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Guide to Cruelty-Free Cosmetics

The use of animals to test cosmetics has been a sore point for many consumers for a long time. Animal-protection organisations from around the world have worked tirelessly to end animal testing for cosmetics and, though the journey is far from over, they’ve had some success in getting it banned in some countries. People often want to buy cruelty-free products, but may not know where to look, or what to trust. Here’s our guide to beauty without cruelty.

To market a product, cosmetic companies are required by most countries to show that their product is safe to use. This means they have to show that it is not toxic and poses no danger to public or environmental health. The ingredients must not be dangerous in large quantities, such as when in transport or at the manufacturing plant.

In some countries, it is perfectly possible to legally meet these requirements without any tests on animals. However, many of these countries still conduct animal testing – even if there is no legal requirement to do so. Other countries, such as China, require animal testing simply to meet legal requirements.


Currently, the Chinese government requires tests on animals for all imported cosmetics and any special use cosmetics, regardless of where they were manufactured.

Any company that sells cosmetic products in China is directly or indirectly conducting animal testing. Therefore, it is not a cruelty-free brand.

2020 update: New regulations have been drafted by China’s National Medical Product Administration which plans to ban animal testing – if the regulation is passed that is. The proposed regulation would bring imported non-special-use cosmetics in line with the requirements for those made domestically in China.

UK & the EU

The legislation that governs cosmetics testing throughout the European Union (EU) is the 1976 Cosmetics Directive (76/768/EEC).

After many years of campaigning by various animal-protection organisations, EU law was eventually changed in 2009 to ban the use of animals to test cosmetics or any of their ingredients. A further update came into effect on 11 March 2013. This banned the sale of new cosmetics in the EU that had been tested on animals in other parts of the world.

What does this really mean?

It means that no company can carry out new animal tests for cosmetics outside of the EU for products to be sold in the EU.

If a product has ingredients that have been animal-tested after the ban comes into effect, a company will not be able to market this in Europe, even if it sells the same product in any other country outside of the EU.

However, companies can still conduct animal testing outside the EU where these cosmetics are also sold outside the EU. This opens up the possibility of a company being duplicitous. That is, conducting animal tests for some markets (like China), but using non-animal methods and existing data for the EU market.


Laws in the United States of America do not require companies to test cosmetics or ingredients on animals, but only to assure that their products are safe for use. The FDA state:

“The FD&C Act does not specifically require the use of animals in testing cosmetics for safety, nor does the Act subject cosmetics to FDA premarket approval.”

However, many companies do use animal testing, even though US law does not require it. According to the Human Society of the United States:

“… the vast majority of animals used for cosmetics testing in the U.S. are not even covered by the minimal standards of the Animal Welfare Act or counted in official statistics.”

Shopping for Cruelty-Free Cosmetics

Leaping Bunny

The Leaping Bunny mark is on cosmetics and household products that are certified as cruelty-free. 

Various international animal protection organisations came together to form the standard. The Leaping Bunny logo is also an internationally recognised symbol for cruelty-free products.

Leaping Bunny certification enables consumers to easily identify and purchase cosmetic and household products that have not been tested on animals.

The Leaping Bunny logo is the only bunny mark that guarantees the product is cruelty-free. Don’t be misled by companies using other pictures or logos of bunnies to imply that they’re cruelty-free!

To become approved, a company must be open to an independent audit throughout its entire supply chain to ensure that it adheres to Leaping Bunny’s strict standards and criteria.

The monitoring of a company continues once they are approved – so, should a company fail to meet the requirements at any point, they’ll instantly lose their Leaping Bunny certification.

Misleading Labels

Aware of consumer feelings on animal testing, some companies use legal loopholes to take liberties with the language they use on their packaging. 

The legal definitions for terms such as “cruelty-free” and “not tested on animals” are not defined. Therefore, companies can make highly-misleading statements on their product labels. Of course, some companies do not test and use these terms responsibly. However, others take advantage of the loopholes. 

  • “Not tested on animals” claims on product packaging or a company’s website may mean that the final product has not been tested on animals, but hides the fact that the ingredients have.
  • Also, some companies may not directly carry out animal testing themselves, but employ a third-party to do it for them.
  • Another label to watch out for is “against animal testing”. This statement means nothing and it does not guarantee that the product and ingredients are free from animal testing.
  • The same misleading statements can be found on companies’ websites. Statements like “no animal testing unless required to do so by law” means that the company may (directly or indirectly) test on animals to sell in certain countries.
  • More about cosmetic labelling in the EU.
There are plenty of cosmetic companies that do not test on animals.

Cruelty-Free Makeup Brushes

Makeup brushes were traditionally made from animal hair. Sable, badger, pony, squirrel, and goat-hair brushes all come from animals. This hair isn’t happily volunteered by a generous squirrel, mink, goat, or pony.

Luckily, there’s no reason to use animal hair brushes these days. There are lots of good quality, soft and efficient synthetic makeup brushes available.

Taklon, Natrafil and nylon brushes are totally devoid of any animal component. The fibres don’t have a cuticle, making them less likely to trap bacteria, skin or makeup particles than animal hair.

Alternatives to Animal Testing

A company must demonstrate a product’s safety to market it. This can be done by using existing ingredients that have already been established as safe for human use and by carrying out approved non-animal tests.

Some of these tests include human cell in vitro toxicity screening. This involves real human guinea pigs, doing computer simulations and using human skin grown in the lab.

Without any animal testing, we can still produce a huge range of safe, effective and high-quality cosmetic products. After all, there are lots of cosmetic companies out there doing this already.

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2 thoughts on “Guide to Cruelty-Free Cosmetics”

  1. I never realised about China and testing. So disappointed!! Its all about the money isnt it. Greed over compassion. Glad u advocate animal friendly makeup. Peace x 😉

    1. I know Joanne. So many of our fave brands recently decided to go into China, and, bang, that was the end of their non-animal testing status. And the end of our buying their products. Sod ’em!

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