There’s a good reason to care about what goes into the products you put on your face and body, whether they are vegan, natural, organic or a combination of all three.
“Your skin is a sponge; it absorbs literally everything,” says Emmanuelle Bonham, a UAE personal trainer and long-time vegan. “Brands that are more conscious tend to be inclined towards healthier, natural ingredients, which are just better for you.”
The skin is the body’s largest organ and it absorbs what is applied to it. In May 2019 a small clinical trial conducted by the US Food and Drug Administration and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) sparked international headlines when it found several of the active ingredients in sunscreen turned up in the bloodstream of the trial participants after one day of application.
Vegan means animal-free
“Testing on animals has been a long ongoing battle within the industry,” says Kate Darling, chief executive of Dubai’s vegan-focused That Hair Tho salon. “If we want this cruelty to stop, now is the time to support products which are vegan and put pressure on larger brands to switch to alternatives.”
For Darling, switching to vegan products was a no-brainer.
“While using products containing animal by-products are harmless for us, there is no proven benefit,” she says. So why not swap to plant-based? “Then you can improve skin, hair and nails without harming the environment or animals,” says Darling.
Vegan, cruelty-free, organic and natural?
Vegan, cruelty-free, natural and organic aren’t the same thing, although they often appear lumped together, which is confusing.
A product labeled vegan must not contain anything that comes from an animal, either directly or via another product, so be careful when the packaging says ‘natural’ or ‘organic,’ as these don’t necessarily mean animal-free. Look out for lanolin (wool grease), gelatin (boiled ligaments and bones), tallow fat, and carmine (the red coloring made from crushed beetles).
Cruelty-free, on the other hand, means the product, its ingredients and its packaging has not been tested on an animal. They can still contain animal byproducts, however. Finally, just because a brand says ‘vegan’, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely natural or free from chemicals. This is particularly true for color cosmetics, which tend to contain metals.
Still, vegan beauty products do tend to use natural ingredients that can really help the skin, according to Dr Hooman Khorasani, chief of the division of dermatologic and cosmetic surgery at Mount Sinai Health System in the US.
“Things like aloe vera, garlic, ginger and lavender have long been hailed for their health benefits,” he says.
Just like their chemical counterparts, what’s found in nature can pack a powerful punch, beautywise.
“Vegan skincare products contain more vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to repair and hydrate the skin, which is definitely beneficial when applied daily and over time,” says Dr Julie Russak, of the Russak Dermatology Clinic in New York City.
Small changes towards a vegan beauty regime
When trying to be animal friendly, don’t toss out everything you own. As with any goal, Bonham recommends starting with small steps.
“Just become more consciously aware of your choices,” she advises. “Try to seek out more natural and ethical products. You want your dollar to support companies that are doing good for the earth.”
Bonham personally recommends keeping things simple: for example, using coconut oil as a moisturizer. For deep cleaning, she recommends the Aztec clay healing mask.
“It comes in a massive tub as powder,” she says. “You mix it with water, and it’s vegan and cruelty-free. I use it twice a week.”
Vegan salons and products in the UAE
If you’re ready to go eco, here are some easy options available in the region.
Billing itself as the UAE’s first ‘clean beauty e-retailer’, this delivery company sends organic brands to your doorstep. Products include the range from Living Nature; organic bee venom sheet masks from New Zealand; Bodyboom, a natural coffee scrub from Poland and SpaRitual, a vegan nail polish from the US.
Based in JLT, this new salon is focused on vegan, sustainable and gluten-free products. Everything is about getting back to nature, and customization is a big feature. The aloe and oil hair mask is particularly popular, with the two ingredients being blended together then used to remove dead skin from the scalp.
Newly launched in the region, this range of makeup products is currently 80 percent vegan, with a goal of going fully vegan by 2020. Products are never tested on animals. The brand’s highlighting powders and complexion products are available at Sephora.
With shops in Dubai Mall and Mirdiff City Centre, this cruelty-free makeup range is primarily vegan. The bottles in their Native Spa range are all green plastic, meaning they’re made from sugarcane to reduce the impact on the air and the environment. In an effort to be fully cruelty-free, the brand has pioneered the creation of laboratory-made human skin for product testing. One percent of revenue goes to the conservation of animal rain forests.
This company founded in Dubai offers more than 80 skincare and cosmetics brands, with a massive focus on cruelty free and organic. Keep an eye out for the Leaping Bunny stamp, which is a global standard marking compassion for animals.
As happy-hippy and eco-friendly as they come, this JVC beauty lounge is all things vegan and green. Treatments tend to mesh together natural ingredients (think apples, avocado and dates). Hair treatments are ammonia-free and nails are done without formaldehyde (a common ingredient elsewhere). The salon is 100 percent cruelty-free and aims to raise awareness of the dangers of harsh chemicals.
Featured image courtesy shutterstock
Danae Mercer is a freelance health and travel journalist. In addition to working as editor-in-chief of Women's Health Middle East and Men's Health Middle East, Danae has written for The Sunday Times, CNN Travel, Dubai Tourism, The Guardian, Afar, Bloomberg and many more. She's based in Dubai and is a trainer at Crank. instagram.com/danaemercer