If you don’t eat or use animal products, buying a suitable perfume isn’t always easy. You could be forgiven for hoping most perfume is an innocent concoction of alcohol and fragrance extracted from plants and flowers. Unfortunately, this is often not the case. It often contains an animal product or some aspect of it has been tested on animals.
Why is perfume not vegan? The answer to this question is simple. Many perfumes are not vegan because they contain animal-derived ingredients and changing these would alter the scent profiles that make them best-sellers.
However, some perfume is vegan and is clearly marketed as such. If you can’t find a vegan label it’s best to assume that perfume is off-limits.
Which Perfume Ingredients Are Not Vegan?
There are many ingredients that render perfumes non-vegan. Some are harvested directly from animals in captivity and some are animal by-products.
One of the most talked-about ingredients in perfume is ambergris and there are many misconceptions regarding its origins. Commonly referred to as whale vomit, it’s a waxy substance that forms in the large intestine of a sperm whale.
A sperm whale’s diet is largely squid and on a daily basis, indigestible, oily squid remains clump together in its intestines. Some of this is vomited and some is excreted. However, the larger pieces collected and used in perfume are more likely from a sperm whale that met a sticky end.
Unfortunately, because of the sheer amount of squid they ingest, some sperm whales form such large pieces of ambergris that it blocks their large intestines. This prevents the excretion of any waste products to the point where a ruptured intestine occurs, sadly causing the whale’s demise.
Natural sea scavengers feed off the dead whale until the ambergris is freed to float in the ocean. The ambergris considered the best for has been floating about for years in all sorts of climates before it is discovered and sold for use in perfume.
Fresh ambergris has quite a fecal odor, but ambergris that’s been maturing in the ocean for many years has a sweet, earthy scent. It’s used in perfume as a fixative which means it helps it last longer on your skin and also intensifies the other fragrance ingredients.
Because Ambergris is so valuable, at some point, sperm whales were hunted in the hope that it would be found within them. Thankfully, they are now a protected species so hunting them is illegal.
Many fragrances now use ambergris alternatives, some of them plant-based and some of them synthetically made. Check out which type is used if you are looking for all-natural ingredients, vegan perfume.
Various perfume ingredients are given the blanket name musk, but true musk has one source – the male Musk deer. This is a small deer with protruding teeth, large ears, a very short tail, and no antlers and can be found in various mountainous regions
Within a Musk deer’s abdomen is a musk-producing organ known as the musk pod. To harvest this musk pod to use its contents in perfume, the deer are often killed. In some areas such as China, farmers have developed ways of harvesting the pod from live animals.
The Musk deer is now a protected species yet musk remains one of the most expensive animal products used in perfume today. Hunting (legal or otherwise) of this small deer is a huge concern. Until perfumers cease to use its musk, this deer will be hunted relentlessly – possibly to extinction.
Musk is used in fragrance because many people enjoy its animalistic scent and there are now many alternatives non-animal alternatives, such as ambrette seeds and angelica root though these are not as strong. Maybe musk is a fragrance note we should learn to do without?
Civet is a perfume ingredient collected from the perineal gland of male and female civets. Often referred to as civet cats, these small nocturnal mammals are native to Africa and Asia.
The perineal gland is located beneath the base of a civet’s tail and secretions are scraped from captured animals, imprisoned in small cages. The reason? For thousands of years, perfumers have used civet as a fixative to give fragrances an animalistic, radiant sweet scent.
Though synthetic versions of civet have been developed, they can’t quite replicate the real thing and so the demand for natural civet still exists.
Perfumers use castoreum to give certain fragrances their leather scent. It is extracted from the castor sacs of male and female beaver, a gland located beneath the base of their tails. Beavers are trapped and killed in order to harvest this popular perfume ingredient.
Beavers use the powerful secretions from these glands to scent-mark their territory. Perfumers use it as a fixative and to add a sweet, clean leather note to many popular fragrances.
The rock hyrax is a rabbit-like mammal native to Africa and the Middle East. Their hardened urine and feces are known as hyraceum and are collected for use in perfume. At least using this product doesn’t entail harming the animal that produces it as it is collected from areas they inhabit.
No one knows how old the hyraceum is that’s used in perfume. Some claim it is fossilized or mineralized over thousands of years. What is certain is that it is old enough and dry enough to have a stone-like appearance and is purposefully used to add a slightly dirty note to fragrances.
Though the collection of hyraceum does not involve any animal cruelty, it is still of animal origin which is enough to prevent any perfume containing it from being suitable for vegans.
Though some vegans use honey, the vegan society does not class honey as a vegan product. Honey is made from nectar that bees collect from flowering plants. So though it is plant-based, bees collect it and store it in their stomachs.
Honey is a source of food for bees. When humans take it for their own use, the vegan society deems this to be animal exploitation. Perfumers use honey to add a sweet note to certain fragrances thus preventing them from officially being recognized as vegan.
Beeswax is often used in perfume. It is strained from melted honeycomb taken from hives that have been used for at least 5 years, as these have a strong honey scent along with the smell of the bees themselves.
The ingrained honey and bee scent means beeswax has a rich pheromone essence which gives perfumes a sweet animalistic note. As with honey, this exploitation of a bees environment means perfumes containing beeswax are not considered vegan.
Lanolin, also known as wool wax and wool fat, comes from sheep reared specifically for their wool. It works well as a skin moisturizer because of its ability to lock moisture in.
Perfumers make use of lanolins waxy moisturizing qualities as a fixative. Of course, any perfumes using it are no vegan.
Vegan Perfume Choices
There are several companies now specializing in totally natural, vegan, cruelty-free fragrances. Here are a couple of my favorites:
Lavanila – The Healthy Fragrance
Lavanila makes The Healthy Fragrance range. It’s handmade with totally natural and organic ingredients. This beautiful vanilla and coconut perfume is vegan, cruelty-free, skin-friendly and environmentally friendly too.
See reviews and prices at Amazon (link opens in a new tab)
Pacifica Persian Rose
Pacifica has a great selection of vegan and cruelty-free, natural perfumes all freed from parabens and phthalates. The link below leads to a selection of 11 which have excellent customer reviews.
See reviews and other selections on Amazon (link opens in a new tab)
Why It’s Not Clear When Perfumes Are Not Vegan
Though many products list their full ingredients on the packaging, perfume makers are exempt from going this. You will see ‘Fragrance’ listed but this can be a mix of many essential oils and other ingredients.
The reason for the lack of information is to protect valuable secret recipes and prevent copycat perfumes from being created. This creates a problem for those who like to know exactly what’s in the bottle.
Being vegan-suitable and cruelty-free is becoming a big selling point and if a perfume is vegan it is usually clearly labeled as such. If a perfume isn’t labeled as vegan, assume it isn’t and avoid buying it.
Why is perfume not vegan? – Conclusion
Most perfume is not vegan because of the simple fact that it is popular and sells well. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel for vegans as new companies are now producing beautiful vegan fragrances. Two are recommended here but you’ll find plenty more with a little research.