top of page

A Vegan's Essential Guide to "Inactive" Ingredients

Updated: Aug 29, 2020

Ingredient labels can be confusing, figuring out animal-derived ingredients vs animal-free or vegan ingredients.

Ever been stuck in the aisle poring over a label like the one above? So have we...

One of the hardest parts of a vegan and animal-free lifestyle isn't always the decision to give up animal products, but figuring out WHAT is an animal product. Reading every label for animal-derived ingredients becomes a daily shopping task. Unfortunately, labels, especially medicinal labels, can be confusing. Deciphering which of the many long-winded, chemical-sounding ingredients are animal or plant-derived can give even the most patient of us a headache. Based on an analysis of the Pillbox database, an average tablet or capsule contains 8.8 inactive ingredients with the most common ingredient being magnesium stearate (72%). Lactose (45%) and gelatin (17%) are animal-derived ingredients that are also used frequently. [Reker, et al, 2019]

To make things even more complicated, some ingredients can be derived from plants OR animals, and manufacturers rarely differentiate between the two. In those circumstances, many choose to err on the side of caution.

Your Essential List of Animal-Derived Ingredients:

  1. Magnesium stearate is the most commonly used emulsifier, binder, thickener, or lubricant. It can be derived from an animal source or a plant source.

  2. Lactose is derived from cow milk and is a frequently used filler or binder in tablets and capsules.

  3. Gelatin is typically used in capsule exteriors or as a tablet binder. Common sources of making gelatin includes cows and pigs, and the use of gelatin dates back to 6000 BC.

  4. Carmine is a red-colored cochineal extract from bugs and insects used as a coloring agent. 70,000 beetles must be killed to produce one pound of this red dye.

  5. Glucosamine/Chondroitin, used for bone health, is typically extracted from shellfish or cartilage from cows and sharks.

  6. Shellac is sourced from insects and often used as pharmaceutical ink or glaze. Shellac is also a common ingredient in nail lacquers.

  7. Estradiol is used as a hormone replacement and can be derived from horse urine or soy. Premarin, a popular hormone replacement therapy, derives its name from “PREgnant MARe’s urINe.”


Disclaimer:  The product and/or medical information provided on VeganMed is of a general nature and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or product.


Looking for certified and verified animal-free products?

Want to learn more?

Thank you for your awareness and concern for animal-derived ingredients!

If you have any further questions about ingredients in your medicines and supplements, feel free to reach out to the VeganMed team!



  • Rekker, Daniel, et al. “‘Inactive’ Ingredients in Oral Medications.” Science Translational Medicine, vol. 11, no. 483, 13 Mar. 2019, doi:10.1126/scitranslmed.aau6753.

1,622 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page