The Truth About Cruelty-Free Cosmetics

A couple of years ago, a game-changing term finally broke through my consciousness: Cruelty-free. I was an ethical vegetarian and loved to volunteer at the local kitten rescue, but the reality of cosmetic animal testing remained hidden behind my mind’s backdrop—It just wasn’t something I wanted to consider during my Sephora sprees.

Then, one fateful article about cruelty-free products caught my attention and I fell down a clickhole on the issue. The more I read, the harder it became to ignore my conscience.

The inconvenient truth is this: Many companies that develop cosmetic and personal care products practice vivisection, meaning they test them for safety on animals like mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, cats, dogs—the list goes on. And we’re not just talking about giving these creatures a quick lather and rinse with the latest volumizing shampoo. Scientists drip chemicals onto the animals’ skins and in their eyes in order to gauge irritation. They even force feed animals large amounts of certain products to determine the lethal dosage. Seriously, WTF?! I finally had to, figuratively, look those bunnies and beagles in the eyes and decide I could no longer put my vanity ahead of their welfare—or their lives. Cruelty-free mascara or bust!

Is animal testing really necessary?

There’s no reason for cosmetic animal testing to continue in the U.S. It’s not required by the FDA and it’s already been banned in Europe. The tests aren’t even reliable since there’s no way of being sure that humans and animal subjects will have identical, or even similar, reactions to chemicals.  Fortunately, there are almost fifty animal-free tests that use human cells and tissue run through computer models.  These tests have been developed and strictly validated by scientists at private companies, universities, and government agencies.

Last year, Humane Cosmetics Act, H.R.2858 was introduced in the House of Representatives. If this bill gets passed by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, makes it through Congress, and is signed by the President, it will finally ban cosmetic animal testing throughout the U.S. But for now, the best course of action is to vote against vivisection with your dollar. This is the fun part. If you’re thinking about going cruelty-free, here’s your excuse for a major beauty haul.

So what does “cruelty-free” mean exactly?

In a nutshell, it implies that a product hasn’t been subject to animal testing. But it’s not always as simple as spotting those words on a package. “Cruelty-free” is not defined by law, and no U.S. government agencies currently set any standards for usage of the term. This means companies can certainly get away with stamping it on their merch—whether it’s true or not.

“This product has not been tested on animals” could be a stretch, too—maybe the final product hasn’t been, but it could still harbor individual ingredients that have. What’s worse is that when brands say “we do not test on animals,” it could actually be code for “we contract outside companies to do it for us.” Pretty sneaky, huh?

Here’s one definite red flag: If a brand’s products are sold in brick-and-mortar stores in China, you can bet they do test on animals because the country requires it for all imported cosmetics.

How do you ensure your makeup is cruelty-free?

The most reliable way to know your goods are truly, 100% cruelty-free is to search individual brands on the Leaping Bunny and PETA databases. Companies must comply with rigorous standards to get these certifications, which confirm that neither they, nor their suppliers, use animal-tested ingredients in any stage of product development. They also pledge to never conduct any animal testing in the future.

However, what confuses things is that there are companies that don’t test on animals but are absent from these databases because they haven’t gone through the process of getting certified. If you believe this is the case with one of your favorite brands, open up a dialogue with them and let them know that it’s important to you that they take the steps to prove their commitment to being cruelty-free. Chances are they’ll take that to heart and join the growing number of companies that have already banished the archaic practice of vivisection.

Our favorite cruelty-free brands

Natural makeup brands have long had a reputation of being inferior to conventional luxury makeup in pigment, texture, and quality. The truth is, most makeup is comprised of chemicals like artificial dyes, carbon black, petroleum, and parabens to give them high-impact color, a smooth glide, and staying power—that’s why makeup has to be so heavily tested. But creating kinder alternatives that measure up is turning into a real a movement, thanks to the commitment of some of the industry’s most influential names: Gwyneth Paltrow for Juice Beauty, Jessica Alba’s The Honest Company, and celebrity makeup artists Charlotte Tilbury and Rose-Marie Swift, to name a few.  

And here are some more glam brands approved by Leaping Bunny and PETA:

All of these companies make high-performance makeup without skimping on the pigment.

How do you find all this stuff? Just hit your local Sephora armed with the Cruelty-Free app on your phone, or check out the offerings at Whole Foods, where each and every beauty and personal care item is up to par.  You can also sign up for Petit Vour, the cruelty-free version of the monthly beauty subscription box that features all ethical, natural products.

Trust me, you will never feel better swiping on your mascara than when you know that no bunnies were harmed in making it. Beauty with convictions? That’s a great look.


  1. Really great article! I’m proud to say I use and sell makeup from a cosmetics and skincare company that is PETA approved and leaping bunny certified.

  2. In choosing great makeup brands in the market, we must consider the quality of the products. Beauty makeovers require the use of new and innovative products. Based on history only the best formulations and best makeup composition captures market.

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