Understanding Cruelty-Free Beauty | Cruelty-Free Beauty 101

Cruelty Free Beauty 101

At it’s most simplistic definition, Cruelty-Free Beauty consists of beauty and personal care products that are manufactured or developed by methods that do not involve experimentation on animals.

Despite the straightforward book definition, Cruelty-Free Beauty is much more complicated to navigate in real life because there is no legal definition of what constitutes a Cruelty-Free brand. In a recent video from JenLuvsReviews, she classified Cruelty-Free Beauty into three, easy-to-understand groups. Like her, in this post, I will do the same.

Cruelty Free Beauty 101
Bunnies are often a symbol for Cruelty-Free Beauty, Photo by Ulriika Joutseno on Pexels.com

Levels of Cruelty-Free Adoption

Cruelty-Free Level 1 | Brands that don’t personally test on animals, but pay for Third-Party animal testing

It is worth noting that many staunch CF consumers do NOT consider brands that fall within this category to be Cruelty-Free given that third-party animal testing is still being conducted on behalf of the brands. For this reason, I do not refer to these brands as Cruelty-Free on my blog.

Most major Western Beauty brands fall into this category if they aren’t 100% Cruelty-Free. Brands such as L’OREAL, Estee Lauder, MAC, NARS, Lancome, Maybelline, etc. fall within this category because these brands do not test on products sold in the US or Europe, but they do pay for third-party animal testing in China (due to government regulations).

As a consumer, I would fall within this category, which means that I am not 100% Cruelty-Free. Moving forward, I would like to purchase more products from brands that do not test on animals as opposed to brands that allow testing.

Cruelty-Free Level 2 | Brands that do not sell in China and do not pay for Third-Party animal testing, but are owned by a conglomerate that tests on animals

Brands that fall into this category do not sell in countries that mandate animal testing and do not test their products on animals but are owned by a larger parent company that submits other “sister” brands to animal testing where required by law. Who are the main Western beauty conglomerates (sometimes referred to as Parent Companies? Coty, Estee Lauder, L’Oreal, P&G, Revlon, Shiseido, Unilever.

Most mainstream or globally-recognized Cruelty-Free brands fall within this category.  Notable Cruelty-Free brands owned by parent companies include BECCA (Estee Lauder) Smashbox (Estee Lauder), Too Faced (Estee Lauder), NYX (L’OREAL), Urban Decay (L’OREAL), etc.

Many Cruelty-Free consumers will still purchase from a brand owned by parent companies as long as that particular brand refrains from animal testing. Many mainstream Cruelty-Free YouTubers fall within this category.

Cruelty-Free Level 3 | Brands that do test on animals, do not sell in China and are not owned by a parent company

Many Western indie beauty brands fall within this Cruelty-Free category as these brands are not owned by a conglomerate and do not test on animals. Given that these brands typically only sell within a small, Western-focused market they do not sell their products in China. Brands that fall within this category include ColourPop, Melt Cosmetics, Persona Cosmetics, etc.

This is the most clear-cut, Cruelty-Free consumption option as no money is going towards a brand or parent company that conducts or pays for animal testing.

Cruelty-Free News:

In the US, starting in January 2020, California is set to become the first state to ban the importation and sales of Cosmetics (including personal care / personal hygiene items) that have been tested on animals. At this time, I believe this law will not impact brands who only test products sold internationally. Brands such as MAC do not test on products sold in the US will be allowed to sell in California even though they do comply with animal testing regulations mandated by other countries (a.k.a. China).

Helpful Resources for Going Cruelty-Free

If you want to learn more about Cruelty-Free Beauty or are considering going Cruelty-Free, please check out the following resources:

Alternatively, if you’re looking to go Cruelty-Free, but find yourself struggling to find (or replace) holy grail items in your collection then please consider checking out some of my favorite Cruelty-Free Influencers for recommendations:

Other Environmental Issues to Consider

It is worth noting that Cruelty-Free brands may not necessarily be any less toxic or environmentally detrimental than non-Cruelty-Free brands. For example, many Cruelty-Free brands still use ingredients that are harmful or toxic to humans (sulfates, parabens, talc, essential oils, etc.), environmentally unsustainable (palm oil, titanium dioxide), and are packaged in bulky, wasteful plastic that cannot be recycled. Finally, there are Cruelty-Free brands on the market that use questionable sales practices and associate with controversial figures in the beauty community.

**Side note: Cruelty-Free does NOT mean Vegan. Cruelty-Free brands may use animal by-products (like carmine or beeswax), in their formula.**

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Cruelty-Free Beauty 101


Are you Cruelty-Free or are you considering going Cruelty-Free? What is your favorite Cruelty-Free beauty brand? Please let me know in the comments below.

10 thoughts on “Understanding Cruelty-Free Beauty | Cruelty-Free Beauty 101

  1. I try my hardest not to buy anything that’s sold in China, but I find it hard to do the same with brands owned by parent companies that do sell in China as I feel like I’m left with literally no other brands to choose from! It’s so hard to find genuinely cruelty free brands. Something needs to seriously change in the beauty industry 🙁 x

  2. It’s really hard to navigate CF in beauty. So insanely hard. I don’t think people really know how much is owned by a parent company that isn’t CF; it really is eye opening when you look into it. I’ve heard there’s a difference in bunny logos too. The PETA one basically is just a bought stamp of approval anyone can get it even if they aren’t CF. It’s one of those topics that there isn’t a clear guideline and it gets confusing so fast.

  3. I wish I could say that I’m 100% cruelty-free but I have to admit I fall in levels 1 and 2. It’s actually crazy to see how many brands who say they’re cruelty-free aren’t actually 100% cruelty-free. Such as MAC and Urban Decay etc. it’s even stated on their websites that they’re cruelty-free but they (or their parent company) still sell in China.

    1. I’m not 100% CF either and I struggle with it. The majority of my collection is CF, but there are def brands I have a hard time giving up on.

      But for me it is especially hard because I have a lot of international friends from China who love makeup/beauty and enjoy a lot of American brands, many of whom have been selling in China for quite some time. Some of them have even applied to positions in the Chinese offices for these brands. So I would feel bad if they suddenly lost access to them.

      1. Oh yeah, that makes it even harder! It kinda feels wrong to take away their access to huge brands.

        I thought I’ve read something about China changing their laws so it’s not required to test on animals anymore (so brands can choose themselves if they want to test on animals or not). This would be a huge step already!

  4. This is really interesting. I’ve always tried to buy products that are completely cruelty-free, but it’s hard to know sometimes whether they sell in China! I’m aiming to buy more cruelty-free products this year!

  5. Wow this was really helpful / informational! I felt it was always really confusing to understand CF because it’s similar to when food is marked organic – not all parts of the process may be CF or organic! this was very easy to understand and I’m glad that you added info about their ingredients and how it may or may not be just as toxic as non-CF brands. Reading CF makes me think everything is natural, organic, safe AND CF. Thanks for sharing LP!! x

    Geraldine | https://geraldinetalks.com

  6. I am definitely Cruelty-Free Level 2. I didn’t know Cali was going to pass that law, how awesome! Now, all we need is China to drop their crazy, cruel regulations. I just think it’s awful to test on animals for our BEAUTY needs.

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