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18 best vegan and cruelty-free skincare brands that don’t compromise on ethics

From big names to family start-ups, these are the kind-to-planet brands to have on your radar

Amy Sedghi
Friday 06 August 2021 17:03
<p>None of these brands test on animals or sell to countries where animal testing is a requirement</p>

None of these brands test on animals or sell to countries where animal testing is a requirement

It’s fair to say veganism is no longer a fringe movement. There are now more than 600,000 vegans in the UK according to the Vegan Society, while Veganuary had a record number of sign-ups at the start of this year. Businesses have also embraced this growing market, and registrations of the Vegan Sociey’s Vegan Trademark increased by 49 per cent between 2018 and 2019. In fact, there are now more than 54,000 products registered for this certification globally, with 22,000 of these being cosmetics and toiletries.

Whether you’re a dedicated vegan, a flexitarian or are exploring more environmentally friendly choices, you’ll be happy to know that there are a growing number of skincare brands offering vegan-friendly products that are also cruelty-free. You’d think it would be a given that vegan beauty products would also be cruelty-free, but it can be a murky and complex area. Brands selling in China are required to test their products on animals – although following a recent change, the country ended mandatory animal testing for a majority of general cosmetics. This doesn’t include products deemed “special cosmetics” such as sunscreen, though, and brands still have to go through a series of steps to apply for those that could potentially qualify for exemption.

So, to save you the trouble of hunting around to find out which brands are fully vegan and cruelty-free, not to mention create products worth your money, we’ve rounded up the best vegan and cruelty-free skincare brands to know about right now: from big names to smaller family businesses.

All those featured are vegan-friendly, meaning they don’t contain any animal-derived ingredients in their products such as beeswax or milk proteins. These brands also don’t test on animals or sell their products to countries where animal testing is a requirement.

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You can trust our independent round-ups. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps to fund journalism across The Independent.

A beauty brand that is going from strength to strength, UpCircle was inspired in 2015 by a simple hot drink when a brother and sister duo wondered if they could turn the throwaway coffee grounds from coffee shops across London into something useful. They went on to launch a coffee scrub (£12.99, Upcirclebeauty.com) and have diversified their vegan skincare range with products that use, and celebrate, waste byproducts. For example, the refreshingly zesty face toner (£17.99, Upcirclebeauty.com) is made using residual water of green mandarin fruit that would normally be thrown away by the juicing industry, while the camomile stem extract used is a by-product of the tea industry. It’s genius and we can’t get enough of their fun innovations.

To add to this, the cruelty-free brand, which received investment on Dragons’ Den from Touker Suleyman and Tej Lalvani, also advocates a circular skincare economy and has recently introduced refills. With products coming packaged in either glass, aluminium or cardboard, 99 per cent of UpCircle’s packaging across their range is plastic-free. There’s a lot to love from UpCircle’s growing range, but we’re particularly fond of the award-winning soothing body cream with date seeds (£24.99, Upcirclebeauty.com) and the skin-brightening boost we got from the eye cream featuring maple and coffee (£14.99 Upcirclebeauty.com).

Visit UpCircle now

Pai is certified by The Vegan Society, Cruelty Free International and COSMOS, and every one of its products are formulated and manufactured in its London HQ from organic ingredients. The brand’s bestselling rosehip bioregenerate facial oil (£24, Paiskincare.com) boasts a cult following, with one bottle of the blend sold every three minutes. In fact, in our testing of the best rosehip oils, we found Pai’s to be a real contender for the top pick.

We’re also big fans of the brand’s rosehip fruit extract cleansing oil (£33, Paiskincare.com) – when it says it makes light work of removing make-up, dirt and grime, it’s not kidding. Simply rub a couple of drops on to the face (it’s even suitable for using on eyes to remove mascara and eyeliner) and emulsify with water, and you’ll see your make-up melt away down the sink. It’s so good that we didn’t have any fear for our fresh white cotton pillowcases and, thanks to the rosehip in the oil, our skin was left feeling silky smooth and soft. Don’t forget to give a tube of their eco-friendly sunscreen, British summer time SPF3O (£39, Paiskincare.com) a whirl as temperatures rise – it’s ideal for sensitive skin too.

Visit Pai Skincare now

When it comes to vegan, cruelty-free and sustainable brands to know, you can’t get more luxury than the eponymous label of wellness consultant and heiress to the Rocco Forte hotels, Irene Forte. Her family originate from Italy, and Verdura Resort, an organic farm in Sicily, is where the principal ingredients for her sumptuous skincare products are sourced, from the prickly pear cacti used in the brand’s well-loved face cream (£119, Ireneforteskincare.com) to the almonds in the cleansing milk (£69, Ireneforteskincare.com)

Although Irene understands the desire for natural ingredients, she’s also fully aware that not everything in nature is friendly, so in her bid to get the right balance, she teamed up with Dr Francesca Ferri. The outcome was the development of a skincare line that fuses the best of nature with sophisticated scientific research, and is a combo of sensory delights with top level results. For a truly luxe experience, opt for the lavender and rosemary foam cleanser (£59, Ireneforteskincare.com), followed up with the lemon toner (£59 Ireneforteskincare.com) which packs a triple-blend of AHAs. If you have the budget, then indulge in the hibiscus night cream (£139, Ireneforteskincare.com), which has a mix of healthy omega-rich oils, including olive oil, sweet almond oil and shea butter as well as vitamin E, hyaluronic acid and green pea botanical peptides. Its effect is as luxurious as if you’d actually stepped into one of the spas at the Rocco Forte Hotels.

Visit Irene Forte Skincare now

With products that sound, as well as smell, good enough to eat, Vegan by Happy Skin makes the most of nature’s bounty with ingredients such as watermelon, pineapple, plum, coconut and avocado in its skincare. Vegan and cruelty-free, the brand has six ranges, each focusing on a key ingredient and purpose, such as vitamin C and pineapple for brightening. The formulas used in Vegan by Happy Skin are up to 98 per cent natural and, although the packaging is plastic, it is made from an easily recyclable type that is also found in butter tubs and yoghurt containers. It has also pledged to look into making its packaging from at least 50 per cent post-consumer plastic by the end of 2029.

We tried a mixture of its products, but our favourite is the plum and bio-retinol night moisturiser (£29.90, Veganbyhappyskin.com), which contains three types of plum extract (Kakadu, plump pine and wild plum), grape seed oil and aloe vera juice, as well as the natural alternative to retinol: bakuchiol. Smooth and lightweight, it’s also supremely comforting and moisturising. We also like that the brand donates 1 per cent of its website profits to mental health charities.

Visit Vegan by Happy Skin now

This family-run business based in Scotland initially started off offering haircare products after hair stylist and salon owner Suzie Gillespie became frustrated that the products she was using were irritating her skin. Combined with her daughter Olivia’s passion for sustainability, the mother and daughter duo decided to create gentle products in fully recyclable glass bottles and jars. Now the whole family is involved, and the brand has expanded its offering to bodycare, too.

Not only do its products smell wonderful, but they are palm oil free and the ingredients also used are vegan-friendly, sustainable and sourced from renewable sources. Also, all its products are cruelty-free, and they family has vowed not to sell to any countries that would require testing on animals. The skincare range currently consists of only four products: body wash, body lotion, hand wash and hand lotion, but they are all done well and crafted with care. Our top picks are the refreshing miracle body wash (£22, Mooandyoo.com) and the miracle hand wash (£20, Mooandyoo.com) which are both blended with marula oil and Icelandic moss. They smell divine, and the subtle scent stays on the skin and reminds us of the freshness of being beside the ocean. We also love how great the products look in the bathroom – they’re housed in glass bottles with labels printed on recycled paper using vegetable-based inks. Another great detail is that the brand sells refills of its products that come with aluminium lids, so all you have to do is swap the pump over.

Visit Moo & Yoo now

You can often tell the luxury status of a salon, spa or restaurant by the Aesop hand soap on display in the bathroom. The Australian brand is renowned for its delicious-smelling yet pricey hand soaps, but did you know that the brand that launched in 1987 is also vegan-friendly, approved by PETA and a recipient of the Cruelty Free International Leaping Bunny?

We love its bestselling resurrection aromatique hand wash (£27, Aesop.com) with its combination of mandarin rind, rosemary leaf and cedar atlas, but don’t overlook the brand’s skincare offerings. Aesop’s purifying facial exfoliant paste (£37, Aesop.com) leaves skin feeling sublimely soft and polished, thanks to the lactic acid, which sloughs away any dead skin cells. We love following up with Aesop’s aptly named sublime replenishing night masque (£93, Aesop.com), which is perfect for a bit of luxurious self-care or ahead of a social event.

Visit Aesop now

Brainchild of celebrity tanning expert Jules Von Hep, Isle of Paradise is an Instagram-worthy brand with foolproof self-tanning formulas that are both vegan-friendly and cruelty-free. Utilising colour correcting technology and combining it with self-tan was where it all started for Jules, and the brand has gone stratospheric – thanks in part to a viral TikTok moment.

Both the self-tanning drops (£19.95, Theisleofparadise.com) and refillable tanning water (£14.95, Theisleofparadise.com) have been a huge hit with TikTok beauty lovers, but it’s the new launches that have claimed our admiration: the day dew self-tanning face mist (£15.95, Beautybay.com) and the night glow (£15.95, Beautybay.com). The formulas are packed with organic tanning actives, plus avocado, chia seeds and coconut oils. Close your eyes and spritz a couple of times over the face before makeup to give that post-holiday glow (if using the day dew) or as the last step of your night-time routine (if using the night glow). Another delight is that they both smell lovely, thanks to ingredients such as ylang ylang and sage, plus they pack a hydration boost due to the addition of hyaluronic acid and glycerin.

Visit Isle of Paradise now

British hair and skincare brand Sakrid has a modest selection of six products in its current range: body wash, shampoo, conditioner, face serum, moisturiser and face wash. All are vegan-friendly, halal, cruelty-free, organic and handmade in the UK. Co-founder of the brand Natalie Elliott was inspired to create Sakrid as she started to research the ingredients in everyday products when her mother was fighting breast cancer. She was struck by the number of harmful ingredients she felt her and her family were being exposed to on a daily basis, so began a personal journey to reduce and eliminate these ingredients, and Sakrid came into fruition.

We tested the naturally nourishing organic body wash (£15, Sakrid.com) which we rated for its invigorating minty scent, with ingredients such as tea tree, peppermint and citrus. It also had a fresh and cooling effect that we liked. A word of warning though: the consistency of the body wash is a little on the runnier side so be careful not to squeeze too much out in one go.

Visit Sakrid now

There’s a lot going for this affordable and ethical brand that has its products stocked in major retailers such as Sainsbury’s, Boots and Holland & Barrett. Faith in Nature has a varied range of vegan-friendly, cruelty-free, SLS- and paraben-free shampoos ( in both liquid and bar format), conditioners, body washes, deodorants and lotions. It also sells five-litre refills (£50, Faithinnature.co.uk), which are a money-saving way of topping up favourites and reducing packaging waste.

The blue cedar body wash (£5.79, Faithinnature.co.uk) is a great choice if you’re after a unisex product, while the lavender and geranium body wash (£5.79, Faithinnature.co.uk) has a lovely, relaxing scent to it that is ideal for everyday use. We’re also fans of the long-lasting shampoo bars – the new dragon fruit addition (£5.79, Faithinnature.co.uk) is well worth popping in your basket.

Visit Faith In Nature now

This waterless beauty brand – its products don’t contain added water, as it aims to minimise water usage and reduce packaging – secured an investment from Deborah Meaden on Dragons’ Den. It has been creating quite a buzz among beauty editors and skincare enthusiasts, so much so that the brand’s products previously sold out at Lookfantastic, Holland & Barrett and Boots, and has also racked up a host of awards.

Using organic ingredients and shunning water in its formulations, True Skincare’s aim is to bring effective skincare to the masses but without the hefty price tag. Given the beautiful, frosted glass bottles and pots that the products come in, as well as the nourishing formulas, the products do feel like great value for money. The brand is also certified by COSMOS and Cruelty Free International, and all its products are suitable for vegans.

In our review of the best rosehip oils, we praised the soothing scent and nourishing results of True Skincare’s rehydrating rosehip and rosemary facial oil (£13.50, Trueskincare.co.uk). Its latest launches are well worth a spot on your shopping list too: the hydrating blossom and pine toner (£14.50, Trueskincare.co.uk) is a refreshing follow-up after a cleanse, while the radiance renewal 10% stabilised vitamin C serum (£18.99, Trueskincare.co.uk) is a new firm favourite in our skincare routine.

Visit True Skincare now

Another vegan and cruelty-free self-tanning brand, Bali Body also has its own avid following. One bottle of the Australian brand’s face tan water (a skincare meets self-tan formula) (£25.95, Balibodyco.com) is sold every three minutes.

The latest launch, which is also stocked in Boots, is a transparent, water-to-foam formula aptly named clear self-tanning water (£24.95, Balibodyco.com). It gets our seal of approval for being super easy to use, suitable for sensitive skin and not transferring onto our bedsheets. Infused with pomegranate, camomile, green coffee bean and coconut oil, the water-based self-tan leaves skin feeling hydrated as well as bronzed, which is a winning combo in our book.

Visit Bali Body now

Designed and created in Yorkshire, Clockface Beauty has a loving story attached to its origins. When pregnant with her eldest son, Sarah Thomas found her skincare needs and priorities changed, so her mother, Karen Horsely, a specialist scientist, formulated a serum for her daughter to use. That went on to become Clockface Beauty’s first-ever product, the signature facial serum (£44, Clockfacebeauty.com). It’s now an award-winning bestseller for the brand. Cruelty-free, sustainable and certified by The Vegan Society, all of Clockface Beauty’s products are waterless, plus the brand caters for both women and men’s skincare needs with dedicated lines for each.

The green clay and rosewood mask (£24, Clockfacebeauty.com) is a must for irritated, dry and acne-prone skin. While some face masks can leave skin feeling tight, this product uses moringa oil, vitamin E and coconut oil to leave skin feeling hydrated and soothed. All of Clockface Beauty’s products come in dark glass jars or bottles and we love the luxe-looking packaging, which looks fab in the bathroom. We’ve also found its frankincense and rose otto hand and cuticle oil (£25, Clockfacebeauty.com) to be a real godsend over the past year. The brand also supports The Marine Conservation Society by donating to the not-for-profit organisation to help with the protection of our oceans.

Visit Clockface Beauty now

American skincare brand Versed, launched by Who What Wear co-founder Katherine Power, started out of the blocks with a definitive aim: to bring high-performance skincare to consumers with no BS and no hefty price tags. The result is an Instagram worthy brand – both cute yet cool in its packaging – that’s caused quite a buzz and has already become a beauty editor favourite. As well as being vegan-friendly and cruelty-free, the brand is committed to reducing waste and says sustainability plays a key role in every decision it makes – from its recyclable packaging to fuel-efficient shipping methods.

So where to start? You can buy products individually, or the brand does some great money saving bundles, such as the maskne relief kit (£27.99, Versedskin.com), which features three key acne-fighting products. Its triple threat serums bundle, (£38.99, Versedskin.com) is also a great purchase – for under £40 you get a clarifying serum and a brightening serum, plus a gentle retinol serum. That’s an absolute steal when you think how much a retinol product is normally priced at. The back-up plan acne-control body mist (£11.99, Versedskin.com) is an absolute gem, especially if you suffer with breakouts in hard-to-reach areas such as on your back.

Visit Versed now

Founded by husband and wife team Ali and Zoe, this London-based botanical haircare and skincare brand has some lovely products worth having on your radar.

All their products are Leaping Bunny approved and vegan-friendly, plus the packaging for items is responsibly sourced, renewable and recyclable. Having started first with a haircare range, the brand has its toe into skincare with its root + fruit range, which puts stabilised vitamin C, essential oil blends and high-performance naturals at its centre. Sounding as delicious as a cool drink on a warm summer’s day, and offering a similar refreshing feeling, Wild Science Lab’s power smoothie skin polish, (£35, Wildsciencelab.com) has become a solid favourite in our weekly skincare regime. Bamboo helps to exfoliate while the evening primrose oil, meadowfoam seed oil, carrot and organic coconut oil in the product leave skin feeling smooth and nourished. A blend of six essential oils, including lavender and may chang, also provides an uplifting and soothing scent. The juice boost brightening serum (£38, Wildsciencelab.com) with a hit of hyaluronic acid and vitamin C is also well worth checking out. They’ll also look great on a bathroom shelf with their cute coral pink bottles and pots – not to mention they’d be a great option for a gift.

Visit Wild Science Lab now

Declaring itself a “new generation of vegan natural cosmetics” Studio Botanic is a German brand that launched in Cologne in 2017 with a strong ethical manifesto and hip, minimalist packaging. Its range consists of 11 products including two face serums, an eye cream, handwash and a cold cream among others. If you love an indulgent, botanical hand wash that won’t look out of place in a millennial plant-filled bathroom, then Studio Botanic’s hand soap (£29, Sustainabledepartmentstore.com) in its green glass bottle is just the ticket. Hazel leaf extract and vegan glycerine make the hand wash a moisturising dream, despite our increased hand washing during the pandemic. We’re also fans of the brand’s cold cream (£20, Sustainabledepartmentstore.com) – a true multitasker that can be used on lips, the face, the body and on hands. Rose flower extract and peppermint oil combine for an effective and sensorial delight, plus as it comes in a tube, you can easily pop it in a bag and use on the go.

Visit Studio Botanic now

Looking for a vegan and cruelty-free brand with a focus on the microbiome? Probiotics in skincare are big news and this French brand has got it covered. A patented complex of prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics to support the good bacteria on your skin can be found throughout their products. Founder Marie Drago was so fascinated with the idea of feeding skin good bacteria, like we would our gut, that she wrote her pharmacy thesis on the subject. Well, we’re glad she went there because the result is a range of vegan-friendly and cruelty-free products that marries the best of French pharmacy brands with modern and innovative ideas. Take the brand’s face vinegar (£23, Gallinee.com), which is an apple cider vinegar face toner that exfoliates and purifies oily skin, while prebiotics and gentle acids support the skin microbiome. The branding of the products is chic, too, and adds a little French flair to the bathroom. We’re also into Gallinée’s eye contour cream (£22, Gallinee.com) with its mix of prebiotics and probiotics. It glides on easily leaving the eye area hydrated and not at all greasy or slick.

Visit Gallinée now

US beauty and cosmetics label Milk needs no introduction. If you’re an avid beauty fan then you’ll have seen this of-the-moment brand and its products, used by the likes of Billie Eilish, all over the place. Its sunshine skin tint (£39, Cultbeauty.co.uk) took the top spot in our review of the best tinted moisturisers. It also has a smaller range of skincare, but there are some key products worth your time, such as the vegan milk moisturiser, (£34, Cultbeauty.co.uk) which incorporates a blend of fig, oat and argan-derived milks, and is great at quenching thirsty skin. The cooling water under eye patches (£21, Cultbeauty.co.uk) are also great to have at hand if the hot weather has left you restless and unable to sleep – they made us feel vaguely human again after some humid weather disrupted our routine.

Visit Milk Makeup now

If you’re already on an ethical and sustainable journey when it comes to your beauty and skincare products, it’s highly likely that you’ve come across Evolve Organic Beauty. It’s a top offering in this area and has won multiple awards for its products. For a small Hertfordshire-based brand where everything is handmade by a team of artisans, it’s really punching above its weight. Organic, 100 per cent vegan-friendly and cruelty-free, Evolve’s hyaluronic serum 200 (£30, Evolvebeauty.co.uk) is the real gold star in their range – it’s won rave reviews and armfuls of awards. We’re happy to say the praise is worth it so invest in a bottle now if you can. You’ll thank us later.

The skincare, body and hair range are a real treasure trove of natural and organic offerings so it’s hard to pick favourites, but if we had to, then the gentle cleansing melt (£23, Evolvebeauty.co.uk) and the daily renew facial cream (£41, Evolvebeauty.co.uk) are a dream combo.

Visit Evolve Organic Beauty now

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