Going Vegan with Your Stage Makeup

by Sahina

The start of the new year is a great time to commit to trying a new approach to beauty and stage makeup. Nowadays it is easy to find products that will make you look great on stage and avoid animal testing or animal-derived ingredients. Vegan and cruelty-free makeup is not only kinder to animals, it is healthier for you and the environment!

I have been vegan for about 15 years now and have been dancing for the past 11, so I have had a lot of time to experiment with different products for stage makeup. It is an ever-evolving process as I find new brands and learn new makeup techniques. I rarely wore makeup before I started dancing and am just discovering many things - I only bought my first contour palette last summer!

Sorting out the terminology

Vegan makeup and cruelty-free makeup are not synonymous. cruelty-free makeup refers to makeup that has not been tested on animals. However, any or all of the constituent ingredients making up the product could have been tested on animals. In addition, the product may contain ingredients that were derived from animals.

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Note: In this article, while I use the term cruelty-free to mean not tested on animals, I want to note that it is virtually impossible to know that no cruelty to animals or humans occurs when ingredients are manufactured (such as working conditions in factories or farms where plant-based ingredients were grown, in factories producing the products, etc.). Consequently, there has been a push to move away from the term cruelty-free for these reasons, but since it is such a common term I am including it here.

Vegan makeup refers to products that have not been tested on animals and also contain no ingredients that were derived from animals. You should also seek to verify, to the fullest extent possible, that no human workers were exploited in the production of the items as well. Truly vegan makeup is inherently cruelty-free, but cruelty-free makeup is not necessarily vegan.

There are differences in what people consider to be vegan products. Some people will consider a product vegan as long as the product wasn’t tested on animals and contains no animal ingredients, but others will only consider it vegan if the parent company of the brand also conducts no animal testing and the conditions it was manufactured under have good labor standards. For example, Urban Decay manufactures some vegan products and doesn’t test on animals, but they make other products that contain animal-derived ingredients, so some people would choose to avoid it.

A note on testing: cosmetics are not required to be tested on animals by the FDA, and testing cosmetics on animals is banned in the EU. Some companies choose to test on animals in order to be able to market their products in China where animal testing is required. This gets complicated, as products manufactured in China are not required to be tested on animals, only products sold in mainland China. So if a product is made in China but only sold in the United States, that product is not required to have been tested on animals.

Figuring out ingredients

What is in your makeup that might have come from an animal? Too many things to list here, but these are a few of the most common. See the resource section for more info.  

  • Lanolin, from oil glands of sheep
  • Carmine, from beetle shells
  • Gelatin, from a variety of slaughterhouse waste products combined and melted down. I can’t imagine that it is something you would want on your face in any situation!

This sounds a bit complicated. How can I be sure what I’m getting?

Most companies are great about labeling if a product was tested on animals or contains animal ingredients, and there are several certifications that products can get that clearly show if they were not tested on animals. If you can’t find anything like this on the packaging, it is a safe bet to assume it was tested on animals. Most mainstream brands such as Maybelline, L’Oreal, and Clinique all test on animals.

Beware of some companies that put a “cruelty-free”, “vegan”, or bunny symbol logo on for marketing purposes. Since these terms aren’t regulated, mislabeling has become more common and since more and more consumers are pushing for products free of animal testing, and we live in a capitalist society, there are many unscrupulous companies that want to capitalize off the terms ‘vegan’ and ‘cruelty-free’ without actually doing the work.

It can be daunting to try to figure it all out on your own, especially if you are new to trying to avoiding animal testing and animal-derived ingredients, but luckily there are several groups and individuals who extensively research and create apps and websites to help break it down. They go through the hard parts of contacting companies and tracing supply chains so that you don’t have to. Leaping Bunny is a great website for finding cruelty-free companies, as well as Vegan Makeup Share on Instagram, run by Creeestaal Sanchez. There are also several apps on the market that can help you determine which products are safe to use if you want to be kind to your furry friends such as Cruelty Cutter, Is it Vegan, or Bunny Free.

The products

Next, I describe some of my favorite products to help get you started. It isn’t intended as a complete list of options, but instead some recommendations for makeup for professional events and photoshoots.

Face

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Foundation: I use both Gabriel and Zuzu Luxe, which are different lines from the same company, for my liquid foundation and powder. I also use Gabriel concealer under my eyes and on any spots I want to cover. I don’t currently have a face primer, but for eye primer I use Urban Decay. I would eventually like to switch to a brand that is completely vegan, but I will use this until it runs out.

Contouring: I can’t claim to know much about contouring, but I was intrigued by it so before a photoshoot a few years back I went out and bought the cheapest vegan contour palette I could find so that I wouldn’t be spending too much if I couldn’t sort out how to use it! I got an e.l.f one for $6 at Target and it has served me well.

Highlighting: Highlight has become one of my very favorite parts of doing my makeup. I only own a few highlighters, but I have to say the ones I like best for stage are definitely Whimsical Wonder by Vanessa’s Vanity and Phoenix Embers from Clionadh. Honorable mentions go to my Clionadh One-Off which is so very pretty and no one else has one like it, as well as the Gabriel Multi-Pot which gives a more subtle shimmer.

Lips

Lip liner: Gabriel and Zuzu Luxe are my favorites, but e.l.f is cheap and easily available in stores. Gabriel/Zuzu offers a recycling program where you get a free lipstick of your choice when you send them 5 empty products to recycle!

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Lipstick: My favorite lipstick for stage is Fantasy Allure’s Enchanted Rose. It is the most perfect shade of red with a hint of shimmer and it dries completely without leaving your lips feeling gross, which is perfect for when you want to avoid having your veil accidentally get stuck on your lips (we’ve all been there!). I also recently got Genie from Black Moon Cosmetics, which is an awesome iridescent fuschia and I know will look amazing on stage.

The other lip colors that I use a lot are the liquid lipsticks from Life’s Entropy, though unfortunately their brand is on hiatus due to personal life stuff. Life’s Entropy also has some great lip toppers which are a new product for me but I’m really loving them. I have their gold (Exponential) and iridescent red/gold which comes out a little more towards pink than red (Sine). I recommend checking them out when they reopen in June. Their products are so good and they have nice shimmery eyeshadows which look great on stage too.

Eyes

False eyelashes: I can’t even tell you how much I love eyelashes. The ones I wear most are the Glitter Dip Perversion ones from Urban Decay. I also like Ardell and those are really easy to find in stores. I am intrigued by the lashes from Black Moon cosmetics, but they are a bit pricey (though I am sure they are worth it).

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Eyeshadow: I tried Clionadh eyeshadows for the first time this past summer and now I’m completely hooked. I can’t recommend them enough. They have several lines that are perfect for stage makeup including the Witchcraft vs. Alchemy duochromes (but get these quick because they are limited edition), the Ultra Metals, and the Birthstone Sage. In addition to Clionadh, I also wear a lot of Geek Chic, and a bunch of handmade ones I have bought on Etsy over the years.

Mascara: Pacifica is definitely my favorite here. I have been using Stellar Gaze daily for a long time and recently picked up their Dream Big mascara as well.

Eyeliner: I very much prefer liquid eyeliner to pencils, but I just tried my first cream eyeliner and I think I’m hooked. The best liquid eyeliner I’ve tried is Zuzu Luxe. They have several really pretty colors and many are shimmery. My new cream eyeliner obsession is inspired by Pixllady. She has several neutrals and bright shade options, plus she does custom colors!

The rest of the outfit

Glitter: To avoid adding more microplastic to the world, the best thing to get to have your makeup be as friendly to animals and the environment as possible is biodegradable glitter made from plants. A few options are Glitterevolution, Eco Star Dust, and Eco Glitter Fun. Laura Selenzi, Canadian belly dancer, makes her own Glitter Balm from bio glitter to make glitter application for stage easier.

Nail polish: There are so many great options for pretty nail polish! Wrenn polishes have great colors and each have a set of druzy jewelry that they were created to match. Their polishes are all “5 free”, which their website explains: “5-free means that our polishes are NOT made with 5 of the most common and dangerous ingredients found in nail polishes that have been linked to cause cancer: Toluene, Dibutyl Phthalate (DBP), Formaldehyde, Formaldehyde Resin and Camphor.”

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Pacifica polishes are another of my favorites. They make a lovely Rainbow top coat makes any nail polish rainbow! Their polishes are listed as “7 free”, which means that in addition to the 5 ingredients listed above, their products also don’t contain parabens or xylene. (A side note - while Wrenn doesn’t say “7 free”, their ingredient lists do not contain either of these ingredients. Both brands are really great and have lots of color options.

Gabriel is the other place I often get nail polish. I also use their base and top coats and oil polish remover.

Brushes: Brushes are commonly made from animal hairs, which you definitely want to avoid for vegan and cruelty-free makeup. Let’s let the animals keep the fur they have grown! I am sure they will prefer it that way, plus it is an important aspect of consent culture to not take something from another’s body without permission. Some of the best vegan brushes on the market are Spectrum Collections and Eco Tools. Both strive to use as little plastic in their packaging and products as possible and never use animal hair or animal testing. Eco Tools are readily available in stores and pretty affordable. For a cheaper alternative you can also go with e.l.f, which are easy to get but, use much more plastic. Spectrum are high-end vegan brushes and as such I haven’t been able to try them yet, but they look so beautiful!

Removers: My three favorite makeup removers are: Gabriel Sea Fennel Gentle Makeup Remover, Earth Science Chamomile and Green Tea Eye Makeup Remover, and Andalou Naturals Lash and Lid Makeup Remover.

For nail polish removers I use Gabriel. I find that the Gabriel remover pads are most effective for me because the bottle of liquid remover soaks into my cotton pads and I end up using a lot more of it.

Where to shop

The easiest places for most people to shop are online or in larger chain stores. Everything mentioned in the article can be bought online. There are also some products that can be found in stores near you. Ulta, Target, Sephora, and local drug stores all have a number of vegan and cruelty-free brands and Logical Harmony has made a helpful blog page about vegan products found there.

If you like subscription boxes, Medusa’s Makeup often has bold and glittery colors that are good for the stage. Vegan Cuts has more day-to-day makeup, but many things could be used on stage as well.

If you already shop for these types of products, what are some of your favorite ones? If you don’t already shop this way, but would like to, what support or encouragement would be most helpful to you?

Additional resources

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Sahina Sedai is a Western MA bellydancer known for her graceful performances, sophisticated costumes, and comprehensive teaching style.  She teaches and performs while simultaneously pursuing a career as a scientific researcher. As a dancer, Sahina’s style leans towards Vintage Oriental, with influences from her studies of Turkish, Egyptian, and vusion bellydance forms.  She is constantly striving to further her knowledge of bellydance through workshops, intensives, and private lessons with many nationally and internationally renowned dancers.