The Difference Between Vegan and Cruelty-Free, Explained

Cruelty-free is definitely the most popular beauty buzzword of the decade, but does cruelty-free mean that your product is 100% vegan?

Browse through the trendiest beauty products of the season and you’ll find that the majority of skincare products, makeup, hair products, household products, and any other personal toiletries have been marketed as cruelty-free, meaning that they have not been tested on animals before ending up in your bathroom cabinet. 

In this day and age, most beauty industry giants understand that you don’t have to be leading a vegan lifestyle or be a committed animal rights activist to be opposed to animal testing. According to a 2015 survey, participants claimed that having a cruelty-free label on product packaging was one of the most important factors when purchasing makeup and skincare products.

Surprisingly, some other influential (and incredibly powerful!) beauty brands like Maybelline, L’Oreal, and MAC are yet to make the switch to offering 100% cruelty-free products, on top of selling their range in China where animal testing is still required by law.

So far so good, you might be thinking. At this rate, animal testing in the cosmetics industry is well on its way to becoming a relic of the past, especially as the big companies mentioned above continue to receive heavy criticism for testing their products on animals.

But just because your favourite lipstick might not be tested on animals, it doesn’t mean it’s truly cruelty-free: many beauty products and personal toiletries available on the market actually contain hidden animal by-products.

Despite the two terms often being used interchangeably, there is a difference between cruelty-free and vegan — let us break it down for you!

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What does cruelty-free mean, exactly?

The word cruelty-free gets thrown around a lot by companies, perhaps as a result of not having an international legal definition for the term. In the U.S. for example, the FDA has yet to set a legal standard for what “not tested on animals” and “cruelty-free” actually entails, meaning that beauty companies can potentially claim to be cruelty-free without having any criteria to adhere to or any cruelty-free certification to obtain.

On the other hand, if companies actually want to cater to conscious customers without misleading them, cruelty-free is a badge that needs to be earned: companies must pass a verification process that will confirm their products have not been tested on animals during any stage of the production process. This means that not only the finished products have not been tested on animals, but that any ingredient used to create the product in question has not been tested on animals either. They will also be asked to pay a fee to get a trusted cruelty-free logo on their product’s packaging.

There are several types of certification that companies can seek in order to market their products as cruelty-free, with the Leaping Bunny logo and Beauty Without Bunnies being the two most well-known options. 

In the EU and the UK, an official ban on animal testing for cosmetic products has already been in place for several years, although this ban does exclude household and cleaning products. Animal testing for cosmetics is also not allowed in countries like India, New Zealand, South Korea, Israel, Taiwan, Norway, and Canada. 

What does it mean when a product is vegan?

Veganism is a loaded word, one that is often misunderstood by many people.

To put it simply, being vegan means leading a lifestyle that rejects all animal exploitation. A vegan diet is free from all animal products, clothing is not derived from animals, entertainment and leisure activities don’t involve animals in any way, and cosmetics are not only not tested on animals but also don’t contain any animal ingredients.

If you’re thinking that beauty items and toiletries are unlikely to contain animal-derived by-products, think again. 

Hidden animal by-products like carmine, shellac, beeswax, and gelatine are just some of the popular animal products added into many beauty essentials, be it nail polish, lipstick, mascara, or face masks. The only sure-fire way to make sure your favourite shade of red has not only not been tested on animals, but is also free of any hidden bugs and bug secretions, is to look for the Vegan Trademark logo (or any similar official logo) that will confirm the product in your hands is 100% free of animal products and 100% free of animal exploitation — including animal testing. Read our blog post on shocking hidden ingredients in beauty products here.

Where to buy cruelty-free and vegan products

Just like the vegan shopping industry, the vegan beauty industry is booming too, and its popularity is not just limited to the vegan community.

This is great news for all of us who wish to support ethical, sustainable, truly cruelty-free vegan companies that don’t sell their products to China or have a parent company that does not align with their vegan values. More and more people are purchasing exclusively from independent small companies rather than globalized multinationals, as they are often clearer in their stand against animal testing and their commitment to vegan beauty.

Even though you’re likely to find a fair share of cruelty-free, vegan products in major retailers, making sure the product you’re looking to buy is 100% cruelty-free and vegan can often be a challenge. Not all vegan and cruelty-free brands come with a vegan trademark (it’s an expensive process, after all!) and many beauty brands tend to switch their formulas every year, meaning that you’ll have to embark on a serious Google quest to find exactly what’s in your chosen eyeliner.

If buying vegan and cruelty-free really matters to you, there’s no better place to shop than online, with online vegan marketplaces taking the cake. All the best that vegan beauty has to offer can be delivered to you no matter where you are, and you can stay assured that what you’re purchasing is truly cruelty-free, in every sense of the word.

So, do you have your shopping basket ready yet?

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