A beginner’s guide to Cruelty Free, for the people who want to make a difference but don’t know where to start…
I’ve been crusading the world of ethical consumerism since early 2015. I’ve also cut down on my consumption of meat and animal produce exponentially without it throwing my health out of whack. Despite all this, I’m forever filled with existential guilt about my life and my choices and whether I will ever truly qualify as a ‘good person’.
This ‘goodness’, I’ve found, is decidedly much harder to quantify than I thought it would be. It’s difficult to navigate life in harmony with nature when so much is being exploited. It seems that no matter what you try and do in this world, there’s always going to be environmental and ethical consequences. The most important thing anyone can do is try and reduce the impact of those consequences, and reduce suffering where possible.
You don’t have to be rich to go cruelty free, nor do you have to be a staunch eco-warrior, a vegetarian or vegan. Of course, going cruelty-free works great alongside a diet that cuts down on or eliminates meat or fish, but it’s also okay if this is the first step you’re taking towards ethical consumerism. The important thing is that you’re open to change and making a difference. The cosmetics industry is responsible for a huge share of the world’s animal testing, and by making wiser, more informed choices as a consumer, you can play a part in bringing this practise to an end.
Before you jump in, there are a couple of things you should be aware of if you’re planning on joining the cruelty-free revolution.
- A full ban on animal testing in the EU took effect in 2013, and applies to all cosmetics sold in the EU as well as their ingredients. This applies regardless of where in the world the animal testing is taking place. Since Brexit happened, animal rights campaigners are hoping the UK can become stricter with its medical laboratory tests, or at a minimum commit to ensure that tests banned under EU law also remain banned in the UK.
- Over 7,000 ingredients exist that are known to be safe to humans. Companies now have a wealth of alternative and natural ingredients to choose from to develop their products. These ingredients don’t even need to be tested because they’ve already been proven to be harmless.
- According to Cruelty Free International, 80% of the world still allows animals to be used in cruel tests for cosmetics, and almost all countries still allow testing for cleaning products. Animals are needlessly being subjected to pain and cruelty in the name of vanity. Things are changing though, with more and more animal tests being replaced by reliable, quick and cheap procedures; no animals required.
- Vegan cosmetics and Cruelty-Free cosmetics are not to be confused. Cruelty-Free companies are companies that do not test on animals, do not purchase ingredients from suppliers that test on animals, nor do they sell their products in countries that require cosmetics to be tested on animals by law. Vegan cosmetics, like vegan food, simply don’t contain animal produce of any kind. Unless otherwise stated, vegan cosmetics may still contain ingredients tested on animals by suppliers to confirm their safety. If a company buys their ingredients from a supplier that tests on animals, then the company cannot be considered cruelty-free. This is why research is essential when going cruelty-free, but I’ll go into that in more detail later.
- More than 600 beauty brands from around the world do not test on animals, so if a lack of choice is something you’re worried about, well, let’s say that won’t be an issue!
There’s a variety of alternative, humane methods available to companies that render animal testing obsolete. New technologies such as stem cell testing, in-vitro testing, as well as computers with the ability to replicate real human organs. Why invest in cruelty when technology like this exists? Laboratories use a lab stirrer to test and mix chemicals together to see and chart reactions, why not invest more into them instead of going straight to an animal source? It will protect the animal.
Determining which brands are truly cruelty-free.
Unfortunately, some countries still require cosmetic companies to adhere to their animal testing laws to be able to sell their products there. Mainland China is one such territory (excluding Hong Kong), while in many countries animal testing is not a requirement, but it is still legal.
With the Chinese market booming, for many countries it’s too big of a money-making opportunity to ignore. So, if any foreign cosmetics brand wants access to the Chinese market, they have to agree to have their products tested on animals, and the companies themselves fund these acts of cruelty. Thus, if a brand sells in mainland China, it’s most definitely not cruelty-free. To find out more about animal testing laws in China, do check out Cruelty Free Kitty’s in depth post here.
To complicate things, there’s also the polarising issue of cosmetic companies that don’t test, but are owned or bought out by parent companies that do. Notable examples of this are The Body Shop, NYX, Urban Decay etc. All of these brands sell themselves as cruelty-free, but are owned by a parent company that is considered one of the worst offenders when it comes to animal testing.
Whether or not you decide to still buy from such companies is up to you. Some people will say it’s ‘clever consumerism’, and sends the message to those companies monopolising the beauty industry that customers care about the ethics behind their products and want to see an end to animal testing. Others will argue that, at the end of the day, in buying from brands owned by parent companies who test, you are still indirectly funding animal testing. Like I said, it remains a very heated debate amongst animal rights activists, and is really a personal choice.
To reiterate: If a company buys their ingredients from a supplier that tests on animals, then the company cannot be considered cruelty-free. If the company tests said ingredients themselves, they are also not cruelty-free. If a company sells in a country that requires cosmetics to be animal tested by law i.e China – they are not cruelty free.
Where to Start
The first thing to know is that just because you’ve decided to you want to swap out your cosmetics and household products out for cruelty free alternatives does not mean you have to throw everything you have that isn’t cruelty free in the trash. As important as ethical buying is minimising waste. Why throw out perfectly decent products who’s parent companies you’ve already paid into? Know that going cruelty free is a process as well as a lifestyle change. If you don’t feel comfortable using up what you have, see if you have friends or family members you can pass them onto. Otherwise, work through them until you’re done and can replace them with cruelty-free alternatives.
If you’re unsure about whether a brand tests or not, some of my favourite resources for checking on the go are Bunny Free and Cruelty-Free. The Bunny Free app lets you scan and search products and tells you whether they’re Leaping Bunny, PETA or CCF (Choose Cruelty Free) approved. It also highlights whether the brand is owned by a parent company that tests too. The Cruelty-Free app simply lists all the Leaping Bunny approved brands categorised by product type. Otherwise Cruelty Free Kitty and PETA have a bunch of printable lists you can keep on hand when shopping to make checking the legitimacy of a company’s cruelty-free claims much easier on the go. Be sure to look out for Leaping Bunny, PETA and CCF approval logos when out and about too.
- BE CRITICAL! Don’t trust labels unless they have one of the three certified logos and do your research. Not many companies will unlawfully print cruelty free logos on their products, but some will, which is why it’s so important to familiarise yourself with the brands that do and don’t test via the links and resources I’ve provided and more.
- When in doubt, look for the leaping bunny, it’s by far the must trust-worthy of the official cruelty-free accreditations with the strictest criteria. Do bear in mind however, that not all leaping bunny assured brands will display the logo on their packaging as it costs a small fee to do so. Again, bookmark those lists and get memorising brands!
- Be sceptical of statements such as: “finished product not tested on animals” or simply “not tested on animals” on cosmetics packaging. The ingredients could still have been tested on animals.
- Tell your family and friends! Share resources and inform them. When it comes to animal cruelty, particularly in the beauty industry, ignorance isn’t bliss. The more you know, the more you learn how deep the metaphorical rabbit hole goes – educate people. When people learn how bad it really is and how easy it is to go cruelty free, the more likely they are to take part.
- Sign petitions! Take part in campaigns. Lush do lots of good ones year round, for example their anti-foxing hunting campaign and their rallying against trophy hunting. Inform yourself on what’s going on. The Dodo has a really great daily newsletter you can sign up to that keeps up to date on animal rights matters. If you want to go further and fight against cruelty that extends beyond the beauty industry, documentaries like Blackfish and The Cove are great places to start especially for marine life issues. Both documentaries have spurred huge and successful campaigns that have gained a lot of traction in recent years.
- Write to your local MP, and encourage friends and family to do the same. It may seem like a drop in the ocean, but it’s their job to work on pushing issues you’re passionate about. Plus, it doesn’t take long to do!
Progress is still being made around the world, with bans on cosmetic animal testing under discussion or waiting to be passed in many countries. In fact just this month, Guatemala implemented a national ban on cosmetic animal testing – another step in the right direction! Worldwide, there’s still a lot of work to be done, but you can play a part in helping to stamp out cosmetic animal testing. After all, customers dictate the market. Make your position known and help make a difference!