Help with finding vegan beauty products

More successful than ever: vegan cosmetics from Korea

Culture & Society

by Cornelia Wilhelm, May 14th, 2021

Photos: private

Sustainability now plays an important role in a wide variety of industries and for more and more consumers. Many cosmetics manufacturers are also increasingly distancing themselves from animal testing and animal products in their products.

That is why vegan cosmetics are very popular - not only in Europe, but also in Korea, among others.

There the vegan division is establishing itself more and more on the cosmetics market - and exporting its products all over the world.

But what exactly is vegan cosmetics? How does it differ from natural cosmetics? How is Korea getting involved in the current market? And why does “vegan” - at least in Europe - not always necessarily mean “free from animal testing”? The following article answers these questions.

A very popular product in the Korean cosmetics industry, here in a non-vegan version: sheet masks from various manufacturers

What are vegan cosmetics?

The term “vegan” generally stands for a way of life in which no animal products are consumed. This also includes, for example, milk, cheese and honey.

For many people, however, it is not just about nutrition, but also about products from other areas of life.

Many manufacturers in the cosmetic sector are in favor of current developments and adapt their products to the new needs of customers. But when exactly are cosmetics vegan?

Vegan cosmetics are cosmetics that do not contain any animal substances. The ingredients must neither come from animals nor be produced by them. Instead of animal components, vegetable or synthetic substances are used.

Interestingly, this shows that the borders - in Europe, among other places - are now and then blurred. Because: for example, vegan cosmetics may be free of animal ingredients, but have nevertheless been tested on animals.

The beauty industry has a lot of freedom in connection with the term “vegan” in this country. Sentences such as "Our products are not tested on animals" or "Our company does not test on animals" often, but not automatically, mean that the cosmetic products are vegan.

It may well be that products declared as "vegan" contain animal ingredients or that external companies have been commissioned by the cosmetics manufacturer to carry out animal tests. So it's worth checking twice to see if a product is actually vegan.

In Korea, the boundaries between vegan and non-vegan cosmetics are clearer, as will be explained in more detail later.

Beehive - honey is avoided in vegan cosmetics

Vegan cosmetics or natural cosmetics? Where's the difference?

Many consumers are of the opinion that vegan cosmetics and natural cosmetics are the same thing.

Natural cosmetics can be designated as such if the product consists of vegetable raw materials, but also animal products (alive or dead). Therefore, natural cosmetics are far from being allowed to call themselves “vegan”. Popular animal products in natural cosmetics are honey, milk and beeswax, but also collagen, lanolin and hyaluronic acid. The color carmine is also an animal product. Because: It is obtained from pregnant lice.

In addition, natural cosmetics do not necessarily do without animal testing. Due to some "loopholes" it is still possible today to sell your product under the name "natural cosmetics" and to test it on animals at the same time.

What is the difference between vegan cosmetics from Korea and vegan cosmetics from other countries?

In the EU and in many other countries, the term “vegan” is not clearly defined in relation to cosmetics. As mentioned, a product can be called vegan even if it does not contain any animal ingredients, but animal tests have been carried out to produce it. This is why it is often difficult to find a purely vegan product.

This is a little different in South Korea. In order for a vegan product to be declared as such, the content and packaging must be vegan. At the same time, animal experiments have been banned in South Korea since 2018. Most skin care products have never been tested on animals here.

In this context, the Korean cosmetics industry is characterized by a high level of transparency. The corresponding articles are marked and the consumer can be sure that they are receiving a product that is animal-friendly in every respect. Among other things, many Koreans also use the Ekara organization, the counterpart to the animal rights organization PETA, to find out about certificates and relevant seals.

The “Green New Deal” - Koreans are generally focusing more and more on sustainability

The trend around Korean vegan cosmetics fits in impressively with the efforts of Koreans to be more environmentally friendly.

One aspect that plays a particularly important role in this context: In 2020 the South Korean government decided on the "Green New Deal", the aim of which is, among other things, to achieve climate neutrality in Korea by the year 2050 ..

When buying vegan cosmetics in the country is a decision that can influence the very personal environmental behavior of each person. The corresponding products are usually produced in a more sustainable way than the classic variant and are excellent proof that quality and environmental protection do not have to be mutually exclusive.

A look back: the history of vegan cosmetics in Korea

In the Coreana Cosmetics Museum in the southern Sinsa-dong district of Seoul, many exhibits are on display that explicitly deal with the past of the cosmetics industry in the country. The well over 5,000 exhibits show that the products from back then do not differ too much from today's products. Among other things, many natural (and accordingly vegan) ingredients were used.

The history of Korean cosmetics begins around 57 BC. In the museum mentioned, visitors are familiarized with, among other things, beans, various seeds and oils that were used in the past to cleanse the skin, for example.

In South Korea, for example, plant resources were first used for the production of larger quantities of cosmetics. Depending on your taste, they were made even more individual with scents (and with the help of dried flowers). Animal products were only processed later. Nevertheless, the old vegan recipes still prevail today and are also particularly popular outside the country's borders. The range has been expanded significantly, especially since the 1960s. Trade with Europe also increased significantly.

Today, a large part of the cosmetics from South Korea are made from natural ingredients. Vegan alternatives are also offered for almost every animal product.


Korea is now a real pioneer when it comes to modern, vegan cosmetics. More and more companies are aligning their product range accordingly and thus meeting the high demands of their customers.

A particular difference between Korean, vegan cosmetics and the corresponding products from other countries is that there seem to be far fewer "back doors" in Korea.

Or to put it another way: If a product is labeled “vegan”, it can be assumed that people who value a life free from animal suffering can use it without hesitation.

Due to the great international success of the products, it can be assumed that the triumphant advance of vegan cosmetic products, both from Korea and from all over the world, will not end in the years to come. Even if there are of course not only vegan cosmetics in Korea, the market is characterized by an impressive size and convincing transparency. Anyone looking for a vegan alternative to conventional cosmetics will almost always get their money's worth.

The article was provided by the editorial staff of "YesStyle" (


Photo: private

is external editor at the online shop for fashion and cosmetic products "Yes Style". She can be enthusiastic about basic looks as well as "dramatic make-up" and is always happy when she can report on new trends in the Asian beauty world.