What You Need to Know About ‘Cruelty Free’ Beauty

Some beauty brands claim to be 'cruelty free' while still using ingredients that other companies tested on animals.

Photo: Anna Efetova

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Standing in the skincare and cosmetics aisle of any pharmacy or department store can easily make your head spin — not only are there countless brands, formulations, ingredients, and colors to choose from, but you may also be poring over labels trying to decipher which products are the most ethical and sustainable, too. Perhaps you’ve seen the bunny logo on a bottle of moisturizer, lip balm, or eyeshadow suggesting it’s a cruelty free beauty product — but what exactly does it mean?

“Skincare products and cosmetics labeled ‘Cruelty Free,’ or that have the cute bunny logo, generally imply that the products, ingredients, or formulations were not tested on animals at any stage of the products process,” explains celebrity aesthetician and dermatological nurse Natalie Aguilar. “However, there is no standard or legal definition of what exactly is or isn’t allowed to be labeled as cruelty free. The FDA has no regulations for the term because there is no legal definition.”

“There is no standard or legal definition of what exactly is or isn’t allowed to be labeled as cruelty free.” – Natalie Aguilar

In other words, the words “Cruelty-free” or “Not Tested on Animals” on a cosmetics label may not reveal the whole truth. For instance, a label that states, “This finished product not tested on animals” may mean that the individual ingredients used were.

So how would you know what to look for when purchasing a product? “To truly know if a product is cruelty-free, it is important for one to do their own research,” says Aguilar. “Some companies claim to be cruelty-free but they have an outsourced third party or suppliers that often test their product on animals. Or some companies are cruelty-free, but sell and supply to places where animal testing continues to be required by law. It upsets me when a company is proud to call themselves cruelty-free, but they allow their products, or formulations, to be tested on animals in another country for profit.”

Another safe bet is to download the Leaping Bunny Program app by Cruelty Free International to guide your purchasing decisions. In order to become Leaping Bunny certified, brands must comply with stringent requirements that prove there has been zero animal testing. You can also search for products on PETA’s “Beauty Without Bunnies” database, which currently contains more than 5,000 brands.

And keep in mind, a product being ‘vegan’ is not the same as it being ‘cruelty free.’ While many brands claim to be both, the terms indicate different things.

“Vegan, as a descriptive term, means that the product does not contain any animal products,” says nurse practitioner and aesthetic specialist Vanessa Coppola, APN-C, FNP-BC, founder of Bare Aesthetic, a New Jersey-based medspa. “Vegan does not mean that the product or its ingredients have not been tested on animals. A brand can be cruelty-free but not vegan if they don’t test on animals but they do contain animal products. And vice versa.”

Five Cruelty Free Beauty Brands to Shop


The Body Shop 

As the first company to be certified with the Leaping Bunny logo by Cruelty Free International, The Body Shop has been an ethical pioneer in the industry for over 40 years now, and has never tested any of its ingredients or products on animals. Plus, the brand only sources ingredients from suppliers who meet their cruelty-free standard and was instrumental in securing UK and European bans on animal testing for cosmetic purposes. The Body Shop carries face, body, makeup, hair and fragrance products. thebodyshop.com

Photo: The Body Shop


Kawaii Girl Cosmetics

This Black woman-owned, vegan-friendly, and Leaping Bunny Certified cruelty-free makeup brand offers highly pigmented shimmer powders for all skin tones — they can be used as eye shadow, blush or highlighters. It also offers false eyelashes, specifically the Ebisu and Tokyo styles, made from synthetic materials instead of mink or human hair. kawaiigirlcosmetics.com

cruelty free beauty

Photo: Kawaii Girl Cosmetics



It would be pretty cruel to groom your beloved pooch in products that weren’t cruelty-free, so reach for Rowan when Fido needs a bath. This brand partnered with a board-certified veterinary dermatologist to create the first clean and cruelty free ‘beauty’ brand for dogs, made with human-grade ingredients. Rowan customers receive 20 percent off their order by donating to national non-profit Street Dog Coalition’s Vets for Vets program (which offers free veterinary services to pets of veterans). meet-rowan.com


Beurre Shea Butter Skincare

Whether you have eczema, blemishes, wrinkles, or dryness, your skin could benefit from Beurre’s shea butter body and face creams. The brand uses candelilla wax instead of beeswax in its balms, and sources oils from suppliers who do not test on animals. The shea butter in Beurre’s cruelty free beauty products is fair trade, ethically sourced and traditionally handcrafted by a group of female entrepreneurs from Ghana and Uganda. getbeurre.com



What’s more blissful than pampering yourself from head to toe with a beauty brand you can trust? Bliss products are 100 percent cruelty free and PETA-certified — plus, the brand is committed to making all facial care products 100 percent vegan in 2021 (currently, about 90 percent of the products are). From cleansers and hair removal to body wash and hair products, Bliss has a product for every beauty need. blissworld.com

Photo: Bliss