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Vegan and cruelty free makeup products

The difference between vegan and cruelty-free makeup

Although vegan and cruelty free makeup products are often put in the same category, they shouldn’t be considered as one and the same. The ideals behind them vary, and thus these names can’t be used as synonyms. To illustrate that, let’s take a look at their definitions and differences in their production processes.

What makes vegan and cruelty free makeup products?

To be frank, there’s no official definition of neither vegan, nor cruelty-free makeup products and the beauty industry isn’t regulated on that front. Thus, the line between them tends to get blurry and the definitions vary from person to person.

That being said, here are the most widely accepted attributes of vegan/cruelty-free products:

  • Vegan – this term refers to products that contain no animal-derived ingredients. This includes both parts of animal bodies and animal byproducts. Examples of such ingredients vary from the well-known (e.g., yogurt, beeswax, honey, and gelatin) to less obvious or even obscure ones like sheep placenta extract, crushed-up beetles (carmine), shark liver oil (squalene) or even whale vomit (ambergris).
  • Cruelty-free – this means that no animal testing was involved in the production process. This includes both the finished product and all of its ingredients.

Seems straightforward, right? Unfortunately, due to the lack of official regulation there’s a lot of gray area, and the ethics of both product categories do not necessarily overlap.

Lying Puppies

Possible ethical dilemmas

Although both labels come from the same principles of protecting animals and their rights, there’s still an ethical gap between them. Here’s what it looks like:

Though vegan cosmetics don’t include any animal ingredients, they still might be tested on animals. So even if, e.g., an anti-wrinkle cream doesn’t have any animal-derived ingredients, the brand could still conduct animal testing, which doesn’t really align with what veganism stands for.

On the other hand, even if products aren’t tested on animals, they can contain animal ingredients and the producers would still be considered as cruelty-free beauty brands. But you can’t truly offer cruelty-free cosmetics when you procure your ingredients by hurting animals, can you?

Unfortunately, many brands still operate in this gray area, using vegan and cruelty-free principles purely as hollow marketing slogans without grasping what they really stand for. For example, some of them still claim they’re cruelty-free brands because they animal-test just the ingredients but not the final product or delegate the tests to a third party and somehow have the nerve to claim it doesn’t count. Some controversies also arise when a brand’s parent company doesn’t profess the same animal-friendly principles – people tend to boycott products of such a beauty brand, but does it really send the correct message to the higher-ups?

There’s a beacon of hope though – with the rise of cruelty-free and vegan products’ popularity, there’s a good chance that authorities (such as the FDA) will issue official regulations in the near future.

How to make sure makeup you buy is vegan/cruelty-free?

If the well-being of animals is close to your heart, it’s best to pick up products that are both vegan and free of animal cruelty. Here are the aspects you should keep in mind while browsing through beauty products:


Always check the list of ingredients before buying. This might be confusing as many brands (especially international ones) use Latin for their ingredient lists, but with a bit of practice you’d be able to catch all the animal-unfriendly stuff. Truly vegan makeup brands won’t use any animal-derived ingredients, so make sure to verify the composition with a list of iffy ingredients. You can easily find one on the Internet.


Cruelty-free makeup brands would have certificates issued by one or more officially recognized program/organization. The two most widely known are:

  • Leaping Bunny certification
  • PETA certificates

Official Cruelty-free Logos

These logos are a good sign, but you should also verify the makeup line/manufacturer with the official lists of certified brands – it’s not uncommon to fake the certificates and place unauthorized logos on the products.

Vegan brands have their own certifications, but they aren’t as well-known or strong as the ones for animal treatment.

Official Vegan Logos

It’s also good to look for fair trade certificates and transparent labor policies – with this you can make sure that in addition to animals no humans were harmed during the production process.

However, you should also remember that not everyone can afford getting those certificates. This is especially true for local manufacturers and small businesses, which often offer completely vegan and animal-friendly products without the recognition they deserve. So if you intend to buy locally, make sure to check the brand’s background and work ethics.

Final thoughts

Committing to a vegan and animal-friendly beauty routine has its fair share of pitfalls, but with a group effort, animal lovers can reach the goal of eliminating cruelty to animals from the beauty industry. Sure, it won’t be easy and will probably take a long time, but we can get closer to that with small steps and tiny victories each day.

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