What is Cruelty-Free and How to Make the Kindest Choices Possible
The beauty world is abuzz with the term “cruelty-free.”
Over the last several years, cruelty-free brands and products have become all the rage. But the often loosely defined term can be confusing for consumers and used inappropriately by brands who want to exploit the term without doing the work required to become cruelty-free.
So, to clear the air, and to help you make the kindest decisions with your wallet, we’ll tell you what it means to be cruelty-free and share some of our favorite cruelty-free beauty products and brands.
What is cruelty-free?
The term “cruelty-free” is supposed to mean that the product is not tested on animals, who undergo terrible, painful, and largely unecessary experiments in laboratories across the country and the world.
Unfortunately, under the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is no legal definition for the term “cruelty-free,” nor regulation over the term’s use. This means that brands can use the language as they wish, which often leads to misleading labels on products.
The lack of regulation and a legal definition means that many products displaying labels proclaiming to be “cruelty-free” or “not tested on animals” could refer to only the finished product itself, which leaves out clarification on the ingredients inside—and many ingredients in beauty products are, in fact, tested on animals.
And while a company can claim they do not test on animals, it could still contract other companies to do testing on their behalf.
Another thing to be aware of is that while some brands may be cruelty-free, their parent company may not be. Some consumers choose not to support these brands.
Given all the wiggle-room companies are given, there are various interpretations of being “cruelty-free”:
- The ingredients have been tested on animals, but the final product has not.
- The brand hired another company to conduct tests on its behalf.
- The brand or manufacturer relied on test results from an outside organization.
- The testing occurred in a different country than the one the brand is based within (usually China because it requires animal testing for products sold within the mainland of the country).
- The brand only uses animal testing when it is required by law as part of expanding into foreign markets such as China.
- The brand, or companies involved in its supply chain, have relied on the results of past animal tests from other organizations, but they have not conducted any tests themselves, harmed any animals, or sourced any animal-derived products or byproducts.
- Neither the ingredients nor the products have ever been tested on animals, and the companies involved have not harmed or slaughtered any animals.
- The brand has a cruelty-free certification from a third-party organization.
The last three points are considered the most ethical definitions for cruelty-free, and luckily, there is a growing list of companies that take the cruelty-free label seriously, studiously avoiding animal testing on all of their products.
The best way to ensure your products are in fact cruelty-free is to look for third-party certifications, including the following:
Leaping Bunny: This certification is operated by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics and is one of the strictest programs around. In operation since 1996, the program requires companies be open to audits by third parties.
Global Beauty Without Bunnies: Run by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), one of the nation’s oldest and most influential animal rights organizations, requires companies to commit to conduct no animal testing and ensure that its ingredient suppliers don’t conduct, commission, pay for, or allow any tests on animals for ingredients, formulations, or finished products anywhere in the world and will never do so in the future.
Why is cruelty-free important?
If a brand is not cruelty-free, this means that it is likely testing its ingredients and/or products on live animals. This testing is performed to research how various products affect the animals’ skin, hair, eyes, and other aspects of bodily health. Unfortunately, all of these procedures have the potential to cause harm to animals, both physically and psychologically.
After the experiment is over, animals might be used for other experiments. Most often, though, they are simply killed—something the laboratory industry calls “euthanization.” While bunnies and dogs are most common in these experiments, mice, pigs, birds, and various other animals are also used in testing.
It is clear to see why choosing brands that are cruelty-free is so important. By opting for products that do not support animal testing, you are helping to ensure that no animals were harmed in the making of the products you use. Nowadays, technology-based testing is readily available, so more and more companies are opting for this animal-free testing.
There is just no good excuse to test cosmetics on animals.
Does cruelty-free mean vegan?
The short answer: no.
Cruelty-free specifically relates to the testing of products on animals. A vegan certification means that none of the ingredients in the product are derived from animals. Vegan products do not use ingredients such as dairy, beeswax, or lesser-known ingredients like squalene (often derived from shark liver oil) and carmine (insects). Therefore, a product can be cruelty-free but not vegan, and vice versa.
What is cruelty-free makeup?
Cruelty-free makeup is makeup products that have not been tested on animals. Often cosmetic products are tested on animals to see if they irritate the skin or eyes. In cruelty-free cosmetics, brands use animal-free, technology-based testing to ensure the safety of their products.
Below are a couple of our favorite cruelty-free makeup products to try.
Best cruelty-free makeup products
Foundation is out, CC creams are in. This cruelty-free version from e.l.f. offers excellent coverage while also using peptides and niacinamide known to plump, hydrate, and smooth the appearance of your skin. Oh, and it has SPF, too!
This vegan blush stick from cruelty-free MILK highlights your lips or your cheeks perfectly. The formula is crafted with mango butter, avocado oil, and apricot oil to hydrate the skin and blend seamlessly.
No look is complete without a good mascara. Pacifica’s vegan mascara is infused with coconut oil and vitamin B to hydrate each lash as well as lengthen and strengthen.
Matte lips are trending and this lipstick from NYX will help you master the look! Pair it with NYX’s iconic lip liners to polish off the perfect pout.
Newcomer to the beauty game, Selena Gomez’s Rare Beauty is vegan and cruelty-free. This multi-shade eyeshadow palette is perfect for every occasion.
To shop more amazing cruelty-free makeup products, head to the Kinder Beauty Marketplace.
What is cruelty-free skincare?
Similar to makeup, cruelty-free skincare are products that have not been tested on animals nor are any of the ingredients within tested on animals. Below are a couple of our favorite cruelty-free skincare products.
Best cruelty-free skincare products
Skin hydration is key, all year long. Whether dried out from the cold months or dehydrated from hours in the sun, First Aid Beauty’s Ultra Repair Cream is an absolute dream. This rich moisturizer provides long-term hydration for dry, distressed skin.
Cruelty-free brand The Ordinary is definitely one to check out. Not only does it have an incredible collection of high-quality products, but its whole range is also extremely affordable. This brightening cream helps to lighten dark spots and even skin tone.
This fan-favorite cleanser from Glossier is a must-have for every beauty counter. The cruelty-free formula of grape ferment, grape extract, lactic acid, and malic acid gently exfoliates, leaving your skin refined and glowing.
Whether from late nights out on the town, or stress and lack of sleep, our eyes can look tired and are always in need of some love. The rich cream is infused with hyaluronic acid and peptides for elevated hydration that works to minimize dark circles and leaves your eyes refreshed.
Cruelty-free hair products
It’s sad but true: loads of hair products have been tested on animals and are not considered cruelty-free.
The good news is that there are abundant cruelty-free choices for you to peruse!
Acure’s Ultra Hydrating Shampoo is perfect for dehydrated locks. It provides lasting moisture from argan oil and pumpkin, leaving your hair soft and tangle-free.
Rahua’s Color Full Conditioner is formulated from pure, plant-based ingredients that are infused with a gorgeous gardenia scent. This rich and creamy conditioner is great for all shades of color-treated hair.
Acure Dry Shampoo
Looking for the perfect cruelty-free dry shampoo? Grab this highly-reviewed dry shampoo from Acure. It absorbs oil and removes grime without water and is infused with scents of rosemary and peppermint.
Pacifica Rosemary Detox Scalp Scrub
Once you try a scalp scrub, you’re bound to be hooked. This detox scrub from Pacifica uses rosemary and sea salt to exfoliate your scalp to remove buildup from all the products we use on our locks daily.
If you want to lay off the hairdryer but your strands are still fussing, grab this sea salt spray from LUSH. It works to add body, shine, and texture for a soft beachy vibe.
To shop more amazing cruelty-free haircare products, head to the Kinder Beauty Marketplace.
Toothpaste is a cosmetic, even if it doesn’t immediately come to mind. And, unfortunately, many toothpaste brands can test products on animals.
Here’s a list of some of the most popular brands that are, and are not, cruelty-free.
Is Colgate cruelty-free?
No, Colgate is not cruelty-free. The company is not certified cruelty-free and is therefore likely to test on animals, either itself, through its suppliers, or a third party. Colgate also sells products in countries that require animal testing by law.
Is Dr. Bronner’s cruelty-free?
Yes, Dr. Bronner’s is cruelty-free! The family-owned brand does not use ingredients, formulations, or finished products that are tested on animals, anywhere in the world.
It is important to note, however, that while many of Dr. Bronner’s products are vegan, not all of them are. So, be sure to check the labels when shopping from the brand if you’re trying to avoid any animal products.
Best cruelty-free toothpaste
As we just noted, Dr. Bronner’s is a great, cruelty-free brand. Its toothpaste is extremely popular as it uses organic coconut flour and coconut oil to gently cleanse your teeth. It also has organic peppermint oil that leaves your mouth minty fresh.
Tom’s of Maine Children Toothpaste
This kid-friendly (and kid-approved) strawberry toothpaste from cruelty-free brand Tom’s of Maine is made from naturally derived ingredients and works hard to keep cavities at bay.
If you are looking to cut back on plastic tubes, you’ll love BITE’s toothpaste bites. This cruelty-free brand uses natural ingredients in its oral care products and is 100% plastic-free.
Cruelty-free laundry detergent
Possibly the biggest head-scratcher when it comes to products that are tested on animals has to be laundry detergent. But given that detergents remain on clothing and come into contact with our skin, it becomes understandable why some companies feel the need to conduct tests.
As we mentioned earlier, there are so many alternatives to animal testing these days that there isn’t any good reason for detergent manufacturers to continue inflicting cruelty onto animals.
Is Tide cruelty-free?
While Tide did recently release a plant-powered detergent, it is not cruelty-free. The brand does test on animals when required by law.
Is Method detergent cruelty-free?
Method is cruelty-free. The brand does not test finished products or ingredients on animals, and neither do their suppliers or any third parties. They also don't sell their products where animal testing is required by law.
Best cruelty-free laundry detergents
Method’s 3-in-1 cleaning powerhouse detergent is made with plant-based stain lifters and has a wonderful lasting fragrance. We especially love the Coconut and Cactus scent.
Another cruelty-free brand serving exceptional cleaning power is ECOS. Its plant-powered detergent fights stains and brightens whites with the renewable coconut.
Got extra tough stains? You’ll want to pick up this stain and odor fighter from cruelty-free brand Better Life. Tip: it also works great on carpet!
Cruelty-free cleaning products
The last section we’ll look at is regarding cleaning products that are cruelty-free, because, yes, these can be tested on animals as well.
We want to make sure you’re equipped with as much knowledge about cruelty-free products as possible, so here are a few selections you can be on the lookout for.
Method’s plant-based cleaning goes beyond the laundry room. Its biodegradable all-purpose cleaner is crafted from corn and coconut, packing a powerful punch to cut through dirt and gunk.
Dr. Bronner’s peppermint Pure Castille Bar Soap is made with high-quality, fair trade ingredients and organic, US-grown hemp seed oil. The bar develops a soft, smooth lather that cleanses without drying and comes in a biodegradable, 100% recycled wrapper.
Mrs. Meyers is an exceptional cruelty-free brand. Its vegan glass cleaner works on mirrors, windows, and every other glass surface in your house. It is ammonia-free and leaves surfaces sparkly and streak-free.
When shopping for products for yourself and your home, it is clear to see the importance of choosing cruelty-free. With the growing list of companies that are crafting high-quality cruelty-free and vegan products, it is getting easier every day to opt for products that are kind to animals.
Jackie Lutze has been writing about cruelty-free beauty for years and loves finding the best vegan products to help readers build their ultimate beauty routine.