Veganism has long been one very suspect life choice. So many questions and comments: But how do you get your protein? Are you trying to starve yourself? Kill me if I ever have to live without cheese. And the skeptics don’t stop at criticizing the diet—for some reason, vegan skin care is still more or less seen as a sort of woo-woo, hippie-dippie niche that will never be as effective as slathering on product cocktails of synthetic and animal-derived ingredients.
The truth is, plant-based beauty is legit. Take it from Cleopatra—just about every beauty blog out there disseminates claims about her love affair with rosewater and clay. Whether that’s true or not, consider that skincare brands are currently borrowing many of their revolutionary ingredients from ancient cultures—from turmeric that’s been a head-to-toe brightener in India for centuries to the now ubiquitous oil from Morocco’s endemic argan tree. In these places, women have traditionally tapped their connection to the earth to cultivate their own beauty rituals that really work—and these ingredients have been passed from generation to generation for a reason. Where have we been?
For a long time, we’ve bought into the idea that effective skin care has to have no limits as far as ingredients. We put a lot of confidence in the words “active ingredients,” which technically refers to those that are deemed pharmacologically effective and are approved and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. However, that doesn’t mean anything otherwise is weak sauce. Most plant-based fixings don’t require Drug Facts labeling but have been researched and vetted by scientists and holistic skincare experts for efficacy and safety. While the list of potent vegan-friendly ingredients is really a mile long, here are five of the latest and greatest that should be on your radar right now.
Calendula (marigold) extract
For: Anti-aging but also everything!
Found in: Vintner’s Daughter Botanical Serum
You’ve heard it a hundred times by now: Retinol is a godsend that tackles just about any skin issue, from wrinkles to pimples. Unfortunately, for vegans, it’s often derived from animal sources. And since transparency isn’t always a given with skincare brands, the origin story of that retinol is often a mystery. Enter: carotenoids. These are a precursor to retinol and come from the most colorful veggies like kale, sweet potatoes and carrots. According to Tina Hedges, founder of LOLI Beauty and a longtime product innovation expert for global beauty brands (Estee Lauder, L’Oreal, LVMH), studies have shown that topical carotenoids can protect against infrared light–induced free radicals.
To keep skin healthy and youthful, she suggests carotenoid-rich calendula extract, known to facilitate cellular regeneration, relieve eczema and even prevent acne with its anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial and antiseptic properties. Seriously, move over, retinol—this powerhouse ingredient is making an appearance in many innovative beauty elixirs. Hedges says there’s a BIY (blend-it-yourself) hack for that, too: “Make a serum infusion in olive oil with dry calendula and apply morning and night before your moisturizer.”
Cassia angustifolia (a.k.a. senna)
For: Moisture attraction and retention and anti-aging
Hyaluronic acid is another multitasking skincare staple that vegans might miss out on since it doesn’t occur naturally in plants. That’s a huge bummer since its ability to attract and retain moisture (1 gram can hold up to six liters of water!) and antioxidant properties are what supple-skin dreams are made of. While some brands do tout synthetic vegan-friendly hyaluronic acid, there is a botanical alternative, too. Hedges says, “An extract from the seed of the Cassia angustifolia (also known as senna), a native plant to India, is rich in polysaccharides that appear to mimic hyaluronic acid. When used in topical skin care, this extract helps to improve moisture retention, supports skin’s elasticity and structure, reduces inflammation and helps with breakouts.”
If you’re one of those people who gets a maniacal thrill out of having impurities extracted from your pores, then you’re probably no stranger to bentonite or French pink clay. But what about rhassoul clay? This earthly ingredient sourced from beneath the Atlas Mountains of Morocco is rich in skin-loving minerals like silica, iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium and sodium. The vegan beauty industry has relatively recently started championing its deeply detoxifying heroics—its negative electrons attract dirt and toxins, which are positively charged. Mask with this stuff and your face will be so fresh and so clean—and your virtual poreless-ness will give new meaning to the word babyface.
For: Minimizing acne, redness and irritation
Something about the blue hue of this oil makes you believe you’re getting something special—and, well, you are! An organic compound called azulene is what lends that signature deep blue, and it also has anti-inflammatory properties that are strong enough to fight off even cystic and hormonal acne, especially when combined with white willow bark (a natural source of salicylic acid). Herbivore Botanicals has been one of the best at harnessing the power of blue tansy—the perfect reviews of their Resurfacing Clarity Mask and Lapis Facial Oil don’t lie.
For: Protection and anti-aging
Just think about the content of seaweed’s character for a second. It’s forever enduring some pretty gnarly conditions—a life aquatic subject to relentless UV rays always beating down on it. Not only is it highly evolved to deal with this epic stress, but seaweed is also one of the ocean’s most essential life-giving resources. Your skin needs this unparalleled strength and nourishment. Sea algae is one of the most beneficial forms of seaweed, boasting detoxifying chlorophyll and minerals, and amino acids and omega-3 fatty acids to promote hydration and elasticity. Trust—incorporating algae extract into your routine will pay dividends decades from now.