Is my Perfume Vegan? The Secrets behind Non-Vegan Perfumes Revealed

It’s easy to overlook the perfume industry as completely non-vegan and as the purveyor of animal cruelty. 

With little to no information on the packaging besides a list of obscure ingredients, navigating your way through the array of pretty bottles to an ethical vegan perfume is a difficult task. Particularly since many manufacturers who claim not to test on animals can still legally hire third party tests or use animal-tested ingredients

Glands and secretions as ingredients

Secret ingredients in perfume
With esoteric names as civet and ambergris it is unlikely for the average consumer to even question the source of the ingredients used in labs to create their perfume. Image: shutterstock.

Besides the issue of testing, there is an even more insidious threat to animal welfare hiding in the perfume industry: ingredients such as honey or musk, the latter of which might also be referred to as civet, ambergris, or castoreum, are all traditionally derived from animal’s glands. 

These ‘musky’ animal scents are considered to add a sensual note to the perfumes in which they are used, but what’s so sensual about secretions taken from animal’s anal glands or vomit? 

With such esoteric names as civet and ambergris it is unlikely for the average consumer to even question the source of such ingredients in their perfume. So when in search of a perfume, please consider the following names, which are some of the commonly used ingredients in non-vegan perfumes. 

The horrific ingredients in non-vegan perfumes 

Secret ingredients in your perfume
Secret ingredients in your perfume: using extractions from anal glands, fecal matter and castor sacs, does not make the perfume appealing. Image: Shutterstock.


A musky secretion that is taken from the anal gland of the African civet cat. These cats are often kept captive in tiny cages for as long as 15 years in order to collect the matter from their glands. The civet musk is harvested by either killing the cats and removing their anal glands, or by scraping the secretions from their glands in a painful process while they are still alive. 

The civet musk is used as a fragrance and stabilizing agent for some non-vegan perfumes. 


Castoreum is a secretion from the castor sacs of beavers who are caught and killed in order to procure their musk

According to a few sources, some of the classic non-vegan perfumes known to be using this cruel substance are: Emeraude, Chanel Antaeus, Cuir de Russie, Magie Noire, Lancôme Caractère, Hechter Madame, Givenchy III, and Shalimar.

Ambergris/ Amber

Sperm whales used for perfume
The majority of ambergris used for perfume is collected from the digestive tract of slaughtered sperm whales, resulting in the rapidly depleting population of sperm whale populations. Image: Shutterstock.

Ambergris, sometimes labelled as Amber, is a waste product from the sperm whale’s digestive system. The substance is usually passed as a fecal matter, or as vomit, but the majority of ambergris is collected from the digestive tract of slaughtered sperm whales, resulting in the rapidly depleting population of sperm whale populations. 

Ambergris is used as a fixative in some non-vegan perfumes (allowing the scent of the perfume to last longer). 

Hyraceum/ African Stone

Musk in Perfume
Do you know if a deer has been killed for the musk in your perfume? Image: Shutterstock.

Hyraceum, also known as African Stone, is a urinal and fecal deposit from the Hyrax, a small mammal native to Africa.


Musk is taken from the Musk Deer, who are killed in order to procure their scent-containing pods. Even though musk is only present in the male of the species, female deers are also killed haphazardly in the hunt for musk. This widespread practice has resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of wild musk deer. 

Alternatives to animal-based ingredients in perfumes 

Some perfume manufacturers now claim to make synthetic versions of animal-derived musk, however with insufficient labeling on packaging there is no way to be absolutely certain. Even by contacting the manufacturer directly it is difficult to ascertain whether the information you receive can be trusted. 

If you are reluctant to give up your favourite perfume be sure to do plenty research and be diligent in finding out whether companies fully declare the sourcing of their ingredients.

Another option is simply making your own vegan perfume at home, with cruelty-free, plant based and natural ingredients. You can even have a go at re-creating your favourite perfume! Just search online to find basic perfume recipes, and which essential oils are used in your chosen scent, and have a go at copying it. Even if you don’t manage to replicate it exactly you may well be pleasantly surprised at the result!

You will find that you won’t even have to sacrifice that sensual, musky fragrance in the name of animal welfare; because the intoxicating scent of natural musk is also readily available in the likes of the Ambrette seed from the tropical Hibiscus plant.

But if a DIY perfume project just isn’t your thing, you can always opt for a vegan perfume from a trusted vegan brand. Those are becoming increasingly popular, and hey, who doesn’t like shopping around for a new, cruelty-free perfume?

Cover image: TVW.

Emma Gibson

Writer & Reviewer

Like many vegans, I made the transition after a lengthy period of being vegetarian. It was an inevitable evolution and one that I've delighted in for almost two years now. I can honestly say I’ve never enjoyed eating so much! Other than writing, my passions are making music, DJing and exploring the magnificence of the great outdoors.