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Being vegan, inside and out

A vegan for the last eight years, Jennifer Storey is careful not to put meat, eggs, honey or milk in her body. Now it's becoming easier not to put them on her body, either.

At JuJu Salon in Center City, Jennifer Storey gets a vegan pedicure from Lisa Rogers.
At JuJu Salon in Center City, Jennifer Storey gets a vegan pedicure from Lisa Rogers.Read moreDAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer

A vegan for the last eight years, Jennifer Storey is careful not to put meat, eggs, honey or milk in her body. Now it's becoming easier not to put them on her body, either.

From conditioner to lip balm to plant-based pedicures, companies and spas nationwide are offering vegan products and services. That typically means there's no testing on animals, and ingredients are free of animal byproducts - including beeswax and carmine, a commonly used red coloring made from beetles. But these goodies aren't tucked away on a dusty bottom shelf in a health-food store. They're at the hair salon, on the shelves of Lush, or even at the local Rite Aid.

"In the past five or six years, there's really been a shift," said Storey, a private fund-raising consultant who first went vegetarian 19 years ago. A week before Storey was to give birth, she was able to get a pedicure - a plant-based one, that is - at JuJu, an organic salon in Center City.

"I think it says something that I'm so close to my due date and I feel safe using these products," she said.

Beauty experts, from stylists to reviewers, say that as consumers learn more about the food they eat, they're also starting to scrutinize other products they use. Michelle Breyer, cofounder of, a Web site that reviews and recommends products for curly hair, said the site is getting more questions from concerned users.

"Customers started asking more questions about product ingredients about three years ago, but it has accelerated," Breyer said. "There are a lot more people calling and asking if something is vegetable-based or animal-based."

JuJu salon owner and vegetarian Julie Ebner is overwhelmed by the choices - even ones that fit her very picky standards at the organic salon, including plant-based hair dyes, nail polish and cosmetics.

"I can find many products out there that fit what I need as a consumer and that are very effective as a hairstylist," she said.

While there are more options, there's also more confusion. The Food and Drug Administration does not require beauty companies to submit safety data on their products, unlike pharmaceuticals. There's no test to pass before being labeled "organic" or "natural."

The "organic" label by the USDA means that 95 percent to 99 percent of the product ingredients are grown organically, without pesticides. But it doesn't mean vegan. And a product labeled vegetarian only means it isn't tested on animals - but it could contain animal byproducts, such as milk or carmine.

Also, labeling a product vegan or vegetarian doesn't mean it's all-natural. Some vegan and vegetarian products include preservatives such as parabens, which are allowed by the FDA but have been found in some studies to mimic estrogen and disrupt the hormone system in rats. Shampoos and body washes also can include sodium lauryl sulfates, which is what creates lather, but can be a skin and eye irritant, according to federal government reviews.

"The terms natural, organic, vegan - someone needs to define them; there're just no standards," said Ann Garrity, founder of the Organic Diva Web site.

Garrity started the Web site to parse and promote the many products out there. The products on the site are not all vegan, but they do not include parabens or sulfates and have not been tested on animals, she said.

"Right now, people want a product that's effective and that's going to make them look good," she said.

For Ebner, it's not just a matter of keeping out the goat's milk or beeswax. On a recent Tuesday, a potential vendor came in and asked if she'd be interested in a children's line of products.

Sure, Ebner said. But the entire ingredient list had to be on the bottle. There could be no parabens, no sulfates, and she had to know the product's process - nothing could be derived from petroleum. And if it's in a blue or green glass container, that's even better - it keeps out sunlight which can cause deterioration.

Many of Ebner's customers come into the salon because they've had allergies to certain products, or they've read a study about the dangers of certain chemicals.

Are most consumers asking detailed questions about parabens or the USDA organic criteria or sulfates? No. Not yet, anyway.

But Wende Zomnir, cofounder and creative director of Urban Decay cosmetics, a national cosmetics company based in California and sold in stores like Sephora and Ulta, is addressing such concerns - sometimes before they're voiced. When the company began 13 years ago, it focused on products that were cruelty-free, including makeup brushes made from synthetic materials instead of animal hair.

The company began fielding an increasing number of questions from vegans about their products. In March 2006, Urban Decay launched a vegan line on its Web site. Now it has more than 180 vegan products.

Some products are easier to make vegan than others, Zomnir said. Instead of beeswax, the company can use soy wax, for example. But creating the color red still poses a challenge. Many products use carmine, the beetle byproduct. So if Zomnir wants a hot-pink eye shadow but can only get mauve with vegan ingredients, sometimes the non-vegan option wins.

Five years from now, though, Zomnir thinks that hurdle will be cleared as well.

"On my desk is our first lipstick: It's dry, it's tacky, it's full of parabens," she said. "Now all our lipsticks are vegan, and they glide on - it's like rubbing a stick of butter on your lips and there are no parabens, and they're made with food flavoring and no fragrances."

For vegan Jadee Klinger, a designer in an architecture firm and a Philadelphia yoga teacher, it's not just what's in the product that's important, but how it feels on her skin. For a long time, she said, if it was vegan, it wasn't effective.

"I still want to go out and look and feel pretty," she said. "When I'm in a bad mood, I go to the soap aisle in Whole Foods, and almost every time I find something new that's vegan and paraben-free.

"I can even go to Rite Aid and find Alba products - some of which are vegan and they smell like coconut or pineapple. It's very tropical."