It’s hard to stick to a vegan lifestyle. It can be easy to be foiled by ingredients that just slip right by you, and these aren’t just in food. A surprising number of non-food items also contain animal-derived ingredients. What’s a wannabe vegan to do? Remember that drastically cutting down on animal consumption is good for the planet, even if you fall short of 100 percent. If you want to be as close to completely vegan as possible, here’s a list of some surprising foods and other items that aren’t necessarily vegan.

two burlap bags of brown sugar and white sugar


The sugar industry uses bone char from slaughtered cattle to remove the color from sugar so it becomes a lovely, bright white. What about using brown sugar? Unfortunately, that’s made of white sugar with molasses added to it. If you want to avoid bone char-processed sugar, buy organic, unrefined, beet or coconut sugar. You can also consult PETA’s list of manufacturers that forego the bones.


Many condom manufacturers use the milk derivative casein for a smooth feel. If you can do without that texture, check out vegan-friendly brands.


Would you like some tendons with your fresh breath? Yep, those ubiquitous mints contain gelatin. Time for a Tic Tac instead, or opt for the Altoids labeled “sugar-free smalls,” which do not contain gelatin.

Related: 10 vegan myths, debunked

tattoo dyes and tattooing gun on white background

Tattoo ink

Charcoal can be made from plant or animal origins. But many of the black dyes used in tattooing are made with charcoal derived from animal bones. Other non-vegan ingredients in tattoo ink are glycerin (from animal fat), gelatin and shellac (made from crushed beetles). If vegan ink is important to you, consult this international list of vegan-friendly tattoo artists.

Apple juice

Now, it’s time for something really gross. Some companies use isinglass, or fish bladders, to clarify their apple juice.


Animal tendons and sinews find their way into a lot of food and non-food products. The outer layers of paintball capsules are usually made of gelatin.

blue box of dryer sheets on a dryer

Dryer sheets

Dryer sheets are designed to fight static electricity and make clothes soft and lint-resistant. But what keeps the sheets from drying out? In some cases, animal fat. Urban Vegan assembled a list of vegan alternatives, if you happen to use dryer sheets. Alternatively, you can also reduce your waste by opting to use wool dryer balls.

Paint and makeup brushes

Artists and anybody who uses makeup might wonder, where did the hairs in my brush come from? They might be synthetic, or they might be from some poor pig, squirrel, sable or Siberian weasel. Artists, consult this list of cruelty-free brushes, and here’s a list of vegan makeup brushes.

Related: The pros and cons of going vegan


In other art supply news, crayons contain stearic acid. This ingredient occurs naturally in plants and animals. But it’s often animal-derived, a slaughterhouse byproduct. Crayons are one of many products that contain stearic acid, including soaps, cosmetics, candles, lubricants, chewing gum and hairspray. If you prefer your crayons vegan, check out these triangular ones made by Melissa and Doug.

Worcestershire sauce

Newer vegans might not have realized this yet, but traditional Worcestershire sauce contains anchovies. Instead, make your own or buy this vegan, organic Worcestershire sauce from trusted brand, Annie’s.

vegan cheeses on a slate board

Soy cheese

If you’re vegan, you probably already know that many regular cheeses aren’t even vegetarian, because they contain rennet, enzymes produced in bovine stomachs that help cheese curdle. But did you know many soy cheeses aren’t vegan? They often contain casein, which seems really weird, because why would you even want soy cheese if you weren’t vegan?

British money

Vegans who live in or are visiting Britain aren’t thrilled to handle the £5 notes, which contain tallow, an animal fat derivative. It is used to make the bills anti-static and less slippery. British vegans and vegetarians have been protesting since the new notes were introduced in 2016. This month, a British employment judge ruled that the Equality Act should also apply to people who sincerely believe in ethical veganism. How an indirect discrimination case will affect the bank notes is still to be seen.

Plastic bags

Could be beef tallow, could be chicken fat — most plastic bags use some type of animal fat as “slip agents” to prevent bags from sticking together. One more good reason for banning plastic bags!

Images via Shutterstock