This post was originally posted on April 15th 2019. It has been updated for freshness, accuracy and completeness.
You wouldn’t expect a bottle of smelly liquid not to be vegan, would you? After all, it’s just water and a few different scents, right? There is far more to your favourite bottle of perfume than meets the eye.
Is perfume vegan? The answer is, probably not. Most high-street and high-end perfume brands test their ingredients on animals. They also use animal-derived ingredients for their perfumes. They are often not vegan or cruelty-free. But, there are now lots of fantastic vegan perfumes available on the market.
We take a look at why most perfume isn’t vegan and how animals get used during their production and also look at the alternatives available. We hope this helps you to make a more ethical choice the next time you buy perfume.
Animal testing and ethics
Even though a product is not tested on animals in the UK or the EU, if it’s sold in China, it likely has been. Under Chinese law, all cosmetic products must get tested on animals.
Companies offering you a vegan product in the UK or EU might also be selling in China. Allowing their products to get tested on animals.
Studies have proven that animal testing correctly predicts a human reaction to cosmetics only 40 to 60% of the time. While alternatives are accurate, 80% of the time. Not only is animal testing inefficient, but it’s also expensive.
The question then turns to ethics. Companies may not be testing in your region, but they allow testing to tap into the Chinese market.
So, should we support vegan products from these companies? Or, should we boycott companies for not following through on their values?
This is a similar debate about meat alternatives – should we support non-vegan food chains?
On a positive note, China is making some reform on animal testing. It’s not nearly where us animal lovers want it to be, but any progress is progress.
China’s laws are complex and conditional. But, the people of China are becoming more conscious. The pet industry is soaring.
The Chinese population are changing their perspective and relationship to animals. It’s a gradual step, but an essential step in the fight for animals.
During the COVID-19 outbreak, there has been a call for the Chinese government to ban wildlife trade. This would be a massive step for animal rights.
But, their wildlife trade for consumption and medical use is steeped in hundreds of years of culture and tradition. The government may make strides, but black-market trading is still an issue.
Does cruelty-free mean it’s also vegan?
The short answer is, no. Even if it’s cruelty-free, it may still not be vegan. For vegans, it’s quite strange that the two terms are not synonymous.
To commercial companies, the distinction is quite clear. They can still use animal ingredients but claim no animal testing. Be sure to check your products thoroughly to avoid inadvertently supporting non-vegan products.
For some people, there is also a “grey area” of veganism. Beeswax and lanolin are animal products that don’t harm the animals when extracted. But, they do support the harmful honey and wool industries.
While a product may be cruelty-free and only use lanolin or beeswax, it is not vegan. The ethics and values of the vegan movement are to avoid animal exploitation at all levels.
Why do commercial companies use animal ingredients in perfume?
Animal-based ingredients in perfumes offer two functions.
Firstly they act as fixatives. The oils in these ingredients help to stabilise the volatile components of the perfume. This allows the scent to last longer.
Secondly, these ingredients function as base notes to support the entire scent.
We won’t deny that the use of animal ingredients make fragrances rich, but that does not mean they are better. People are afraid of synthetics and to an extent, rightly so.
Some synthetics are known carcinogens, endocrine disruptors or allergens. But not all.
Some synthetics are an exact replica of the chemical structure of the natural form. Often, the natural form of an ingredient is expensive or harmful to extract. In which case, a synthetic version is the best option available.
Synthetic forms of sandalwood are much less damaging to ecosystems and wildlife.
While there are unsafe synthetics, there are also synthetics that are proven to be 100% safe for use. Safe for us and safe for animals.
IFRA holds high standards of what ingredients are permitted and which are not. We follow strict guidelines to make sure that the synthetics we use in our perfumes will not harm you or the environment.
What animal ingredients do perfumeries use?
Perfume is an ancient practice with a rich history. And it’s understandable. People enjoy smelling good.
But does that warrant imposing ourselves on others environments? Or even worse, killing them for substances they naturally produce?
Whales produce Ambergris, a thick waxy substance. After some time they secrete it into the ocean.
Ambergris floats in the oceans for years – the longer, the better. In technical terms, sourcing Ambergris isn’t doing any harm to whales.
But the question of animal safety comes into play when sperm or pygmy whales beach themselves and people are ready to extract raw ambergris.
Even though the raw ambergris is useless for perfume, it can still fetch hefty prices on the black market putting whales at risk.
Civets secrete a paste used in perfumery. Civet farms exist mainly in Africa with the paste sent all across the world.
About 500g of paste can take up to 4 years of collecting from a civet. There are farms opening in Thailand that aim to collect it more ethically but caging is still used.
As a vegan, prohibiting the freedom of an animal is still an issue. The recent Coca-Cola Fairlife Milk Farm scandal demonstrated that even when ‘best practices’ are used, animals are often abused and ill-treated.
They produce the scent from small little sacs around the genital region. Musk deer numbers have declined to the near point of extinction. Efforts have been made to protect them and raise them in controlled environments.
The concern is not just controlled environments but inhibiting the freedom of another. Synthetic versions of musk are available. But, they don’t replicate the original. Therefore, commercial perfumers still use animal musk.
At Dolma, we offer a beautiful Musk version made from the combination of specific floral notes. Read more about VegaMusk.
This is a small mammal in Africa that lives around rocky areas. Its excrements collect on the rocks. Over time it becomes petrified into a substance used in perfumery. This is cruelty-free and is technically vegan.
There is a concern that people are interrupting their natural habitat to collect the excrements. Humans have an innate desire to consume more and more.
Demand makes us encroach onto natural environments with little regard for ecological impact.
Castoreum is collected from the sacs of both male and female beavers. They are bred and killed for this substance that is in cosmetics and even food!
Some of these ingredients clearly violate our vegan principles. Others fall into a somewhat grey area for discussion. Some ingredients boil down to the finer ethical components of what it means to be vegan.
Despite it not directly hurting the animal, we must consider the impact on their habitat. How far will people go to attain ambergris that’s valued at 20,000 USD a kilogram?
The importance of buying vegan and cruelty-free perfume
One of the most significant shifts in consumerism right now is the rise of eco-consumerism. This shift to conscious consumerism is imperative in our fight against animal cruelty. It also positively impacts the planet.
Consumers are now realising that their money is a “vote” each time they purchase something new.
“Is this funding a better world? Am I funding animal cruelty and more environmental destruction?”. These questions are becoming more and more critical for people.
The market has reacted to this consumer demand. That demand is forcing companies to become more ethical. It’s also breeding new ethical independent companies.
This is excellent news for people, animals, and our planet. Consumerism is essential for our economy and society, so why make the system more ethical? It makes sense to mitigate our impact but at the same time, allow business to flourish.
Vegan and cruelty-free perfume companies are also concerned about the environment. Veganism and sustainability go in hand in hand.
Most vegan perfume companies will use a mix of synthetic and natural ingredients. This helps them to create the most sustainable product possible.
Vegan brands often use eco-materials for their packaging. This helps to further mitigate their impact on the planet. Using recycled paper and cardboard is the most common eco-material in use right now.
How can you find vegan perfume?
Ok, so we now know that not all perfume is vegan and cruelty-free. Now, how do you actually find vegan perfume? There are now a plethora of independent vegan perfume companies (like us!) and even some of the top brands have started to sell vegan perfumes also.
There are some issues, though. Some brands can make it very confusing about whether they are 100% vegan. Some claim to be cruelty-free because they don’t test on animals. But, they include animal-derived ingredients.
To make sure you’re buying vegan products, always look for the vegan logo and leaping bunny logo. Both the vegan and leaping bunny logo are simple ways to determine if a product is vegan and cruelty-free.
There is also the issue of vegan cosmetic brands owned by non-vegan parent companies. Many vegans don’t want to support large cosmetic companies such as L’Oreal or Unilever. If this is you, then we implore you to support independent vegan companies wherever you can. This way, you can be sure that you’re buying vegan products from 100% vegan companies.
You will also be supporting the growth of the vegan industry.
Independent vegan brands tend to be very honest and transparent about their business. They will often write up about their ingredients. They will explain the truth about the use of synthetic ingredients. And, they will have their mission statement displayed on their website. If a brand is secretive about its ingredients and displays no real commitment to animals or the environment, they are likely hiding something.
Vegan perfume brands are an example of how we can create excellent quality perfume without the exploitation of animals. Cruelty-free standards are hopefully going to become the norm over the next decade.
You should now be able to find the perfect vegan scent for you with no compromise of intensity or fragrance. All without the need to test on animals or including animal-derived ingredients.
It’s up to you to make a choice.
Animal testing is unnecessary. If we managed to get ourselves to the moon 53 years ago, we could devise methods of scientific inquiry that don’t use animals. We must insist on new sound methods.
Dolma Vegan Perfumes achieves the same quality while also maintaining a strong ethical code. We are committed to the rights of our furry friends.
Our call to action is that people forgo a little convenience and brand status to stop the mistreatment and abuse of animals.
Animals are not commodities. The natural world is ordered toward freedom, and we should aim for all creatures to have that right.
Dolma Vegan Perfumes and Aftershaves are an independent company that focuses on quality and is certified vegan and cruelty-free. We do not support third-party testing or operate under a parent company. We believe in a world where we can enjoy good things without detriment to the natural world.