Is My Shampoo Vegan? A Guide to Vegan Hair Products

We all want shiny, bouncy, healthy hair.

But who really stops to think about what makes that sculpting gel gel-y, or how that hairspray keeps its hold so well? Where do you think the protein comes from in protein restorative shampoos or hair masks? 

While many of these ingredients can be plant-sourced as well, if the packaging does not explicitly say it is, it would be safer to assume that it’s not. 

Here are some of the top NON-vegan ingredients to look our for in your shampoos, conditioners, hairsprays, serums, and other hair care products. Please note that some of these ingredients might appear in a variety of products in addition to the ones mentioned below:

In hair creams and conditioners watch out for Biotin: 

This ingredient is often used as a texturizer in hair creams and conditioners. Biotin is found in all living cells, and in large quantities in milk and yeast.  

Alternative: There are many plant-based sources of this B vitamin as well, including carrots, onions, leafy greens, cabbage, and fresh berries. 

In hair lacquers, lotions and shampoos watch out for Cetyl Alcohol:

Biotin is ingredient that is often used as a texturizer in hair creams and conditioners. Biotin is found in all living cells, and in large quantities in milk and yeast.

Often found in hair lacquers, lotions, and shampoos, this wax is found in the spermaceti (head cavity) of whales, dolphins, and other cetaceans. ‘Nuff said. 

Alternative: Look for products that specifically state their cetyl alcohol is veggie-sourced (often derived from coconut). 

In hair gels watch out for Gelatin:

If you haven’t heard by now, most gelatin is made by boiling discarded animal bones, skin, and ligaments. It gives products a thick, smooth, gelatinous texture…this goes for hair gels too. 

Alternative: Try to find ones that use an alternative such as Irish moss (carageenan) or seaweed (agar, kelp, etc.). 

In moisturizers, hair masks and creams watch out for Hyaluronic Acid:

Vegan shampoos
In hair lacquers, lotions and shampoos watch out for Cetyl Alcohol

This protein is known to be useful for adding moisture and manageability to dull, dry, or lackluster hair. Unfortunately, it is usually derived from umbilical cords, and the synovial fluid surrounding the joints of animals. 

Alternative: This chemical is actually produced in our own bodies, and vegetable and soy are actually great sources of it, so chances are most vegans don’t even need this added to their products if they’re eating a good variety of fresh whole foods!

In hair mask and restorative hair treatment watch out for Keratin: 

Keratin treatments have become quite popular these days, as they promise to restore damaged hair, make hair stronger, and even keep curly or kinky hair straight. We produce keratin ourselves. It is one of the main constituents of human skin, hair, and nails. It is also found in animal hooves, feathers, horns, and hair.

Alternative: There are a multitude of plant-derived ingredients and herbs that can serve the same purpose; you just have to look for them!

In hairsprays and conditioners watch out for Stearic Acid: 

Stearic Acid or stearic/ stearyl lurk in many common items such as hairspray, conditioners, and even deodorants and some chewing gums. When animal-derived, it can come from the fats of cows, pigs, and even domestic euthanized pets, as difficult a pill as that is to swallow.

Alternative: Stearic Acid can also be sourced from cocoa and Shea butters as a cruelty-free alternative; again – just check! 

Online ingredient guides and vegan labeling 

For a complete list of animal-derived ingredients to avoid, check out PETA’s extensive list. Another great guide is the Nature Watch Compassionate Shopping Guide.

Vegan labels
When in doubt, look for common labels that will simply certify that your product is vegan in one glance.

When in doubt, check for common labels that give you the lowdown, straight up. Labels to take note of include:

  • Vegan Action’s “Certified Vegan” symbol,consisting of a circle with a heart and a “V” inside, denoting that the product bearing this logo contains no animal products or byproducts whatsoever. 
  • PETA’s pink and black Cruelty-Free bunny logo, though this logo simply means that the product was produced without being tested on animals. If the product is vegan as well, the logo will normally read “cruelty-free and vegan”. 
  • The UK Vegan Society uses their sunflower trademark to label products that are vegan: i.e. not tested on animals AND do not contain animal derived ingredients.

The good news is that many companies are starting to respond to the increased consumer demand for cruelty-free, vegan, and chemical-free products. This means many more options are widely available, from your local grocer or natural foods store to larger chain stores as well. Some of my favorite vegan products come from companies such as Giovanni, Nature’s Gate, Aveda, and Kiss My Face.

If your favorite store doesn’t carry a vegan product you wish they did, it never hurts to ask- many shop owners are willing to special order, and you may even help bring about more awareness using cruelty-free, vegan products to your neck of the woods! Happy (vegan) shopping!! 

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