Everything You Need to Know about Cruelty-Free Beauty

by Edie Horstman

Perpetually adapting to market trends, consumer wants and technological advances, the beauty industry is ever changing. And in recent years, the makeup landscape has blossomed. With a driving desire for more natural ingredients, labels like “organic,” “mineral-based” and “non-toxic” are filling the shelves. Additionally, consumers are becoming increasingly curious — and oftentimes adamant — about where their makeup products are made, how sustainable they are and whether or not animal testing is a part of the manufacturing process.

Along those lines, cruelty-free cosmetics are on the rise. While animal testing is still a popular resource for many companies, conscious brands are moving toward cruelty-free testing to meet the demands of consumers. Generally speaking, if a product is cruelty free, that means that none of its ingredients have been tested on animals, and no animals were harmed or killed in the process of making it. That said, there are unfortunately many nuances to this definition — thanks to an absence of laws and government-mandated labeling requirements. Here, we break down the complicated world of cruelty free, so you can feel good next time you treat yourself to a new lip gloss or eyeshadow palette

Is “Cruelty-Free” Labeling Valid?

As it stands, there is no universal definition for “cruelty-free” and “not tested on animals.” In other words, there are no set standards for these labels. Not even the FDA has approved a legal definition, making it difficult to determine universal regulations. Instead, cosmetics companies are left to decide for themselves what constitutes a cruelty-free product. Although there are strict laws in place to prove that a product is safe for consumer use, animal testing is more subjective.

However, the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics has created the Leaping Bunny Program, which does set an overarching (and rigorous) standard for cruelty-free labeling. Leaping Bunny is the only internationally recognized certification organization for cruelty-free brands, and is considered the gold-standard for cruelty-free certification. It requires independent audits to verify the cruelty-free claims are true, and all Leaping Bunny companies must be open to independent audits, and commitments are renewed on an annual basis

Similar to the Leaping Bunny Program, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) ensures that their endorsed beauty companies have signed a statement of assurance, verifying that the entire business — including global suppliers — does not test on animals. If you see either of these logos on a product, you can all but guarantee the ingredients, formulations and finished products are completely devoid of animal testing. 

While this transparency makes it easier for you to purchase beauty products that have not been tested on animals, keep in mind that products advertised as cruelty free but to do not feature the Leaping Bunny or PETA logos are held to standards that logos are unique on a country-by-country basis. In fact, logos may indicate varying certifications across the globe, meaning a particular logo on a product in the U.S. may have a different meaning in an international country (and a product can feature a cruelty-free logo in the U.S., but be made by a brand that sells products in areas that require animal testing). So if a product is advertised as “cruelty-free” but does not feature one of these certifications, you should proceed with caution. 

What’s the Deal with Animal Testing?

Cosmetics in the U.S.

In the U.S., the FDA is responsible for making sure that cosmetics are safe and properly tested. And while animal testing isn’t necessary, FDA guidelines advise manufacturers to choose the most appropriate and effective method to evaluate allergens, side effects and so on. For that reason, many companies implement animal testing. Thankfully, the FDA advocates for the most humane methods of testing when animals are involved, but that’s left to individual interpretation — and, furthermore, is difficult to regulate. To add complexity to the beauty industry, laws and labels vary internationally.

International Animal Testing

In 2013 Europe made waves by outlawing the sale of newly made animal-tested cosmetics. This complete ban means that makeup purchased in the EU has not been tested on animals. That said, the same company could also be selling their products in international markets where they must (or can) test on animals. 

For example, historically all cosmetics imported to (or produced in) China had to be tested on animals. Therefore, any brand that sold cosmetics products in China could not be considered cruelty free — which made it a huge hurdle for global brands like Estee Lauder and L’Oreal to make moves towards ending animal testing. Earlier this year, though, the Gansu Province National Medical Products Association ended forced animal testing for all imported and domestically produced cosmetics products. Around the same time, Australia also followed suit, banning animal testing across the country.

This move by China, which is one of the fastest growing cosmetics markets in the world is a major win for cruelty-free beauty advocates. This means that those big brands mentioned above can join the independent companies like EcoTools, Illia, RMS Beauty and Shared Planet that have blazed a trail in the cruelty-free beauty space. 

Edie Horstman is a certified integrative nutrition health coach, a wellness blogger and a freelance writer. She works with health-focused brands, cocreating content in the digital marketing space. She lives in Denver, Colorado.