As the world moves to a low carbon future, the connection between animal agriculture and greenhouse-gas emissions has come under scrutiny. And the debate has intensified in the aftermath of the global climate conference, COP26, where there were more vegetarian options on the menu than ever before – the organisers had even publicised the carbon content of the food.
Increasingly, people are beginning to recognise that giving up animal-based products is one fairly simple way to reduce the strain on the planet. A University of Oxford study concluded that going vegan is the “single biggest way” to cut greenhouse-gas emissions and conserve water and land, pointing out that the impact is “far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car.”
While veganism is not for everyone, it is not considered as extreme as it once was. The number of vegans has risen exponentially over the last year in the UK, with a 40 per cent increase in people following a plant-based diet in 2020. But what many people don’t realise is that a true vegan lifestyle extends beyond diet, encompassing anything that involves animal products or testing such as clothing, cosmetics, and medicine – including aesthetics.
With World Vegan Month taking place in November, we consider the impact of an increasingly vegan and eco-conscious clientele on treatments and patient consultations, and how embracing sustainability more broadly can be a powerful way for aesthetic businesses to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
When it comes to cosmetic treatments, it’s not always immediately clear whether they are vegan or not. However, as more patients become concerned about the ingredients in products, including whether they are vegan, it’s a good idea for practitioners to know which ones are and which ones are not, so that they can advise their customers accordingly.
There are a number of types of dermal filler available on the market, but while many use hyaluronic acid sourced from animals, Juvederm products, for example, are made of a natural, synthetic form of hyaluronic acid created from bacterial fermentation called Non-Animal Stabilised Hyaluronic Acid (NASHA). However, although the ingredients are completely vegan, dermal filler falls under the category of ‘medical products’, meaning it is required by law to be tested on animals. While manufacturers like Allergan, who produce Juvederm, are pushing to reduce and eventually get rid of animal testing, current regulations make this a complicated and lengthy process. Ultimately, it is down to the patient’s individual choice to decide whether dermal filler is right for them.
Although the actual chemical botulinum toxin (like Botox) is vegan, it is prepared using an egg-base so is not vegan friendly, and aesthetic practitioners should not administer the treatment on anyone who has an egg allergy as it could trigger an allergic reaction. Additionally, similar to dermal fillers, botulinum toxin is tested on animals for medical purposes, therefore would probably not be suitable for vegans.
While some aesthetic treatments do involve animal testing or non-vegan ingredients, there are plenty of treatments options which are suitable for vegans.
Laser treatment is an effective vegan-friendly alternative to filler and botulinum toxin. There are about ten lasers that are generally used for skin treatments, and while they all work in a similar way, they have different abilities. Most lasers fall within two types: ablative laser treatment – where the laser is used to remove the outer layer of the skin to produce a new, smooth-looking area of skin; and non-ablative laser treatment – a less invasive option where the laser is used to stimulate the growth of new collagen by creating heat in the skin without injuring the surface. Ablative lasers are a great option for treating mild to moderate wrinkles, facial scarring and acne, while non-ablative lasers are best for improving skin texture and tone.
Mesotherapy is a technique that uses injections of natural ingredients including vitamins, enzymes, hormones, and plant extracts to rejuvenate and tighten skin, as well as remove excess fat. Mesotherapy is versatile and can be used for numerous indications, including to remove fat from stubborn areas, fade wrinkles and lines, reduce cellulite and contour the body. The treatment can also be used to address hyperpigmentation, treat acne, and create a rejuvenating, glowing appearance. The technique uses very fine needles to deliver a series of injections into the middle layer (mesoderm) of skin, correcting underlying issues like poor circulation and inflammation that cause skin damage.
PRP is a form of injectable treatment that uses the patient’s own platelet rich plasma – making it a natural and vegan-friendly option. The plasma component contains stem cells and growth rich platelets. When injected back into the skin, it accelerates the body’s natural production of collagen and elastin to provide overall skin rejuvenation. PRP treatment can improve skin texture and tone, reduce fine lines and scarring, and stimulate collagen and skin cell production for a plumper, more radiant complexion.
Facelifts and lips lift are vegan friendly options as they involve surgical lifting and manipulation of the skin rather than any added substances that can be found in other treatments. However, as these are surgical treatments and require the patient to be put under anaesthesia, the recovery time is much longer than for non-surgical alternatives. That said, they are longer lasting procedures and will not require regular top-ups, which could be a big plus for some patients.
Whether vegan-friendly or not, it is important to make sure treatments are in line with your patient’s needs, and to undertake a thorough consultation and medical history to discuss any queries they may have. Although the ingredient list from products may be vegan-friendly, there is always the possibility that it is not free from animal cruelty, so being able to provide patients with as much detail as possible if this is something they are concerned about, so they can make their own, well-informed decisions, is strongly advised. It’s also important to make sure you document any discussions you have with the patient, including them in your patient notes.
By offering a range of treatments, including those which meet vegan standards, such as mesotherapy, PRP and lip lifts, you broaden your appeal, standing to attract a wider range of customers. You can then market this as a competitive advantage, targeting eco-conscious patients in your marketing activity, for example on social media.
Director of The Consulting Room Group, Ron Myers is a passionate advocate for incorporating sustainable principles in aesthetics. Speaking from personal experience, he comments on the benefits of this approach:
“It’s been interesting working with my vegetarian (sometimes vegan) daughter who has been incorporating different aspects of sustainability in the running of her skincare business and using this in her marketing messages and social media. Millennials, in particular, have responded well to this – and it has definitely differentiated her from other local competitors who don’t seem to be taking any steps towards addressing sustainability issues that affect us all.
Having a sustainability focus on your business doesn’t have to be difficult, or adversely affect profits – in fact, we believe that it can actually enhance them.”
As consumers become increasingly aware of environmental issues and concerns, it’s important that businesses reflect this and meet their needs by embracing sustainable practices, offering leadership and transparency, and making meaningful changes to their businesses.
Ron Myers has set up a Facebook group, ‘Sustainability in aesthetics’, which is open to practitioners, clinic owners, suppliers and employees who work within the sector. If you are interested in these issues, please join the debate on here.