There are plenty of products out there that bear different certifications from varying certifying agencies, but what does all of this mean? Like the terms “vegetarian” and “vegan,” it is largely open to interpretation and personal standards. That is why, ultimately, it is up to you as the consumer to empower yourself with the knowledge of the different ingredients commonly used in beauty products, and their implications in the world of animal welfare. Where one person does not consider honey to be an animal byproduct, someone else does and would never use it. It is your best bet as the consumer to make the decision as to what your boundaries are, and not leave them up to another organization or product company to decide. Their standards simply may not be up to par with yours.
The American Vegetarian Association (AVA) is an agency that was founded to enable vegetarians to make conscious purchase choices that are in line with their lifestyle as a vegetarian or vegan. While the AVA mostly certifies food products, for instance, only cheese that is free of rennet (the lining of a calf’s stomach, typically used to make cheese) will be certified, they do have personal care companies, such as Tata Harper, that are certified by them as being vegetarian. The AVA offers two certified logos, one depicting that the item is vegetarian, meaning that it may contain egg or dairy , or specifically in the case of beauty products, it may contain lanolin or honey. The other depicts that the item is vegan, containing no animal by-products. In order to be certified by the AVA, the applying product company must supply the AVA with the complete ingredients list for all of their products. Keep in mind that these certifications are based on ingredients, not animal testing, so don’t assume this logo means that the product was not tested on animals.
There are two certifying vegan agencies that will allow a beauty or health company to become certified. The Vegan Society is a UK-based agency that was formed in 1944 to promote and educate others about veganism. Vegan Action is a US-based agency that is dedicated to bringing education about veganism and animal welfare to the public through several public outreach campaigns they currently manage. Among these campaigns is the Vegan Certification Campaign which beauty and health companies can obtain once proving they are compliant with vegan standards. With both organizations, they have defined their standards of what constitutes veganism, and the applying beauty and health product companies must agree to comply with those standards.
The Vegan Society defines animals to encompass all vertebrates and mutlicellular invertebrates. In order to receive certification from them, the health or beauty company must prove that they do not, and have not, involved the use of any animal product, by-product or derivative in the manufacturing and/or development of the product. Further, the product and its ingredients can not have ever been involved in animal testing of any kind, both in development and manufacturing. This includes tests performed by the manufacturer, or other parties on its behalf. On top of that. any products that contain genetically modified organisms (GMO) can not have included animal genes or other animal-derived substances, and must state that they contain GMO on the product labeling.
Vegan Action is the US-based certifying vegan agency that will certify products as vegan after the product ingredients have been submitted, along with a fee. Unfortunately the Vegan Action website is not as transparent as The Vegan Society regarding which ingredients they consider vegan, and not vegan, in beauty products.Their FAQ section seemed more geared towards the marketing and financial aspects of becoming certified vegan, complete with a full fee structure on how much the logo licensing rights will cost the company. This is not to say that making money on their certification campaign is their first concern, and these could honestly be the most frequent questions they receive (which says more about the companies coming to them for certification), but we were disappointed to see so little educational material on their website in terms of what is vegan in beauty products, and what is not. Questions to them regarding this have, so far, gone unanswered, but we will update this article if we hear back from them. It should be noted that they do not certify whole companies, just products. This could get tricky if a product company broadly states on their website that their products are “Vegan Certified,” and could be misleading to the consumer.
Through all of our research so far, it appears that the UK-based Vegan Society has the most stringent guidelines towards veganism and animal welfare when certifying beauty and health products, even more so than the Leaping Bunny program, although they sadly do not do many certifications and they are mainly on UK-based products. Nonetheless, this is again a stark reminder that when it comes to buying products, you are your own best advocate. We spoke in our last article about how lanolin is not a cruelty-free product, and how one of the beauty companies we spoke with did not even know that lanolin was an animal-derived product. Well that company proudly bears the certification of one of the aforementioned organizations. While it is not our intention to publicly embarrass any well-intentioned company (which is why we are not saying which it is), we cannot stress enough, personal knowledge is your best tool in ensuring that you are completely cruelty-free with your beauty products!