Cruelty-free cosmetics are makeup or other beauty products that are not tested on animals.
In the United States, there are no legal guidelines as to what makes a cosmetic cruelty-free. But most advocacy organizations agree that cruelty-free means that no ingredients in a product have been tested on animals in addition to the final product.
Animal testing includes toxicity tests, whether or not a product will irritate the eyes or skin, whether or not a carcinogen (cancer-causing) tests and tests as to whether or not ingredients will hinder development or reproduction. Animal tests are not always reliable, and the results do not necessarily mean they will be the same in humans, as animals and humans have different anatomy and responses.
How to find cruelty free cosmetics
Look for logos that certify a product is cruelty free
As Consumer Reports notes, a bunny logo on a product’s packaging is a sure way of knowing something wasn’t tested on animals. The logos represent three organizations: Australia’s Choose Cruelty Free, Leaping Bunny and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) Beauty Without Bunnies.
These organizations have vetted the products and their ingredients, and have directories with brands that don’t test on animals. Do be aware that companies must pay to have these logos on their products, so there may be brands that are cruelty free but cannot afford to put the bunny logo on their cosmetics.
Use a cruelty free app when shopping
All three bunny organizations have apps where you can scan a product’s barcode while shopping and instantly find out if the product of any of its ingredients have been tested on animals.
Remember the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate cruelty free labels
There is no legal definition of cruelty free or vegan that would help to regulate labels. Though the labels can be helpful in identifying cruelty free products, make sure they are labels from one of the certified organizations.
Some labels will say it is a cruelty free product, but really it means that only the final product hasn’t been tested on animals– some ingredients used in that product may still have been tested on animals.
The companies may also be using other supplies or services from laboratories. As the FDA states: “Many raw materials, used in cosmetics, were tested on animals years ago when they were first introduced. A cosmetic manufacturer might only use those raw materials and base their “cruelty-free” claims on the fact that the materials or products are not “currently” tested on animals.”
Search a company’s website for its animal testing policy
While not all companies will explicitly state whether or not they conduct animal testing, you can sometimes deduce whether or not they do by online policies. Some companies say they only test their ingredients or products when required to by law, which still means they are not cruelty free products.
Know the differences between cruelty free and vegan
Cruelty free cosmetics mean they were not tested on animals. A cosmetic product that is vegan is also free of any ingredients that come from animals in addition to not being tested on animals.
Many ingredients known by one name can be of animal, vegetable, or artificial origin, so looking it up in a database can be helpful in determining its source. Vegan products have a logo from Vegan.org. You can also look out for common non-vegan ingredients in cosmetics, which include:
To make matters more complicated, products can be vegan but may not be cruelty-free. While the cosmetic may not contain any animal products or animal-derived ingredients, the products or its ingredients may have been tested on animals, likely because it is being sold in China. For example, Garnier has vegan shampoos and other hair products, but their products are sold in China and thus undergo animal testing.
Ask companies via e-mail or social media specific animal testing questions
If it is still unclear if a company performs animal testing, you can find a way to contact them and ask specific questions that will inform you whether or not their products are cruelty free. They include:
- Does an outside company conduct product testing for you?
- Do any suppliers you use test on animals?
- Does your parent company conduct animal testing?
- Are the raw ingredients tested on animals? Are the finished products tested on animals?
- Do you sell your products in countries where animal testing is required by law?
What skin care brands are cruelty free?
If you are looking to only use skin care products that are cruelty free, there are many options from drug store to luxury brands that don’t test their products on animals.
Be sure to check one of the certified databases to ensure whatever product you’re purchasing is in fact cruelty free. Here are a few notable skin care brands in each price range:
- Yes To
- Alba Botanica
- Avalon Organics
- Paula’s Choice
- Juice Beauty
- First Aid Beauty
- Ole Henriksen
- Drunk Elephant
- Kate Somerville
- Sunday Riley
- Dennis Gross
What beauty products are cruelty free?
Like skin care products, there are many cosmetic options available in each price range. Be sure to keep an eye out for the correct labels and double check the company with one of the cruelty free databases. Here are some popular beauty brands that are cruelty free in each price range:
- Physicians Formula
- Sonia Kashuk
- Anastasia Beverly Hills
- Urban Decay
- Milk Makeup
- Kat Von D
- IT Cosmetics
- Bare Minerals
- Charlotte Tilbury
- Marc Jacobs Beauty
What companies still test on animals?
Many of the most popular skincare and cosmetic brands still test on animals. This is mainly because in order to sell products in China, Chinese law requires products sold in China to be tested on animals. (This law does not apply to online sales.) In 2017, cosmetic sales in China totaled $251 billion, making it an attractive marketplace for companies.
However in April 2019, China’s National Medical Products Administration accepted some non-animal testing methods to regulate the cosmetics and skin care industry.
The Chinese administration accepted nine non-animal test methods that will go into effect on January 1, 2020. This does not mean animal testing will not be done in China any more, but it is a big step in the country accepting testing and regulatory methods that don’t involve animals.
Popular brands that are currently sold in China and thus are not cruelty free include:
- Rimmel London
- Estee Lauder
- Tom Ford
However, animal testing has been banned altogether in the European Union, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, Isreal, Taiwan, Turkey, and India.
Are there cruelty free loopholes?
While some companies state they are cruelty free and do not test on animals, in fact there are some loopholes where that may not be the case. Here are common ones to look out for:
- Some cosmetic or skincare brands claim that they, that one brand, does not test on animals, but they may be hiring a third-party company to test their ingredients or products on their behalf. This is usually done when companies are selling their products in China, where animal testing is currently required.
- Unofficial bunny logos can fool consumers into thinking a product is cruelty free. For a brand to be certified cruelty-free, by one of the three organizations that issue official bunny logos, they must meet certain standards, sign a no animal testing policy pledge and showing documentation and proof of no animal testing to the organization that is issuing the logo.
- Another phrasing loophole is when a company says they do not conduct animal testing except when required by law. Again, this is to sell products in China, where cosmetic testing on animals is required by law. As an example, Neutrogena states on its website: “Neutrogena doesn’t conduct animal testing of our cosmetic products anywhere in world, except in the rare situation where governments or laws require it.”
- Because there are no laws or regulations surrounding saying a product is cruelty free in the United States, technically anyone could state that on a product label or on their website that they are cruelty free. If you can’t find any of the certified logos or can only find vague language about being cruelty free, check the official databases or ask a company the direction questions listed above to find out if they’re actually testing on animals.
- Some companies will say that a product was not tested on animals, but that does not mean the separate ingredients within the product were not tested on animals. Unless the brand makes every ingredient in a cosmetic or skincare product from scratch and control the entire manufacturing process from start to finish, most companies must buy and acquire their ingredients from a manufacturer or supplier. These manufacturers and suppliers also need to be free of animal testing processes throughout their entire processes.
What are alternatives to animal testing?
Most scientists agree that the majority of experiments performed on animals are not actually useful–animals do not necessarily react the same way as humans would to a drug or ingredient.
A rabbit’s cells are different than a human’s cells. Yet there is a lot of precedent with animal testing, and it is the norm in the scientific community to test on animals, particularly when it coems to studying new drugs and diseases. But wow there are many ways to test makeup, ingredients, new drugs, and more that don’t involve animal testing and are usually more effective and cheaper.
In Vitro Methods
These methods use human cells and tissues grown in labs to test ingredients and see their potential effects on humans.
In Silico Models
Computer models that are able to simulate human biology and potential diseases or reactions can be used in the place of animal testing. This method has been shown to be an accurate way of predicting how the body would respond to a drug or substance.
Clinical trials using patient volunteers are commonly used to test new drugs (that have first been rigorously tested in the lab). For cosmetics, there is a similar process called “microdosing” where human volunteers are given a very small dose or exposure to a substance to see how their body reacts
FAQ: Best Ways to Find Cruelty Free Cosmetics
How do I know which cruelty free labels are legitimate?
- Look for logos certifying a product is cruelty free. One of three bunny logos on a product’s packaging is the best way of knowing a cosmetic or skin care product wasn’t tested on animals. Three organizations have official logos that companies pay to put on their products: Choose Cruelty Free, Leaping Bunny and Beauty Without Bunnies.
What is the difference between cruelty free and vegan cosmetics?
- Cruelty free cosmetics mean they were not tested on animals. A vegan cosmetic product is also free of any ingredients that come from animals in addition to not being tested on animals and have a logo from Vegan.org. You can find a list of common non-vegan ingredients here.
What are the best online databases with updated lists of cruelty free brands?
- The organizations that certify and label cruelty free products–Choose Cruelty Free, Leaping Bunny and Beauty Without Bunnies, are the best and most up to date resources of what brands, products and ingredients are not being tested on animals. There are also many independently-run websites that keep track of brands and their testing processes, if they start or stop selling their products in China, and more.
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