The Scientist: Ni’Kita Wilson, YouBeauty Cosmetic Chemistry Expert
The Answer: Determining whether there are animal byproducts, actual animal substances or even human products in your face care regimen can be as simple as checking the ingredients list, but it can get tricky at times.
Beeswax—sometimes listed as its Latin name, Cera alba—is the number one animal ingredient used in skincare products. It thickens creams so they don’t come out loose and runny, and is used in higher dosages in moisturizing lip balms. Another bee-byproduct that pops up in moisturizers is honey, or “Mel.”
Less common, but more effective, is lanolin. A great moisturizer, it forms an inclusive film over the skin to lock moisture in, and helps skin feel supple. Lanolin comes from sheep’s wool—it’s secreted by the sebaceous glands. The chances of picking up a product with lanolin are less than one percent, but it should be easy to identify on the label if you do.
The same goes for whey protein or collagen. Whey protein, used in anti-aging products, helps promote skin regeneration. (It’s expensive, so you won’t find it everywhere.) It is extracted from cow’s milk, and is a blend of peptides that have been proven to help boost production of collagen and other proteins that aid skin structure and elasticity. If you use a moisturizing lotion with collagen already in it, chances are it came from a cow.
Now, if you find that creepy, cover your eyes: A couple of skincare companies use human cells in their products. You may have heard of an anti-aging system containing baby foreskin. Well, the rumors are true—kinda. The product (we looked it up) is based on a blend of growth factors and fibroblasts extracted from cells in a cell bank that were originally harvested from a snipped tip. But since then it’s strictly petri-dish material.
Another product uses cells derived from a sample of fetal skin, which was first used medically to heal burn patients, and was later adopted by skincare companies. Both fetal skin and foreskin cell derivatives stimulate the production of collagen and other proteins in the skin, similar to whey proteins, but are purportedly more effective. If you want to check whether a particular brand uses human-derived products, you’re probably not going to recognize it on the label. Look at the website, or give the company a call.
If you’re vegan, or if you’re just not into rubbing animal anything on your face, you’ve got a lot of options. Skincare companies are moving away from animal products more and more, often using vegetable-derived or synthetic substances instead.
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