The Dark Side of Beauty


We all love natural ingredients, right? But would we love them if they were made from animal fat, tissues and other parts? No, didn’t think so.

Throughout history there have been a whole host of bizarre, animal-derived ingredients lurking in beauty. We think you deserve to know about them.

At The Body Shop, we have serious issues with animal tissues. Why? Because while animals may not be directly killed for these ingredients, their appearance in cosmetics exposes them to cruelty. That’s why by the end of 2023, our entire product formulations portfolio will be certified by The Vegan Society.1

Many of the animal-derived ingredients in non-vegan beauty rely on intensive farming, fishing and by-products of the meat trade. Even if you aren’t vegan yourself, we still think you have a right to know if bugs are featuring in your self-care regime.

There can be all sorts of ingredients hidden in supply chains. Animal-derived ingredients can have not easily identifiable names, so it’s hard to tell what’s what. It’s confusing for you – and you shouldn’t have to scour labels for clues to the ethics behind your favorite product.

Luckily the beauty industry is changing, and many companies, including us at The Body Shop, are looking at their raw materials again. But there are still some ingredients you may not be aware are animal-derived.


Women using body butter on skin


A red dye made from crushed beetles commonly used in cosmetics.2

Beetles will appear on cosmetics labels as ‘carmine.’ Also called Crimson Lake, Cochineal, Natural Red 4, C.I. 75470, or E120, carmine is a red pigment produced by boiling certain types of scaly insects called cochineals. Cochineals are harvested, dried out, and ground up, producing a powdered dye, which is dark red. The extracted dye can be used to produce carmine lake or carminic acid, both of which are common in cosmetics such as lipstick. Between 22 billion and 89 billion adult female cochineals are killed per year directly to produce carmine dye.3

Women applying butter to skin


Beaver anal sacs exudate that has been used in luxury perfume.

Historically, beavers were trapped, anaesthetized and their anal castoral glands ‘milked’ for their musky vanilla scent. Often a by-product of the fur trade, castoreum has been used in some perfume for over 80 years and is marketed as creating a ‘sensual’ scent.4 Although it’s nowhere near as common, there’s still some demand for this product in luxury perfumes.

Hand applying body butter to leg


Used to create shimmering pigments in cosmetics.5

Guanine is used as a color additive to create a pearlescent effect in cosmetics and is often derived from fish scales. A lot of the time it’s taken from herring scales and is used most commonly in nail varnish.6

Women applying moisturiser to body


Protein found in the neck ligaments and aortas of cows.7 Used in anti-ageing skin products.

Human elastin is found in our skin and loses its properties as we age. It hasn’t been proven by any proper scientific study to improve signs of ageing8, but animal-derived elastin is still used in many anti-ageing products. Elastin is sometimes extracted as a by-product of the meat and dairy trade.

Women applying shower gel to body


Used in skincare products, hyaluronic acid is a molecule used for its moisture-boosting properties. It can be made using a range of animal sources.9

There are lots of non-vegan ways hyaluronic acid can be produced. Some processes directly involve animal sources, most notably chicken combs10. And often, animal derived products are used in the fermentation process used to create the acid. For example, Streptococcus Zooepidemicus is sometimes used, which is a bacteria found in the bowels and lungs of horses. There is no reason why animals should be involved in this process, so keep your eyes peeled for acids with a plant-based or vegan bio fermentation process.

Women applying moisturiser to body


A protein sourced from ground horns, hooves, feathers and hair of various animals.11

Often marketed in haircare as a strengthening aid, keratin is a type of protein that is used in cosmetic products to help improve hair structure. There’s no such thing as plant-based keratin as it’s a uniquely animal derived ingredient. However, there are many plant-based molecules that mimic keratin, so look out for these alternatives.

Women applying serum to skin


Skincare occasionally extracted from the liver of deep-sea sharks.12

Deep-sea sharks are targeted for the squalene market because they have some of the highest concentrations of the substance in their livers. Squalene has protective and moisturizing properties and exists naturally in many plants. There was an international trade of 752 tons of shark liver oil reported to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization in 2018, which breaks down to about 1.5 million sharks. Scientists predict the real figure in shark liver trade is much higher, considering the commercial catch of sharks globally at approximately 70-100 million individuals a year.

The global Squalene market accounted for $120.16 million in 2019 and is expected to reach $244.74 million by 2027.13 This is particularly problematic because of the deep-sea shark’s long reproduction cycle, making them highly vulnerable to overfishing.

Women with arm over head


Animal fat used in the formulation of eye makeup, lipsticks, makeup bases and foundations, shampoos, shaving soaps, moisturizers and skin care products.

An animal waste product of the meat trade, tallow is harvested from farm animals such as cows, sheep and pigs in a process known as ‘rendering.’ The largest exporters are Australia, the US, New Zealand and Canada. Since tallow is a by-product, mainly of cattle and sheep farming, its associated environmental and social impacts are those of the livestock and meat industries. Livestock production is highly resource-intensive in terms of water, land and energy use, and contributes an estimated 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.