Ok, so insect bums isn’t technically correct. However, shellac – secretions from the lac beetle – is used in products and foods which you would not imagine could be unsuitable for vegans. Here’s your quick fire guide to shellac, it’s uses and what to avoid – because critters with no back-bone matter too!
What is shellac?
Shellac is taken from the lac beetle (Coccus lacca) which lives in South East Asia. The resin is made when these cool bugs stick their needle like mouths into trees and suck out the sap. This is processed and secreted from glands which cover almost their whole bodies! The resin hardens on contact with air, creating a protective layer under which they hide from predators and lay their eggs. The female lays an impressive 300-500 eggs from which nymps hatch. These settle on trees in great numbers – up to 300 insects per square inch – and they then commence a sap sucking party to help them grow into reproducing adults.
Why isn’t it vegan?
During the process of shellac production, lac resin is scraped from the tree, with any unsuspecting insects and eggs being swept away too. It is thought that around 30,000 lac beetles die in the production of just 1kg of shellac. As an ethical vegan setting out to abstain from using products which cause interference with or loss of life, shellac is a product to be avoided.
So, which products contain shellac?
It may be most recognised in relation to shellac nails – a false nail alternative to acrylic or gel. However, shellac is used in loads of ways and in numerous products, some of which result in the most bizarre items being unsuitable for vegans. For example:
- Coating for citrus fruits and other fruits such as apples. Look out for particularly shiny fruits; the coating will flake off if scraped or rubbed. The purpose is purely atheistic, to make the fruit shiny so they look nicer under shop lights. How unnecessary!
- Glazing of sweets, marzipan and chocolate, similarly, to make them look prettier
- As a binding agent in cosmetics, so check that your cosmetics are labeled vegan or inquire with the cosmetic company about the ingredients.
- It can be used in the preparation of artificial leather – so high street “pleather” items may be cheap and not made from animal skin, but it may not be vegan. This is a good reason to support vegan manufacturers and those approved by with a vegan certification (Such as one of my faves – Wills Vegan Shoes)
If you are a complete geek and want to know more, check out this paper detailing lac beetle life cycle and shellac production.You can’t beat having hard facts to hand for people who want to know why you don’t want a bite of their scarily shiny apple!