Although making vegan choices is often associated with dietary choices, there are actually many different aspects of life where you can protect animals and the planet by choosing vegan options. After food, one of the most impactful of these is cruelty-free and vegan beauty and self-care products.
Cruelty-free and vegan, beauty and self-care products are becoming increasingly common. In the USA 40% of all new vegan items launched in 2020 were beauty products and 80% in the UK.
You may have noticed the vegan logo and the cruelty-free leaping bunny logo pop up on your favorite products, but do you know the difference between cruelty-free and vegan certifications? Here we delve into the differences between cruelty-free and vegan and what you need to know when making a decision.
What Does Cruelty-Free Mean?
Cruelty-free is often used in relation to beauty and skincare products and means that no cruelty to animals occurred in the way a product was made or developed.
However, the words cruelty-free on a bottle are not the same as a cruelty-free certification. There are no legal requirements for products marketed using the words cruelty-free to not be tested on animals.
Cruelty-free is therefore a fairly arbitrary label that does not guarantee much! This is a defining trait when it comes to cruelty-free and vegan products.
Are There Cruelty-Free Certifications?
Fortunately, there are! One of the most widely known and well trusted is the Leaping Bunny Certification which is used by over 700 companies. You will probably recognize the cute leaping bunny logo from the back of some beauty products.
To be ‘Leaping Bunny Certified’, a product has to have met rigorous cruelty-free standards. The producers and their ingredient suppliers are required to have signed a pledge that their products are not tested on animals during any stage of product development.
This makes sure the product is free from animal cruelty at any point in its production.
How is Cruelty-Free and Vegan Different From Each Other?
Sadly, cruelty-free and vegan are not the same.
For anyone wanting to cut out all animal-derived products from their life, buying vegan beauty products can be another great way to make a positive change. However, vegan beauty and self-care products are not necessarily cruelty-free or not tested on animals.
Vegan products are those that do not contain any animal-derived ingredients. Therefore a product that is vegan is not necessarily cruelty-free, as it could have been tested on animals. Alternatively, if a product is labeled as cruelty-free it means it is not tested on animals but may contain animal products.
Only products that are both cruelty-free and vegan can guarantee that the process of making the product involved no animal testing or animal-derived ingredients.
How Do You Know if a Beauty Product is Vegan?
Although some products helpfully label their products as vegan, unfortunately, many do not make it clear whether or not their ingredients involve animal-derived products. It is therefore helpful to be able to identify animal products within the ingredients of the products you wish to buy.
Here are a few of the most common non-vegan ingredients used in beauty and self-care products to look out for. While some are more obvious, such as beeswax, or silk powder, it can be a bit of a minefield.
In fact, some animal-derived ingredients are labeled using names that are also used to refer to plant-based versions of that ingredient, such as squalane, a product extracted both from shark liver oil and olives. In these instances, you may need to look on the manufacturer's website or contact them directly to find out if it is the vegan or non-vegan version their product uses.
One product commonly used in lip balms and lipsticks, hair products, and moisturizers, is lanolin. This is an emollient derived from sheep's wool. Lanolin can be plant-based but is often derived from sheep's wool.
In nail products and hair lacquers lookout for Shellac, which is made by killing insects. Another to look out for in nail varnish is guanine, which is made by scraping the scales of dead fish. This is also found in some iridescent eyeshadows highlighters, bronzers, and blushes.
Does Testing on Animals Harm the Animals?
Since the 1920s, the safety and effectiveness of drugs and beauty products have been tested on animals in the USA. The idea behind this is that if an animal has a bad reaction to a drug or product then it is not safe to give to humans.
Animal testing is therefore used to protect humans from harmful products. However, the effectiveness of animal testing is debatable, as animals and humans have different reactions to different drugs and products. Rats and mice, rabbits, guinea pigs, dogs, and hamsters are the most commonly used animals for animal testing, and are clearly quite different from humans!
Animals feel pain too! Tests done on animals are carried out through injections, oral ingestions and topical applications. Products that are tested on animals can bring forth adverse side effects. These side effects can be extremely pain for the animal and in most cases, fatal.
Over the past few decades, many companies have reduced their reliance on animal testing, leading to a 90% reduction in the testing of personal care products on animals since the 1980s.
What are the Alternatives to Animal Testing?
But if a product is cruelty-free and vegan, and has not been tested on animals, how do we know it is safe for humans to use? There are many options and Cruelty-Free International argue that non-animal testing is very often more effective, faster, and cheaper. Here are some of the alternatives:
- Testing on cultures of cells
Almost all human and animal cell types can be grown in labs, sometimes to replicate certain organs. Substances can then be tested on these cell cultures without causing pain to any living being as these cells are not connected to pain receptors or a consciousness.
- Computer modeling
Computers can be used to replicate or model specific aspects of the human body. These models can be used to construct virtual experiments based on existing information about how bodies react to different substances.
Simulations are the epitome when it comes to cruelty-free and vegan!
- Donated tissue
During surgery - such as biopsies, cosmetic surgery, and transplants - where tissue is removed from the body, or after death, tissue can be donated to be used for testing substances. This is a really effective alternative to testing on living animals or people.
- Human volunteers
Mostly at the later stages of less dangerous product testing, human volunteers can be used to test products and substances. Often human volunteers are given microdoses of the substance so that any harmful effects are minimal.
So Why Do We Still Test On Animals?
There are often significant bureaucratic barriers encountered when pursuing alternative methods to animal testing. Cruelty-Free International’s International science team’s mission is to encourage regulators to accept alternative methods instead of animal testing, but it is still yet to be adopted globally.
How Does Choosing Cruelty-Free and Vegan Help?
Consumer pressure is one of the most effective ways to encourage companies to adopt cruelty-free practices and to only use vegan ingredients. Educating yourself to know that the words ‘cruelty-free’ alone does not necessarily guarantee the product was not tested on animals is important to empower yourself to make ethical choices as a conscientious customer.
You can also write to companies and to local government representatives asking them to take action to stop the use of animal testing, thus promoting cruelty-free and vegan practices. This can lead to changes, for example, back in April 2021 Maryland became the 5th state in the USA to ban animal-tested cosmetics.
And that's a wrap
As you can see, understanding the different certifications for products is not always intuitive, especially when many brands are keen to jump on the bandwagon of veganisms increasing popularity to sell more of their products.
Recognizing the differences between cruelty-free and vegan, and the different types of certification can help you feel informed and empowered to follow your own ethics.
Next time you are buying beauty and self-care products you can support ending harm to animals by choosing products with the vegan and leaping bunny certifications. When both these certifications are present you can be assured that no animals were harmed to make your product. Cruelty-free and vegan is a win for everyone!