Cruelty-free is definitely one of the most popular beauty buzzwords of the decade. From makeup to skincare products, this word has been used to market beauty products that have not been tested on animals to anyone who might wish to avoid them. Needless to say, you don’t have to be vegan or a fierce animal rights activist to be opposed to animal testing. 

According to a 2019 SurveyUSA poll, in fact, 79% of Americans support the introduction of a nationwide ban on animal testing in the cosmetics industry. In the EU, policies are already in place, banning the testing and the sale of beauty products tested on animals with the Union. 

Animal testing is illegal in India, New Zealand, Israel, Taiwan, Norway, and Canada. Testing blush on bunnies is clearly not a popular practice right now. Cut to cruelty-free makeup and beauty products dominating the market in 2020. Despite industry giants like Maybelline and MAC still not making the switch, cruelty-free beauty is rapidly becoming the default. So, can something be labeled “cruelty-free” and not be vegan? Yes, and it is definitely something new and seasoned vegans alike should get familiar with.

What is Animal Cruelty, Really?

Although “vegan” and “cruelty-free” are two terms sometimes used interchangeably, cruelty-free only refers to products that are not tested on animals. For a vegan, however, the real meaning of cruelty against animals reaches further than that. Veganism is an ethical belief seeking to avoid all forms of animal exploitation, which generally includes the use of animals and their byproducts (or secretions) in food, clothing, furniture, and cosmetics. This means that a beauty product not tested on animals, labeled as cruelty-free, might, in fact, still contain animal products such as beeswax, lanolin, or carmine.

The meaning of cruelty-free in the makeup world can also be considered controversial when we take parent companies into account. A parent company is the bigger fish in the beauty industry tank, owning several smaller fish, smaller beauty brands, that might be quite different from the parent company, to begin with. For example, two cruelty-free brands, NYX and Urban Decay are both owned by the same parent company – L’Oreal. This beauty giant is the complete opposite of a cruelty-free brand, selling and testing its products in China, where animal testing is required by law. Many vegans or animal rights activists will choose to boycott cruelty-free companies because of their animal-testing parent company.

From a vegan perspective, a product is not really cruelty-free unless it’s also free from any animal ingredients and does not, directly or indirectly, support companies exploiting animals. Keep in mind that the opposite situation might also happen: a cosmetic product might be vegan (often accidentally) but still be tested on animals. So, when shopping for a new eyeshadow palette or lipstick, you should make sure the product you pick is labeled as vegan AND cruelty-free. Sounds like a pretty daunting task? You can browse a list of beauty brands that are certified vegan and cruelty-free here to make that online shopping spree just a little bit easier!