Cruelty Free Cosmetics

Think of the bunnies and beagles.

Under EU law, testing on animals for cosmetics and beauty products is illegal – so it’s all totally fine and there is no animal cruelty going on, right? Well, that’s not the case unfortunately.

Since March 11th 2013, cosmetic products and ingredients tested on animals in production anywhere in world may not be sold in the EU, but that doesn’t mean a brand has to be totally cruelty free across the board if they sell in any other part of the world. These rules also apply in Norway, India, Israel and other countries where animal testing is banned, but this does not include the US or China, where a lot of beauty products are formulated, created and tested.


Whether a company is cruelty free or not isn’t limited to “they sell in the EU so they’re cruelty free”. When looking at purchases cosmetics or skincare, I always look at the bigger picture – Does the company sell in China? What are their rules about animal testing in Asia, Oceania, the Americas?

What does cruelty free mean?

People often assume that “cruelty free” is synonymous with “vegan” but it definitely isn’t. Cruelty free is defined as: products or activities that do not harm or kill animals. Essentially this means that they do not test their products on animals, but does not guarantee that they are vegan.

When we talk about animal testing, animal experimentation, animal research and vivo testing, we mean the use of non-human animals in experiments that seek to control the variables that affect the behaviour or biological system under study.

A vegan product is a product that has not been tested on animals at any point during its production, and also does not contain any animal derived ingredient, which can include honey, beeswax, lanolin, collagen, gelatin, carmine and many others.

Obviously not everyone is vegan, so this post is concentrating on cruelty free cosmetics only.

Cruelty Free VS Chinese Cosmetics Laws

One of the biggest indicators of whether a company is cruelty free is whether or not they sell in China. Now here’s where it can get confusing:

If you see a label saying “Made In China” by a company that claims to be cruelty free, this does not necessarily mean it’s tested on animals. If a company is making its products in China, there are different rules that apply to animal testing and they can opt out of it.

Only foreign companies (ones not from China) have to be subjected to animal testing rules and regulations, but companies that produce in China can opt to not test on animals.

Cosmetics and products that are sold in China from foreign companies must be tested on animals.

Cosmetics such as sunscreens, antiperspirants, hair dye, whitening products and any other special-use products have to be tested on animals even if they’re manufactured in China.

In China companies have to agree to pre- and post-market animal testing, meaning that if a company sells their products in China, they have agreed to their animal testing laws. Pre-market means that the products are tested on animals before the products are allowed to be sold, and post-market means that authorities can demand to test the products on animals whenever they like.

I personally refuse to buy any products from companies that either make their products or sell their products in China as in my eyes, selling in China is advocating that they are okay with animal cruelty, but it is up to you where you draw the line.


Finding Cruelty Free Products

But how do we discern what products are tested on animals and which aren’t? There are four main ways:

Finished Product

It’s all well and good checking the company’s website to see what their policy on animal testing is, but it’s important to check the finished product itself. If the label reads “Finished product not tested on animals” it means that there is no guarantee that this product is cruelty free, as the ingredients used in production may have been tested on animals. I steer clear of products with this on the label, as I don’t want to risk using a product that cannot guarantee its cruelty free status.

Ingredients + Suppliers

This isn’t just a point for vegans – it’s important to check the ingredients list to check for any new ingredients may not have been listed as “safe ingredients” and therefore may have had to be tested by other companies to prove that it’s okay for human use. If you’re unsure of any of the ingredients on the label, a quick google should usually answer whether an ingredient is safe for human use and has been previously tested. There are over 7000 safe ingredients that companies can use, so cruelty free companies often just use these in their formulas and avoid testing out new ingredients.

Similarly, companies often buy their ingredients from other companies, and this if that ingredient has been tested on animals by their supplier but not by them, they are still allowed to say the product is cruelty free.

Parent Companies

This topic can get a bit sticky. A lot of cruelty free companies, like Nars, NYX, Too Faced, The Body Shop, ELF, Bare Minerals, IT Cosmetics, Tarte and Urban Decay are owned by parent companies that are publicly testing on animals. These brands themselves are cruelty free, so don’t worry about that. This area is full of blurred lines and ultimately comes down to your personal opinion. I personally feel that buying from The Body Shop, for examples, creates a demand for cruelty-free/vegan products that L’Oreal shouldn’t ignore. Of course, this is problematic because some of the money I spend will be going to L’Oreal, but one of the ways we can prove there’s a demand for cruelty free products is by buying them! If we don’t buy them, companies just won’t make them.

Look For The Logo

When shopping, you can check for these three logos to see the company’s animal cruelty status. These mean that the company has been trusted by PETA and the Leaping Bunny to not participate in any kind of animal testing.


My top cruelty-free brands are Nars, Lush, Mario Badescu, tarte, The Body Shop, Kat Von D, Urban Decay, Too Faced, Charlotte Tilbury, Inika, Aesop, Pixi, Anastasia Beverly Hills, Bare Minerals, Drunk Elephant & Glossier.

Check this list on Cruelty Free Kitty for a definitive guide as to what brands are cruelty free and/or vegan! 

EDIT: Nars is no longer cruelty free! They are expanding into the Chinese market and therefore will be testing on animals.

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