What are Cruelty-Free Cosmetics?

There are so many buzzwords in the cosmetics industry, but 'cruelty-free' is one that can be a bit difficult to understand. Let's break down the meaning behind the term.

There are so many buzzwords in the cosmetics industry, but 'cruelty-free' is one that can be a bit difficult to understand. Let's break down the meaning behind the term.

'Cruelty-free' means, overall, that animal testing hasn't been conducted during clinical testing of a product. This is the most widely utilised definition of the term, but there are different degrees of cruelty-free cosmetics.

It's extremely important to understand that 'cruelty-free' doesn't mean a product doesn't contain animal products. If you're looking for cosmetics that don't contain milk, gelatin, lanolin, honey, and so forth, then you want to look for vegan products.


What are cruelty-free cosmetics?

100% Cruelty-Free

A 100% cruelty-free brand is cruelty-free in every single step of its processing. Brands that are 100% cruelty-free don't abide animal testing anywhere within their supply chain, from the raw ingredients and manufacturing to the packaging and distribution.

As you can imagine, this is difficult and expensive, which is why many brands aren't 100% cruelty-free. There are notable exceptions, namely smaller brands that don't mass-produce their products and thus don't need to outsource labour.


What are cruelty-free cosmetics?


Many brands labelled 'cruelty-free' are largely so but may have are odd gaps in the supply chain information. Therefore, you can't know whether or not the brand is truly cruelty-free.

This can, and often does, happen when a brand grows quickly and has to outsource labour to keep up with demand. While the product, and most likely a large percentage of the process, is cruelty-free, the company can't be defined as '100% cruelty-free'.

This also applies to brands with parent or sister companies that test on animals. It's smart in many ways for a small business to join forces with a major cosmetics company. But if the bigger company sells brands that aren't cruelty-free, can the smaller company really be said to be 100% cruelty-free? It's up to your own ethical standards.

Lastly, the cruelty-free concept becomes hazy when companies sell their products in countries that legally require animal testing—most notably, China. Some brands elect to sell in China while still remaining 'cruelty-free'. How does this work?

Brands that sell in China can have separate testing facilities in which animal testing is allowed on the products that will be sold in China. Technically, the product in your hand won't have been tested on animals, but brand-authorised animal testing happened somewhere in the world.

Cruelty-Free in Name Only

Some brands don't source ingredients ethically and define 'cruelty-free' in the loosest way possible. Only the formulated product in the bottle is truly cruelty-free. Raw ingredients, packaging, manufacturing facilities, and so forth could have undergone animal testing.

As you can see, the definition of 'cruelty-free' isn't exact and can vary from country to country. If you have a very specific idea of what 'cruelty-free' means to you, please look into each specific brand itself to find out if your definition of the term matches up.

For more information, check out our resources, Choose Cruelty Free and Leaping Bunny, as well as our cruelty-free section for some product options!


What are cruelty-free cosmetics?

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