Almost three years ago, I was at a friend’s birthday on an early summer evening. Someone had made birthday cake, and as they passed it round, everyone took a slice, including me. I ate it, but then I made a decision: I was going to go vegan.
The cake wasn’t the catalyst (the baking wasn’t that bad) – I’d been flirting with veganism for a few weeks previously, having cut meat out of my diet earlier in the year. I’d replaced my dairy products with vegan alternatives – an almond milk here, a pack of sunflower butter there – and I was beginning to realise that what felt like a mammoth life choice wasn’t going to be so difficult after all.
Like anything, being vegan just takes some getting used to. Over the first few months you quickly become familiar with products and recipes that you like, and it’s basically a breeze from there. At the minute, vegan food in the UK is booming, with major supermarkets introducing multiple own-brand varieties of vegan cheeses and ‘fake’ meats, meaning that going plant-based is easier and more widespread than ever. And at a local level, vegan street food in East London is constantly accessible: between the weekly stalls at Shoreditch’s Truman Brewery and the monthly all-vegan market which takes place at Hackney Downs Studios, you’re pretty much always covered for a fix of some kind.
For some people, veganism is simply a food thing – it’s a diet rather than a lifestyle. When I started out, this was definitely what I subscribed to, but I soon found myself wanting to explore vegan-friendly skincare, cosmetics and haircare, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that it changed the entire way I approach beauty.
Where hair was concerned, things were quite easy: as a former Glasshouse Girl, I’m an Organic Colour Systems devotee. Not only is most of the line (bar a few styling products) totally vegan, but it’s also the best thing I’ve ever used for my hair – despite being lightened, it’s stronger and healthier than I’ve ever known it. So far, so simple.
Cosmetics and skincare were where things got a little more complex. For years, I’d happily used major cosmetics brands like MAC and Elizabeth Arden without a second thought. And though these brands don’t test on animals here in the UK (in this country and, at a wider level, in the EU, animal testing for cosmetics is illegal), they do sell to a global market which includes China, which creates a bit of a problem. It’s Chinese policy that cosmetics have to be tested on animals before they are available in stores, meaning that if brands choose to sell their products in China, they’re also actively involving themselves in mandatory animal testing.
Upon discovering this, I decided to rid my make-up bag of brands who contribute, even in an indirect way, to animal testing. This lead me to make some really interesting discoveries, as a lot of vegan-friendly brands are also very conscious about the ingredients they put into their products in other ways. Companies like ILIA Beauty and RMS Beauty – both of which are stocked by Glasshouse – also ensure that a number of their ingredients are organic, and benefit the skin from the outside in.
If I wasn’t already on the hunt for vegan-friendly cosmetics, I might not have found out about all the nourishment you can give your skin via your beauty products, and though ILIA and RMS’ ranges aren’t totally vegan (just as with food, I try to be careful about the ingredients in my makeup, and avoid skin, hair and beauty products with animal-derived ingredients too), their level of consciousness is really refreshing in an industry which so often centres on instant gratification and ignores long term effects.
And though all this selectiveness about the products I use may seem like it makes things complicated, it’s again just a case of getting used to it, and it’s even made me enjoy and appreciate those products that do cater to me even more. While at first it takes a little effort, in the long run, taking my beauty and haircare vegan has been a choice I’ve gained from outside and in, and I’m not sure I’ll be going back anytime soon.
Words: Lauren O’Neill
Feature image: Zhenya Posternak for Mansur Gavriel