by using animal based ingredients is vastly off-set by the PR nightmare generated by groups like PETA and EWG. Also, real governmental regulations about Mad Cow Disease (BSE) have prompted companies to mostly use alternatives. But you’ll still find some animal ingredients. The following are the most common.


What is it? Collagen is a protein and the main component of connective tissue. This includes connective tissue in both humans and animals. It is also chemically modified to produce gelatin.

Why is it in my cosmetic? Collagen is primarily used in skin wrinkle creams. The collagen in your skin is naturally degraded over time due to environmental factors. Add to that your body’s own tendency to slow collagen production as you get older and you start to getting sagging, wrinkly skin. The idea behind including collagen in your skin products is that by replacing damaged collagen you can firm up your skin and reduce wrinkles.

Does it work? Collagen won’t much permanent effect on your wrinkles. At best, it will provide a temporary tightening of your skin. The idea of arbitrarily plopping collagen on your skin to fix wrinkles is like trying to fix a hole in your Lucky Jeans by dumping a pile of denim on it. It doesn’t work. See this article for what really works on wrinkles.

Alternatives – Just because a product says it has collagen in it doesn’t mean that it is using animal derived collagen. There are plant derived alternatives. They are equally as ineffective.


What is it? Elastin is another protein important in the proper functioning of your connective tissue. It is like a rubber band that allows skin, cartilage, tendons, etc. to snap back after being stretched. As you get older it gets diminished and your skin starts to sag.

Why is it in my cosmetic? Elastin is used in skin products for the same reason as collagen. Cosmetic companies figure that if it’s in your skin naturally adding more must be good.

Does it work? Topical elastin has never been shown in a peer reviewed study to have any long-term effect on wrinkles. It suffers from the same problems as collagen. When produced inside your body by your cells, it reduces wrinkles. When applied topically, it has minimal effect. It’s not only the ingredient that matters but how the ingredient is applied.

Alternatives – Raw material suppliers have developed synthetic and non-animal versions of elastin.


What is it? Keratin is another structural protein found in mammals. This is the stuff of hair, nails and horns.

Why is it in my cosmetic? Human hair is composed of keratin. When you lose keratin protein your hair is damaged. Cosmetic companies figure if you can replace that keratin with more protein, then you’ll fix your hair problems.

Does it work? While protein in general has been shown to provide some benefit when applied to hair, keratin protein in particular is not more effective than some other protein source. Applying protein to hair also suffers from the same like-on-like fallacy as collagen and elastin. More effective hair conditioning ingredients include quaternized surfactants and silicones.

Alternatives – There are non-animal derived Kertain alternatives.


What is it? Tallow is animal fat. It contains mostly longer chain fatty acids.

Why is it in my cosmetic? Fatty acids and oils make excellent conditioning ingredients for both hair and skin products. They improve the feel and look of these surfaces.

Does it work? Yes. Tallow derived ingredients actually will make your skin and hair feel better. But you can get these same fatty acids from plant oils like sunflower, soybean, etc. The animal derived ingredients don’t provide much added benefit.

Alternatives – Soybean oil and other plant derived oils.

Beauty Brains bottom line

While there are ingredients used in cosmetics that come from animals, the industry has mostly moved to using suitable alternatives. There are few, if any, animal derived ingredients that don’t have some suitable, plant or synthetic replacement. Just looking at the ingredient list to determine if it has an animal ingredient is not going to tell you much. Synthetic collagen is not labeled any differently than animal-derived collagen.

Do animal derived ingredients in your cosmetics bother you? What do you think should be done with the stuff left over from the food processing industry? Leave a comment and let the rest of the Beauty Brains community know.