The stuff of "alternative" lifestyles until just a few years ago, veganism is now moving into the mainstream, with an ever- increasing number of people adopting, or at the very least considering, a meat-free existence.
Famous advocates for an animal product-free life include Miley Cyrus, Kate and Rooney Mara (who launched the vegan clothing line Hiraeth), Jared Leto, Jennifer Lopez, Anne Hathaway, Brad Pitt, Natalie Portman and even Bill Clinton, who was named Person of the Year in 2010 by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Worldwide, the number of vegans is rising, with 3.5 million people in the United Kingdom and 1.6 million in the United States now thought to eschew animal products. Almost a third of these are estimated to be female.
As people gain greater access to information about food production, they are becoming less and less inclined to consume animal products. We may like to kid ourselves with tales of happy cows in grass-covered fields, but the reality reported on the internet is rather different. There is a grim allure in finding out just how deep that rabbit hole goes, with graphic footage online of what it takes to turn a chicken into a McNugget, and gloomy statistics about chlorinated meat and antibiotics in animal farming (a reported three-quarters of all antibiotics are used in meat production). This all makes for difficult reading and, once the gruesome reality has been revealed, some find it hard to go back to life as it was.
Invariably, one line of research leads to another, and many of those interested in chemical-free foods eventually start researching personal-care products, and the myriad chemicals in the beauty potions we slather on our skin. This in turn is fuelling a rising interest and demand among consumers for vegan cosmetic and beauty products.
With much of the retail world now aimed at millennials (born between 1977 and 1994) and members of Gen Z (born between 1995 and 2012), the former of which Goldman Sachs describes as "one of the largest generations in history, about to move into its prime spending years", brands are eager to tap into this market of 80 million consumers, who wield US$200 billion (Dh734bn) in annual spending power. Unlike previous 18 to 35 age groups, however, who relied on industry experts to shape spending habits, millennials and Gen Z prefer to listen to one another's views, usually via social media.
This is the generation that is not only giving candid feedback on what works and what doesn't, but also is sharing verifiable tips and tricks for getting the best results. For the beauty sector alone, according to Statista, in 2017 there were 88 billion views of beauty-related content on YouTube, up from 4 billion in 2010. The same year, in Britain there were 700 million hits a month on beauty tutorials, viewed by an estimated two-fifths of the female population.
Forbes valued the 2017 beauty and cosmetics industry at $445bn, a figure set to rise to $675bn by 2020. The Middle East and Africa market was estimated at $30bn in 2016, while the UAE spent Dh877 per capita on beauty – four times the global average. According to Iyad Hijjawi, a senior consultant at Euromonitor, the UAE was “the seventh highest consumer of beauty products in 2016”.
Vegan brands to the rescue
Faced with such information, it is understandable that some consumers are starting to source alternatives to try to avoid using any products that have used cruel methods in the creation or testing process. Thankfully, there are many options to hand. One big name is Kat Von D, who launched her eponymous make-up line in 2008, and has 16 vegan products (including all shades of the Everlasting Liquid Lipstick, and the Unlock It make-up removal wipes), and is actively working towards making the rest of her line fully vegan. Urban Decay lists all its vegan products on one page online for shopping convenience, and the range includes its Vice Lipstick in three shades, as well as the Troublemaker Mascara. Illamasqua – renowned for dense pigmentation solutions – offers seven vegan skin products, including its Skin Base Foundation and Gleam Highlighter, and its Precision Gel Liner, Ink Eyeliner, and Reflection eyeshadow palette.
Celebrity make-up artist Charlotte Tilbury offers a completely cruelty-free make-up line with an impressive 40 vegan options, including the bestsellers Magic Foundation, WonderGlow Primer, and Kissing lipstick in Nude Kate – the colour created for Kate Moss. The Body Shop – a brand that pioneered the cruelty-free stance in 1976 – even offers vegan brushes, while Aesop offers an array of products – for both men and women – that are entirely vegan.
Nars is another high-profile vegan brand with multiple options, while Marc Jacobs Beauty, too, is almost entirely free of animal byproducts and testing. Closer to home, Marzia Clinic, which has recently arrived in the UAE, offers skincare aimed at nourishing stressed skin. Free from parabens, silicone and alcohol, all treatments are completely vegan. Those with colour-treated hair can enjoy guilt-free washing, thanks to Rahua shampoo, which boasts that it is “rainforest-grown” and is made with organic and 100 per cent natural Rahua and Palo Santo oils. Beanbody offers a moisturising body scrub made from ground coffee, sea salt and coconut oil that claims to target stretch marks and cellulite, while FC Beauty offers a range of nail polishes that are fully Sharia-compliant, and have not been tested on animals.
Beyond animal testing
When it comes to an animal-free certification, there are certain tiers: vegan is uppermost, with zero animal products, byproducts or testing. Cruelty-free means the final product has not been tested on animals, although this may not include individual ingredients.
Standard practice since the 1940s for all new cosmetics, animal testing requires large doses to be fed, injected, smeared on, or even inhaled by animals, in cruel and somewhat bizarre experiments such as force-feeding lipsticks to animals, or the notorious Draize test, which drips chemicals into a rabbit’s eyes over a two-week period without anaesthetic to test for ocular irritancy. Substances include perfume, dishwashing liquid, oven cleaner and pesticides.
Thanks to a new wealth of in vitro (non-animal) alternatives, animal testing has been illegal in the UK and EU since March 2013, followed by India in 2014 and Australia in 2016. Since the total ban, brands have been able to use the 5,000-plus ingredients that were tested prior to the ban, to create new and safe beauty products.
Animal-free alternatives have led companies such as EpiSkin and EpiDerm to produce lab-grown human skin samples for testing. An ability to create samples on demand not only reduces costs, but being human epidermis, also increases the accuracy of results. Advances in techniques means that samples can replicate different skin ages and colours. In 2016, scientists in China took a step closer to developing lab-grown human liver cells that, as the primary toxin remover for the body, would open up a wealth of possibilities for the reliable testing of new compounds.
In addition, animal issue is now being grown in laboratories (from slaughterhouse waste) to conduct tests such as the Bovine Corneal Opacity and Permeability test and Isolated Chicken Eye test, with the aim of one day negating the need for testing corrosive substances on live animals altogether.
A recent stumbling block, however, is the opening up of the Chinese market (estimated at $218bn). Although a boom for retailers, China’s law demands that all cosmetics produced outside the country be tested on animals before being approved for sale.
Despite this, the outlook seems to be optimistic for increased growth in veganism around the world. Euromonitor predicts that consumers will continue to search for more environmentally friendly products for themselves and their homes.
Presumably, as millennials start to have children of their own, this gathered knowledge on harmful chemicals and safer alternatives will be passed on, with future generations being raised in an evermore conscious manner, until animal-free beauty products are the absolute norm in our society.