Want to take your beauty regime to a super-sustainable level?
Beauty journalist Helen Clemson switched to a vegan, plant-based product approach, and here’s how she did it!

By Helen Clemson

Perhaps it was the onslaught of COVID19 that was the final nail in my consumption coffin. A meat-eater – and user of not necessarily just plant-based fashion and beauty – this pandemic got me really thinking; what could I do for a more sustainable way of living?
Swapping my nutritional choices was an easy solution, but was I ready to give up my favourite, and let’s be honest, feel-good (especially in these challenging times), cosmetic choices in my quest for veganism? Total disclosure: The process unnerved me – it seemed overwhelming. But the discovery of a wealth of local (a big motivator in my more sustainable outlook) highly effective products has been exciting. To make things easier, I
used a three-step approach when researching and changing over, and these are the questions that guided me. Whether you want to adopt strictly vegan beauty habits or
embrace a more flexitarian mindset, here’s my how-to plan for a more “green” cosmetics space.

ONE: Will it work?
No doubt the biggest concern for me in product selection has always been: “Will I see results?” Efficacy has historically been my number one priority. Throw veganism into the mix, and I was left with a question of sustainability versus great skin outcomes. Vain yes, but I want my anti-ageing serum to actually anti-age me. Dr Alek Nikolic, an aesthetic
medical practitioner and creator of sk.in (Skin Ingredients), a range of vegan and cruelty-free skincare says that “there is no real difference in effect or skin results from an animal
sourced active ingredient versus a non-animal sourced active ingredient.”

He also believes that confusion as to what vegan skincare actually is, is perhaps a source of concern with regards to efficacy. “I believe some people are confused between vegan
skincare and natural, organic and botanical skincare,” he explains and adds that vegan is not necessarily ‘natural’ or ‘organic’. “Vegan skincare is classified or defined as skincare that contains ingredients that are not tested on animals and that are not derived from animals.” This includes the manufacture process of any of the ingredients that are used to derive the final active ingredient.

Active ingredients like ascorbyl tetraisopalmitate (vitamin C) and granactive retinol (vitamin A or retinol esther) are extremely effective, he goes to say, and for example for his product range, actives are sourced from approved vegan suppliers.

TWO: Is it really vegan?
“Another concern was feeling confident that my new product was in fact totally vegan and not just, ‘not tested on animals.’ Simply because a brand does not test on animals does
not make them vegan,” says Dr Nikolic. “It’s important to note that a brand is only truly vegan if their products have been vetted by a reputable vegan society and have been certified as vegan”, he adds. In others words, don’t be afraid to research who’s given
your product the stamp of approval. As Dr Nikolic unpacks: “The Vegan Society is an international based society (and the oldest) that vets a number of products by researching
every ingredient used from the suppliers to the manufacturers. Lauren Gibson, global education manager for Esse Skincare explains that “testing of our products are done in Bonn, Germany on human volunteers to ensure the results and influences to the skin are real and impactful which details high levels of efficacy.” Together with being accredited by the Vegan Society as well as being organically certified (by Ecocert, enforcing minimum organic percentages and banning ingredients deemed unsafe or unsuitable as well as regulating packaging used and overseeing it’s recyclability), measures like these –
practised by Esse for instance – are critical to ensure consumer safety and the most positive environmental impact possible.

THREE: How do I start?
Gibson suggests a phased-in approach. “The best way to start this phase-in, is with a trial kit that usually contains four to six trial-size products for you to test and see how your skin
responds,” she says. While this way of starting your switch to vegan is a great method if you have sensitive skin (skin that is prone to reactions, inflammation or even itchiness), it’s
also gentle on the budget. Financial outlay for a full-on vegan overhaul is most likely a concern, it was for me. I began my vegan beauty journey with a body care product or two. This meant I could finish my existing facial products (no waste) but also see how the skin on my body reacted to my vegan choices before investing in items like skincare serums.

What I Switched To:
My new top-to-toe vegan beauty wardrobe – and they’re all local brands!

Skincare: Nearly 40 – and a tired mother of a small child – my skin requires anti-ageing and brightening active ingredients for a healthy youth boost. I’m a big believer in serum layering for the treatment of a variety of skin conditions (like dehydration, fine lines and wrinkles and pigmentation), an issue that comes with getting older. I found great concentrations of hyaluronic acid, vitamin C and E as well as ceramides in sk.in Marvel Hydro Shot (R 1, 050) that I use over sk.in Gloss Radiant Shot (R 1, 300) every morning. The latter’s potent dose of anti-oxidants help offset the signs of UV and environmental damage, a real concern with living in perpetually sunny South Africa.

Bodycare: Determined to find a body cleanser that was not only vegan, but safe for my four year old to use, I tried Saponera Hand & Body Wash (R290 for 500ml). One hundred percent plant-based and made naturally, it’s nourishing ingredients (my daughter and I love the rose option) hydrates the skin thanks to shea butter, coconut oil and cacao butter in the formulation.

Haircare: Again, here I wanted an option that we could use as a family. The limited-waste approach to Be.Bare’s shampoos and conditioners, impressed me. With zero plastic packaging, my husband loves the handy “looks like a soap but isn’t” bars we can use for
hair washing. Made without water (so more can be saved), vegan and cruelty free, Be.Bare’s Shampoo Bar – The Crowd Pleaser (R130) sits in our shower for everyone to use.

Make Up: A fellow beauty journalist recommended Esse Foundation SPF30 (R595) as my foray into vegan make-up. Part of a microbiome collection of products (it boosts skin with prebiotic and probiotic ingredients), this foundation promises light to medium coverage and increased skin glow. The result – after a super-smooth application – is natural-looking skin (no heavy, caked-on base), a hydrated skin-feel and wonderful radiance.