If you want to be vegan, either consistently or occasionally, there’s a lot more to worry about than avoiding foods that aren’t vegan. Many everyday lifestyle products contain animal products or by-products—and some of them might surprise you. Here are a few common items that many people assume are vegan, but aren’t—and what to buy instead.
Surprising Things That Aren’t Vegan
While we might like our clothes to come out of the dryer static-free and smelling nice, many big-name dryer sheets list “fatty acid” as an ingredient. Technically, the scientific term is dihydrogenated tallow dimethyl ammonium chloride; but it’s fat that has been rendered from cows, sheep, and horses.
Fortunately, there is an easy and simple way to get that fresh scent naturally by filling a fabric pouch with dried herbs and flowers, like lavender, and tossing that in with the next load going into your dryer. If you aren’t one for DIY, buy a similar pre-made version—they’re reusable for up to a dozen dryer cycles, and the bags are biodegradable. If you’re worried about static cling, 7th Generation offers a great vegan dryer sheet alternative.
They’ve been around since nearly the beginning of modern human existence, and even then, they weren’t seen as things that aren’t vegan. The main culprit is beeswax, but some candles can be made with stearic acid tallow—which translates in layman’s terms to animal fat. Not something most people, even non-vegans, want to burn in their house.
Instead, choose soy candles. Fortunately, these are very popular today and can be found in most stores as well as local farmer’s markets (just watch for those that still use beeswax in the wicks). For instance, Mrs. Meyer’s sells a line of vegan candles.
Have you ever thought about what goes into your body art? Many of the binding agents in tattoo inks are made with animal products, like bone char, glycerin from animal fat, gelatin from hooves, and shellac from beetles. There are some vegan ink brands that receive high marks from users and are non-toxic as well, including SkinCandy, StarBrite, INTENZE, and Kuro Sumi.
But it’s not just the ink to consider. Razors may have glycerin gel strips, so you might want to bring your own if any shaving is needed. During the process, many artists use petroleum jelly, which can contain bone char and maybe tested on animals. Instead, request your artist use shea butter or jojoba oil. The same goes for your after-care products. Vegan alternatives include organic coconut oil and brands such as After Inked, Tattoo Tonic, and Protat Natural Aftercare.
Latex is usually manufactured with casein, a milk derivative. And a common latex-free alternative condom, the lambskin or sheepskin, is made from pretty much exactly what it sounds like.
Standard condoms also include parabens, glycerin, and nonoxynol-9 (used in spermicidal lubricant), which can cause skin irritation to both the vagina and penis. In fact, the World Health Organization recommends not using condoms containing nonoxynol-9 because of the potential health risks.
In most cases, vegan condoms are preferred simply to avoid those other potentially harmful ingredients. Some brands to try are L. Condoms, Glyde (which offers some condoms with organic flavoring), and Sir Richard’s Condoms—which donates a condom to a community in need with each one bought.
If you’re looking for a high-quality, vegan lubricant, check out Good Clean Love. Their products are certified organic and packaged in recyclable material. Founder Wendy Strgar aligned her company with the Change for Women Collective, a group of creative leaders and businesses that support the protection of health, human rights, and equality for women and girls worldwide.
Surprising Foods That Aren’t Vegan
Is There Vegan Gum?
What makes chewing gum chewy? For many beloved brands, it’s lanolin—a waxy secretion derived from sheep’s skin. The label doesn’t necessarily spell that out, either, as it’s included in the “gum base” ingredient.
The good news is that there are some vegan gum brands such as Eclipse, Mentos, Juicy Fruit, and Big League. A real favorite for gum-loving vegans is the Swiss brand PUR. Their product is non-GMO, gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free, dairy-free, and certified vegan. Plus, it’s sweetened with calorie-free xylitol, derived from birch trees or corn, and purported to promote oral health by reducing cavities.
Beer and Wine
Adult beverages can be very difficult to qualify as either vegan or nonvegan foods. Both beer and wine are often processed using animal by-products to remove sediment and make the finished product clear and bright. These agents can include casein, glycerin, egg whites, and gelatin. Some, such as Guinness, are processed with isinglass, a type of gelatin obtained from fish.
A good rule of thumb with beer is to opt for German or Belgian beer. Their purity laws and traditional methods ensure that the only ingredients used are water, grain, hops, and yeast—resulting in completely vegan beers. If you want to support your local brewery, make sure they follow the same standard.
While it’s hard to tell by the label if a wine is vegan, choosing one that is biodynamic or organic is a sure bet. With wine, some winemakers have begun using activated charcoal or clay-based “fining” agents. An increasing number are even moving away from filtering their wines, letting them self-clarify instead. Barnivore has a great database guide on beer, wine, and liquor to help you find out which are vegan-friendly, and which are not.