Notes from a vegan makeover in progress

Notes from a vegan makeover in progress

When I started writing Guac my main objective was to give an honest account of what it was like to go vegan. So here's a home truth I didn't expect to encounter in quite so many ways and forms: going vegan for beauty products has not been easy.

planned to put together a few reviews of beauty products as I replaced the non-vegan products with vegan ones over time. But I'm finding it hasn't been as simple as that, as it's taking me a while to settle in to the new products and I want to keep track of how this can be challenging in its own way. I never quite realised how much you might use a certain type of powder because of how a foundation acts etc, so beginning an overhaul of my entire makeup bag has been difficult.

I feel a bit stupid not realising this now, but obviously once you get settled in the certain beauty products you use over the years, you know how they work best and their effect. I've been wearing the same foundation, powder, blusher, mascara and eye liner since I was 18. If you imagine eating the same food every day for that time, it would be almost impossible. The same thing for breakfast for six years? Forgettaboutit. But for me, and I think for a lot of people that aren't that in to beauty products, once you find a product that works well and in your price bracket, it's very much a not-broke-why-fix-it system. So six years later, when I decide they do all need to change, it's a totally different ball game as to going vegan for food.

Because of this - I've decided instead to keep a kind of diary about my findings, and update when I buy a new product or as I use that product. I hope by the end of this, when I've finally switched to entirely vegan products, I can put together some more concise reviews- but I think my findings as I go along might also be just as useful, especially for anyone else trying to turn their beauty and cleaning regime vegan. It would be great for someone to learn from my mistakes instead of having to go through all of this too!


First up, I swapped my mascara to Urban Decay Lush Lash Mascara, £15.00

This mascara has been a dream.  It was SO hard to find a mascara that is vegan, but I absolutely adore this product and it's easily better than my original mascara. It doesn't flake off, it stays on all day and is THICK. I'm really fond of 1960s, almost Twiggy style eyelashes, so the natural look is not one I wanted to achieve, and this one was perfect for me. What's more, now that I think about it, my eyes no longer itch after a long day with a lot of mascara on, there is no irritation and or soreness from the mascara. 

Second from Urban Decay, I switched to their Razor Sharp Ultra Definition Finishing Powder, £21.00

Powder is a tough one. I love full coverage and wear powder all day every day, so for me it's got to be something that I can put on after three gin and tonics on the back of the bus, as well as in my room after a good night's sleep. The packaging for this product therefore is NOT my best friend right now. Instead of being compacted powder, it's loose, and the top of the container screws right off. I know you're supposed to use it through the powder puff, but for the cost of the product, I'm not going to waste half of it going in to a sponge which gets greasy and might not give even distribution after some use. I've learnt my lesson and won't be buying loose powder again (anyone who wears as much black as I do knows how much of a nightmare this can be) but I think Urban Decay should learn a lesson too and make its great product a bit easier to use and keep. Because, all this said, the powder is great, it lasts and is worth the money once you get it on your face.


Biona Organic Raw Coconut Oil, £3.99

I gave up soy milk and soy products a week ago, as I have been getting really concerned about the rate of hair loss I'm currently experiencing. It's not in a specific place on my head, just about 50 hairs a day, more than the average max of 30 and not good as I already have bleached hair. Despite the peroxide, which I've been doing for two years, I have always had thick and strong hair, so I know it's not the bleach. So I've started with cutting out soy to see if this is the trick. I've found this hard. I haven't been tempted at all by soy products as they were more of a fix-all for dairy things I missed, but a soy-less diet for a vegan is pretty tricky, especially as I'm not yet fond of any other milks (hopefully this will change in time so I can get my museli back!)

BUT. Having looked more in to soy and its processes and scary things like estrogen-mimicking compounds, I'm beginning to think life off the soy bandwagon might be pretty peachy. I originally assumed it would be a good, regular source of protein, so had been drinking about half a carton of soy milk a day, as well as soy mince, tofu, soy sauce and soy margarine. If my hair does slow down its moulting over the next six weeks or so I will definitely cut it out for good. 


On the back of going soy free and running out of Macadamia nut oil, I decided to treat my hair to a homemade masque. I have a very, VERY bad memory of inadvertently making scrambled egg in my hair when I was 15 (don't follow everything TeenVogue tells you to do, basically) so my best friends have pretty much banned me from any DIY hair masques. Until now, I thought, as I twisted open the jar of delicious smelling coconut oil from Whole Foods. I mixed two large tablespoons with a dash of olive oil and stirred it in to a thin paste, then combed it through my hair and left it for 20 minutes. Despite pretty much every online review saying you could fling on as much coconut oil as you fancied, this amount turned out to be WAY too much for my hair and I wasn't able to wash the oil out that day. I would say half the amount, so one large tablespoon and a little olive oil, for shoulder-length hair, would definitely do the trick.

After washing my hair once more the next morning, it did feel super smooth, more supple and glossier. I hope I'm not imagining it but I don't think I have moulted as much this week. One tip my friend Ruth told me was to splash out a bit and go for the more expensive oils- the ones that are raw, virgin or extra virgin as opposed to the 99p ones in Morrisons which have been processed and lose a lot of their goodness. 

WLTM a decent vegan deodorant... 

I'm in the process of trialling different deodorants. As I cycle to and from work and often straight to social events, I need a deodorant that does the job for at least 12 hours. I'm realising this could be really hard to find with vegan and specifically natural products. A visit to Whole Foods gave me a good choice, but I was sceptical as to how well Crystal Salt Rock can work at stopping me sweat (it turns out it doesn't, it just deodorises). Eventually I bought Green People Body Care Natural Deodorant for £8.99. This deodorant does not work for me. The sensation, after years of not even having to worry about if my deodorant was working or not, to being super paranoid as you can tell it isn't working, was not one I am going to repeat. I used it for two days and then had to stop. I want to smell nice. It's the Twenty First Century. I feel this is possible. So I'm currently trialling a deodorant from Lush, T'eo, but as it doesn't come in a container, I'm going to have to use some Tuppaware to carry it to and from work in my rucksack. If it works well, then I don't mind looking a little weird with a lunchbox of deodorant. If it doesn't work, someone needs to invent this product PLEASE. (NB: In the mean time my boyfriend has stockpiled deodorant so I am using those, so yes please hang out with me still).


And finally, the ongoing quest for a facial wipe replacement... 

If you had asked me a year ago what my desert island beauty product would be, I would have told you Simple Face Wipes. I've used these every day since I was 15. I've been known to spend my last £3.50 on them before pay day, and I used them for everything- red wine stains- cleaning, whatever. I don't want to talk too much about how great they are because essentially they AREN'T because they are made by Unilever. Despite the name, packaging and branding, Simple wipes are not a simple moral choice, and finding a replacement hasn't been either. So far I have only been able to afford to try one other type of face wipe- Faith in Nature 3-in-1 Facial Wipes, which is sold in my local Whole Foods. Considering how expensive Simple Wipes are, these really don't feel too bad in price either, but I think I will switch to another brand as my skin has broken out in spots that won't go away. Consistently, over the years, I have never had bad skin because I used the Simple Wipes. When I ran out, I would get bad skin, so I know it was them. It has been a bit miserable having such bad skin suddenly, but I will just have to try out some new wipes. I'm not going back to Unilever. THAT is simple.


Sconehead: Vegan shampoo

What happened when I switched to the baking soda and vinegar shampoo method for a week...


At the same time as I decided Guac needed a re-boot, I realised my own take on veganism could also do with a shake-up. I’d grown pretty comfortable with what to eat and where to get it, but there was still a whole other side to it I knew I wasn’t dealing with properly- and that’s clothing, beauty and cleaning products.

Vegans aren’t superheroes and most of them also don’t have squillions to spend on brand new winterware or make-up bags. I made the decision this summer to stop buying any leather, suede, wool or other animal bi-product items to wear. But it also meant I needed to totally overhaul the beauty and cleaning products I've been using. 

Just as turning to a vegan diet usually takes a few trial and error stages to work out what fits, I've spent the last few weeks researching and sampling all the different ways I can go totally vegan with beauty and cleaning products. As I mention above, I don't have an endless stream of cash to do this with, so instead I chose to replace what I ran out of over time. If you want to do something gradually like this, I'd recommend it as the easiest way to make a total, and really importantly, sustainable change to your lifestyle. It stops it from becoming overwhelming and means you can properly research each product when you run out. 

The first thing I did was to work out exactly what criteria I wanted my new products for beauty and cleaning to have. Having asked around with a lot of friends this is likely to be a really personal decision so totally up to you as to where you want to draw the line with the chemicals and products you have in your daily life. I decided my two main priorities needed to be that the products are vegan and cruelty free. I also really wanted everything to be free of parabens and sulphates because of the research I'd done in to chemicals used in shampoo and soap. The other final criteria was that I needed to be able to afford it month to month, and for it to be easy to make, use and keep. I didn't mind if I had to trek to a whole foods shop or make a huge batch of homemade concoctions and freeze it in ice-cube trays, I just want something that I know I can use and afford in the long-term, that is a sustainable change.

I then took an hour over a lunchbreak and wrote down every beauty or cleaning product I use to see if there were any that could stay. This ended up taking a lot longer than an hour because so many companies will happily tell you upfront they are vegan OR cruelty free OR paraben free etc, but will also go to every length to hide the fact they do test on animals etc etc. From the research I did, I would say if the company doesn't confirm something in their website's FAQ section, it's probably trying to avoid that specific frequently asked question.

No prizes for guessing that absolutely none of my beauty or cleaning products fitted my vegan and cruelty free criteria. You can use the PETA search to find out if any of yours do, as I found many brands will have UK and US websites making things even more complicated. So all in all, there was going to have to be a total overhaul in all the products I used.

Which brings me to my first experiment: trying to go shampoo-free. After a few field trips to Whole Foods and Planet Organic, my head whirring with ingredients lists and chemicals to avoid, I began looking into making shampoo myself. Or not making it, as the case is, with the bicarbonate of soda (aka baking soda in the US) and vinegar method, known fondly as the 'No Poo' system for washing hair. 

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So, one morning at 5.50am I got up ten minutes earlier and mixed two cups of solution to wash my hair with. The first was 2 tablespoons of baking powder with 6 tablespoons of water, or a 1:3 ratio. The second was 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar with 4 tablespoons of water, or a 1:4 ratio. I also mixed in about five drops of the rose oil above (vegan and cruelty free) that I bought from a Whole Foods store to the vinegar conditioner, to try and mask the vinegar smell. If you are going to try this out make sure you use something it's okay to drop in the shower- maybe a left over water bottle or plastic/tin cups like I did. 

The shampoo doesn't froth so instead you sort of massage it in to your hair, focusing on the scalp before getting to the ends of your hair. Then leave it for 3 minutes or so, before washing out and then pouring over the conditioner in a similar way, focusing on the roots. Make sure you don't get any in your eyes as this will hurt a lot.

To cut a long story short- this method was not for me. I know you're supposed to leave the hair to go into a detox phase and then eventually, after what could be months, your hair will grow accustomed to the baking soda and vinegar and look amazing, but to be quite honest the whole thing just made me totally miserable. I tried this for seven days, through three washes. I know it doesn't sound like a lot but my hair honestly looked and felt disgusting. I like to think I have strong will power- I went vegan in the space of a day. But I also know when something isn't working for me, and this really, really wasn't.  

While a lot of online blogs warn about dry hair or extra oily hair, my hair did both. At the roots it went super oily, so I didn't even want to touch it, and at the the ends, so dry it couldn't be brushed. So much so I actually broke two hair brushes trying to blow-dry my hair one morning. The vinegar smell wasn't masked by the rose oil and bicarbonate of soda is quite expensive when you get through it at the rate I was. When my friend teased me for being a 'sconehead' on the phone after telling her I was doing a shampoo-detox with cooking ingredients, I realised there was no way I was going to last another week, let alone the months it could take to see results.

I'm sure for loads of people this is great method, and a brilliant revelation, but it just was not for me. When I looked online for negative side-effects of the no-poo method, of course (as with everything on the internet) I found 1,001 bad things about doing a hair detox, not least that the rapid change in pH from alkaline bicarbonate of soda to acidic vinegar could be really damaging on your hair. 

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Which is where my new shampoo and conditioner come in.  Me and my sconehead went off to Holland & Barret and found the North American Hemp Co. products- which are vegan, cruelty free, paraben and sulphate free, and also not too expensive. After two washes with this shampoo my hair isn't quite back to normal, but I hope it will be within a week. At least it feels softer, can be brushed, and feels super nice being washed as opposed to the weird fizzy sensation from the bicarb. 

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I also stocked up on Dr Organic Aloe Vera soap, which is vegan, cruelty free, paraben and sulphate free, and smells AMAZING. You could also use olive oil soap which is really cheap to get hold of, but I prefer something that smells clean and refreshing. 

Yes, these products aren't homemade and all of them have ingredients I can't pronounce, but by buying them I know I'm supporting companies that support my ethos, and that this is probably the most practical way for me to start changing my habits to be totally vegan without being a sconehead. I even bought an extra soap for travelling! 

I'd love to hear from anyone that's found any products in the UK that work really well for them that are vegan and cruelty free- and especially homemade shampoos, conditioners or hair masque recipes.