Veganism is a way of life that often extends past what you physically consume. It can influence how you dress, the causes you support, and the ingredients you put on your skin. Whether you follow a plant-based diet or consider yourself an omnivore, there are benefits to incorporating vegan skincare into your daily routine. Recently, there’s been a lot of traction surrounding plant-based skincare and it has become more readily available on the market.
I’ve followed a plant-based diet for the last 5-6 years and in this time, I’ve also become more consistent with my skin routine and overall wellness. I opt for clean and vegan skincare products wherever I can. There is a very notable distinction between the terms “clean” and “vegan”. Clean typically means that a product is free of elements like parabens, phthalates, and sulfates, while vegan products are not derived from any animal products or by-products (for many, this also extends to being cruelty-free at all levels of production). This difference will be helpful as we explore the offerings of notable vegan-friendly brands. Additionally, there has yet to be a FDA regulation on the use of the word “clean” in terms of skincare, so it’s best to always check your ingredients!
For those who keep their beauty maintenance simple, the dedicated skincare routine might already seem elusive or lofty but even with a few vegan adjustments, it doesn’t have to be! The basics of the skincare routine are cleanser, toner, serum, moisturizer, and sunscreen (provided that your moisturizer isn’t already packed with SPF). Many beauty aficionados know that it’s the elements in between — as well as the consistency — that are proof in the pudding. No matter the amount of steps in your routine, applying the products in the correct order is crucial. Case in point, those with acne-prone skin should apply spot treatments before moisturizing.
What follows is an outline of the tried-and-true daily skin routine with all-vegan substitutions. Many of the recommendations here are typically marketed for all skin types. Because many brand formulations are often meant to work in tandem, we’ll take a look at a couple of options from the companies featured — including a few fan favorite auxiliary products.
Starting with a clean base is crucial to the efficacy of your overall routine. If you prefer double cleansing for removing your makeup at night, you’ll want to begin with a oil-based solution, then move on to something water-based.
Youth to the People’s items are formulated with PRO-GRADE vegan ingredients and stem from a family history of estheticians. The main ingredients of this cleanser are kale, green tea, spinach, and vitamins C, E, and K — which sounds super nutritious, but let’s keep this to external application only (although, edible beauty is worthy of its own exploration!). YTTP also offers free virtual skincare consultations with their expert esthetic team, which is great if it’s been difficult to access your dermatologist at this time. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with one of their representatives to address my own skin concerns.
Farmacy Beauty is a clean and cruelty-free brand but not all of their products are vegan, considering that many of them feature honey. The Green Clean makeup cleanser, however, is free of animal products and packed with turmeric, moringa, and sunflower oil. Many of the reviews on Sephora state that this cream removes stubborn eye makeup effortlessly, while customers on the brand’s own site concurred that a little goes a long way!
Since 2003, Biossance has led the way in providing consumers with clean and cruelty-free products that are certified by the Environmental Working Group (the activist organization that provides customers with research on the safety of household products and cosmetics) and Leaping Bunny. Not all squalane is created equal, but the super ingredient in Biossance’s vegan cleansing oil is sugarcane derived as opposed to being sourced from sharks. According to an explanatory video on the company’s site featuring fashion and beauty influencer Aimee Song, this cleanser is even successful at removing waterproof mascara.
Exfoliators are crucial in removing dead and dull skin particles, unclogging pores, and making space for breakouts to heal. These products are not something that you’ll use daily but as needed — it’s recommended not to use exfoliants more than three times a week. Whether you use a chemical or physical exfoliator, this step is best done after cleansing and before applying toner.
If you like minimalism in design, you’ll likely enjoy looking at the clean copy on the label’s of Versed products. With a motto like “skin’s complicated, skincare shouldn’t be,” the drugstore brand sets a standard that less can definitely be more. Day Maker is a physical exfoliator with superfine, biodegradable microcrystalline made of cellulose as opposed to traditional microbeads. Its prime ingredients are black currant and raspberry leaf extract, two antioxidants that help your skin keep breakouts to a minimum.
Although it’s the brainchild of two beauty industry veterans, this newer vegan skincare brand has definitely mastered the sunny and inclusive Gen Z aesthetic. INNBEAUTY PROJECT’s Down to Tone exfoliating toner is geared towards minimizing the appearance of pores. Many reviewers noted a slight astringent sting, but overall reported a more even skin tone and less frequent breakouts. Due to the strong use of photosensitive ingredients like lactic acid and salicylic acid, Down to Tone is recommended for night use only 1-2 times a week. Definitely don’t skip the sunscreen the day following application.
According to founder Valerie Grandury, Odacité is a French play on the word audacity. She started the line following her experience with breast cancer and a search for non-toxic skincare during her recovery. Made in California, all of Odacité’s products are vegan, cruelty-free, and organic. The beads in this exfoliating scrub are made of biodegradable jojoba wax and it’s suitable for all skin types.
Toners are important after cleansing because they ensure that you’ve wiped any residual dirt and grime from your face. This step is one of my favorites as it can be quite soothing following a facial scrub. As a water-based solution, toners also prep your skin to take serums and moisturizers with ease.
Herbivore Botanicals began as a homemade skincare line from couple Julia Wills and Alexander Kummerow’s Seattle kitchen in 2011. It has since blossomed into the well-curated collection of buzzworthy products you can purchase at various retailers. Herbivore’s balancing toner is made to minimize the appearance of pores and target blemishes. It’s formulated with jasmine water, green tea extract, and white willow bark among other soothing ingredients. Overall, the toner has a light jasmine scent and since it comes in a spray format, many users also report using it as a refreshing mist.
The Weekend Glow toner is intended to target problem skin and address unevenness. It can be used daily during the morning and at night. The main components are a four-acid complex (lactic, glycolic, azelaic, and kojic) and bearberry extract, the latter of which is an alternative to the common ingredient hydroquinone. Versed also informs consumers on how to recycle their product tubes once empty since many of them are produced with 79% post-consumer plastic.
Part serum/part toner, WLDKAT’s toner solution is made with broad spectrum CBD, ginger root, and fermented black tea (also known as kombucha). The goal of this product is to promote glowing skin and an even texture. “Where beauty never feels routine” is the company’s ethos and this is well-embodied on their brightly colored and progressive Instagram page. All of WLDKAT’s products are vegan, cruelty-free, and clean. Their tonic is recommended for use with their Patchouli and Cherimoya gel cleanser.
When I got more dedicated to my skin routine, serums felt like the holy grail product I’d been missing out on. They proved to be the missing link to solving long term skin problems I’d had in my adolescence. Serums are nutrient-rich solutions that have high concentrations of active ingredients in order to target very specific concerns. Very often, you will find them with hyaluronic acid, Vitamin C, and/or retinol as main ingredients. The consistency of serums is typically thinner than moisturizers and they aid in overall skin hydration.
The Mary Jane Glow serum from clean beauty brand Truly is formulated with antioxidant-rich CBD for reducing inflammation, as well as Glycolic Acid that provides a gentle exfoliation and makes way for healthier skin. It’s recommended to pat this serum into the skin as opposed to rubbing in for optimal absorption. Truly is also known for their pastel colored body polishes, so this serum plus a companion set of body scrubs sounds like the perfect gift for that friend who’s always the first to test out all things skin.
This serum by holistic skin company Apoterra was made to balance and clarify the skin and it’s ideal for both day and night time use. It’s also meant to replace moisturizer, so this is a good option for someone who enjoys using facial oils over cream solutions. Some of the key ingredients in this serum include tamanu oil, green tea, and grapeseed oil — as well as over 12 active botanicals.
Odacité’s baobab and sarsaparilla serum is made for the delicate skin around the eye. It reduces the appearance of wrinkles and dark circles. It has an aromatherapeutic blend of oils, in addition to the sarsaparilla extract, that are just as reassuring to the spirit as they are the skin. This cooling serum comes in a rollerball format, which sounds like the purest joy during a self-care moment.
We’ve reached the home stretch! Moisturizers are just what they sound like — hydrating products that prevent the skin from getting too dried out or oily. It’s a crucial step in the skincare routine for retaining all of your hard-earned efforts prior to this point. Moisturizing aids in the resiliency of skin and helps maintain tightness.
This is my personal favorite for the lightweight lotion feel, especially right after I apply a serum. Pacifica is a budget-conscious vegan beauty brand that’s available at many chain/department stores like Target and Ulta. The Dreamy Youth face cream layers really well and provides a nice base for those who like to use facial oils too. It truly does give a radiant youthful glow after application.
Pai is a London based skincare company that is certified by both the Cruelty Free Organization and the Vegan Society. Founder Sarah Brown formulated the products with sensitive skin in mind. This chamomile and rosehip moisturizer is safe for those with conditions like eczema and rosacea; it can also be used for on-the-go moisture outside of the morning routine. It’s recommended for pairing with their Rosehip Bioregenerate facial oil.
Makeup gurus know Milk for its standout mascaras and brow products, but the New York-based company also makes plant-based skincare that’s 100% vegan and certified cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny. This nourishing moisturizer features dairy-free milk formulas derived from ingredients like argan and fig, as well as Desert Milk (a proprietary blend of Kalahari melon, baobab, jojoba, and aloe vera). It is recommended for pairing with their sulfate-free cleanser. Like many other retailers on this list, Milk provides virtual consultations to finetune your routine.
Not everyone uses face oils but depending on your skin type, you can either use them in lieu of a moisturizer or in conjunction with one to lock that hydration in. Oils are best applied after your moisturizer has been thoroughly rubbed in; you’ll typically want something with a lightweight texture to avoid clogging your pores.
This crystal-inspired offering from Herbivore is a saving grace for acne and oily skin. The rich blue color comes from the Blue Tansy oil, which contains the botanical component azulene that’s proven to soothe inflamed skin. It works well for sensitive skin and ironically enough, it’s actually recommended for oily skin to address the overproduction of oil that stems from lack of proper moisture. It can be used day and night; Herbivore currently sells this in a gift set with a lapis lazuli roller and gua sha for a more integrated skin ritual.
One of the more splurge-inclined suggestions on this list, MUTHA’s vegan face oil can be used as a replacement to moisturizer or right after. It’s a combination of over 22 nutrients including oils like squalane, Kalahari, and Tsubaki that hydrate and protect the skin on the daily. It’s recommended to press the solution into the skin. MUTHA is both dermatologically tested and cruelty-free; the company also sells body oil for those who would like to integrate a consistent glow from head to toe.
This product by YTTP provides quick absorption and includes a blend of antioxidants like maqui, acai, and goji. The featured oils include a rejuvenating blend of jojoba and sunflower. It has a lightweight consistency — a pro tip on the company’s site recommends mixing the oil into makeup for a more seamless look.
SPF is a very necessary component of the skincare routine in preventing age spots and for protecting the skin from free radicals and UV radiation. It’s only needed for the daytime, but be sure to include this step even on overcast days — especially if you use treatments containing salicylic acid, bergamot, or similar photosensitive ingredients.
This broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen promises no cast, which makes it a great option for various skin tones. It’s meant for application 15 minutes before sun exposure and can be used in place of moisturizer. In addition to the powerful combination of zinc oxide and squalane, Biossance’s sunscreen also includes the calming ingredient of water lily.
Kinship’s Self Reflect was voted best SPF by both Cosmopolitan and Byrdie Beauty Awards. The SPF 32 sunscreen is made with zinc oxide, turmeric, and a plant-based probiotic meant to support clear skin. According to their site, it provides a matte look and a light scent of vanilla and turmeric. This mineral-based solution is also offered in a duo set with Kinship’s Naked Papaya gentle cleanser.
This product from California’s Juice Beauty is suitable for all ages and lifestyles. Its key ingredients include aloe leaf juice, jojoba oil, and zinc. Reviewers on Juice Beauty’s site report that they’ve relied on this product over many years to get them through long days and it supposedly holds up. The company itself recommends reapplying this sunscreen every 80 minutes for maximum sun protection.
MASKS + FACE MISTS
These are optional but fun additions you can incorporate into your personalized routine. It’s recommended not to use masks too frequently throughout the week (up to three times), whereas face mists are as needed for daily refreshment.
The name of this cult favorite vegan brand is derived from the supposedly intoxicating effect that Marula tree fruit has on elephants upon consumption. Drunk Elephant uses virgin Marula oil very prominently throughout their skin care line and this mask is no exception. The balanced AHA/BHA-infused Babyfacial is intended for weekly maintenance alongside the brand’s glycolic night serum and Marula facial oil. For just 20 minutes a week, you can indulge in a ritual meant to reinvigorate the skin and improve elasticity.
Facetheory’s pink clay mask features french clay, argan and jojoba oils, and the AHA lactic acid for a remedy that’s safe for all skin types. This mask can be used once or twice a week and is intended to provide gentle exfoliation alongside a refreshing glow. The UK-based company also sells all of their items in sustainable amber jars and recyclable aluminum tubes as they phase out single-use plastic from their production.
This product by Santa Monica based beauty company Tower 28 was formulated with sensitive skin in mind. It’s a daily refreshing mist that can be used anywhere on the body for inflamed and irritated skin. The special ingredient is hypochlorous acid, which is naturally found in the white blood cells and boosts immunity, leading to healthier and more resilient skin.
I recall working at a boutique that carried this mist in my younger days and one day when the traffic was slow, the shop owner instructed me to use this as a momentary skin refresher as we were reviewing inventory. It was such a sensual experience to hydrate my skin and mentally reset at various times of my retail tenure that I can almost feel it now. It also pairs well with Herbivore’s jasmine and green tea toner mentioned above!
Let us know over on Instagram what products on this list you’ll be testing out this winter.