The push for animal-friendly products is taking a stride both in the cosmetic industry and other sectors. Almost every brand that has emerged in the last decade has received the certification of being cruelty-free. This has been fueled by the increasing consumer awareness and pledge to promote ethical practices in production. But another new term is also taking root in the beauty industry- vegan cosmetics. Hearing these two phrases may be confusing to those looking for their first beauty products and even some enthusiasts.  Do they mean the same thing or are they entirely different? To clear the air, this article is dedicated to comparing the two in all aspects.

Vegan beauty products

The term vegan has been used over the decades and is primarily associated with diet. Vegetarian foods contain no element of either animal product or by-product. Similarly, vegan cosmetics are purely plant-based with no ingredient derived from animals. Typically, animal ingredients such as lanolin, honey, albumen, beeswax, carmine, cholesterol, and many others, are used in the formulation of beauty products. For vegan make-up, none of such ingredients are found in their formulation.

Notably, some people may loosely use the term vegan to refer to items that are not tested on animals. But this should not be the case. This therefore take us to the next discussion;

Cruelty-free items

A brand is deemed cruelty-free if it does not use animal specimen to test their products neither does it use ingredients that have undergone animal testing. Often, companies outsource their raw materials from third-parties who might be testing their products on animals. In such instances, the brand might not be performing animal test directly but their product ingredients disqualify them from being termed cruelty-free. Though animal testing may not seem a big deal for some, it a very cruel practice. The substance, whether a finished product or ingredient, is poured onto the animal parts such as the eye, throat or skin. Because of their toxicity, some of the chemicals cause severe damage leading to animal death. Generally, after the test, the animal is killed.

In most countries, the use of the terms ‘not tested on animals’ or ‘cruelty-free’ is not regulated by law. As a result, companies have used them to market their products even in cases where there is a breach. For example, a brand based in Oklahoma may claim to be cruelty-free while it sells its products in the Chinese market where animal testing is mandatory before the cosmetic is allowed into the market. Consequently, organizations such as Leaping Bunny, responsible for giving cruelty-free certification have set some requirements that a company must fulfill before they declare them clean.

Does cruelty-free mean vegan?

A brand may be genuinely labeled as cruelty-free, but it only means no part of the production process involved animal testing. Their products may still have animal products as ingredients. Thus, the company qualifies to get the certification of cruelty-free. However, if we keenly pull out the details, we find some roots of cruelty. For example, even if a brand that uses carmine in their product formulation does not support animal testing, beetles will have to be killed to obtain the substance. Is it not animal cruelty?

On the other hand, a beauty item may be purely vegan but that does not make it cruelty-free. Vegan brands include no animal-derived ingredients in their manufacturing process, nonetheless, a majority still perform animal tests.

How is the safety of cruelty-free items verified?

With all the heated campaigns for cruelty-free beauty products, it is worth asking how the products genuinely labeled ‘not tested on animals’ are evaluated for the sake of human safety. Fortunately, they are numerous viable non-animal tests that companies can employ. As highlighted by Cruelty Free International, these testing methods are usually more accurate, faster and more affordable than the harsh animal tests. They include computer models, cell or tissue cultures and volunteer studies.

How can I know my brand is cruelty-free?

If you have pledged to support animal-friendly beauty by boycotting products tested on animals, it is essential that you differentiate the authentic from fake cruelty-frees.

One reliable method is checking on the lists provided by the certifying bodies such as Leaping Bunny, PETA and Choose Cruelty Free. After they verify that a company is anti-animal testing, they authorize the company to publish their logo on product package as a proof that they are cruelty-free. All the three have different requirements that brands must meet before they get listed as cruelty-free.

Another way of verifying that a company is cruelty-free is via a random online search. Various resources such as blogs and other websites provide elaborate information on whether a specific brand does animal testing or not.

While searching, beware of products that have ‘cruelty-free’ labels but lack any authenticating logo as a proof. Others may also indicate that they perform animal testing only when required by law. China is the only country in which animal testing is a legal requirement, therefore, if a brand is fully committed to avoiding the practice, it can forfeit selling in the country.  Those that make such comments are not clean of animal cruelty.

How can I know a brand is vegan?

Several cruelty-free brands offer products that are entirely vegan. A simple search of ‘vegan beauty products’ on the company’s website can give you multiple results even beyond your expectation.

You can also go the tedious way of cross-checking the ingredients of each item you want to purchase. This requires you to have a good knowledge of all the possible plant-derivatives that can be used in manufacture lest you confuse them with animal byproducts. Some brands will also put a label ‘vegan’ on most of their products.

Bottom line

Vegan and cruelty-free cannot be used interchangeably. A brand can be genuinely cruelty-free yet their products still contain animal derivatives. On the other hand, a purely vegan cosmetic may have been tested on animals negating it from being cruelty-free. Nevertheless, there are cruelty-free products that are vegan and vice versa.