The lowdown on cruelty-free beauty: What you need to know

Author: Nicole Whittle

Read Time:   |  5th February 2020

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Want to go vegan with your beauty routine? Confused about what cruelty-free really means? Beauty blogger Nicole Whittle has all the answers.


A cruelty-free product is made without animal testing. Sounds simple, right? But there are so many factors that need to be considered — including suppliers used and where products are sold. Additionally, many ethical shoppers expect a company’s parent company to be cruelty-free. But that’s not always the case.

Is a cruelty-free product also vegan?

If you’re new to this, there’s a good chance you think vegan and cruelty-free are one and the same. After all, how can you kill an animal and still create a cruelty-free product?

Frustratingly, when it comes to beauty you have to look at these terms separately; a vegan product is made without animal-derived ingredients. A cruelty-free product is made without animal testing. As an ethical shopper, you’ll want your products to be both!

Didn’t we ban animal testing?

We had a huge victory in 2013 when the EU banned animal testing for cosmetic purposes. Whilst this was a great step forward, it’s led to a lot of confusion. Surely everything on our shelves is now cruelty-free?

Unfortunately, there are territories where animal-testing for cosmetic purposes is legally required. One of the most controversial territories is China, whose laws require foreign cosmetic companies to consent to having their products tested on animals to be sold in stores. Whilst their laws have recently started evolving, companies selling in China are widely considered not cruelty-free.

Some companies selling in China will still insist that they are ‘against animal testing’ as they don’t test on animals, the Chinese health authorities do. Others will sell on shelves in China and insist that they have found a way around the animal testing laws. Whilst there are ways around premarket animal testing for some products, any product can be pulled off the shelf for postmarket animal testing.


How can I tell if a product is cruelty-free?

Leaping Bunny by Cruelty Free International and Beauty Without Bunnies by PETA are the two most common certifications in the UK.

Leaping Bunny is famed for its high standards and thorough checks, meanwhile PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies is awarded to companies that submit a statement confirming that they’re cruelty-free. Recently, PETA have been known to award cruelty-free status to brands that sell in China — much to the frustration of committed cruelty-free shoppers.

There are heaps of online stores that can help you shop ethically, such as Wearth London.

Beyond all this, cruelty-free certifications aren’t the be-all and end-all. For example, LUSH — a company famed for its animal rights — is not certified cruelty-free. Instead, they have thorough in-house policies and exercise transparency. Additionally, plenty of small business with core vegan ethics aren’t able to afford the cost of a cruelty-free certification so early in their journey.

If you’re uncertain whether a brand is cruelty-free, Google (or Ecosia) it. Unless you know exactly what you’re looking for, don’t check a brand’s statement — these can be misleading. Instead look for cruelty-free evaluations from Logical Harmony, Ethical Elephant or Cruelty Free Kitty. These bloggers are valued for their thorough and transparent cruelty-free evaluations.

Where can I buy cruelty-free beauty?

Thanks to the rise of ethical shoppers, cruelty-free and vegan beauty products are now commonplace on the high street. All Superdrug own brand beauty products are cruelty-free. They also stock favourites like Noughty haircare, MUA make-up and e.l.f cosmetics. Boots recently expanded their offering, and now sell Umberto Giannini, Sukin and Upcircle.

Cruelty-free products can also be found in Holland & Barrett, TK Maxx and Marks & Spencers. Additionally, there are tonnes of online stores that can help you shop ethically. This includes The Cruelty Free Beauty Box, Greener Beauty, Wearth London and Plastic Freedom.

Just remember, going vegan and cruelty-free with your whole lifestyle can take time — so go easy on yourself and do your research. It’s also worth joining Facebook groups like Vegan Beauty UK for support from others on a similar path.

Vegan Beauty Girl’s 3 Best Buys

1 Sukin Foaming Facial Cleanser (£7.95)


For me, Sukin have been a reliable skincare brand for years. Not only are they fully vegan and cruelty-free but they’re also carbon neutral. A little goes a long way with this gentle formula — I find this cleanser lasts for ages.

2 Lush shampoo bar (£8)

Once upon a time, shampoo bars marked a beauty sacrifice made by vegans and eco-warriors alike. Nowadays, Lush have their formulas so fine-tuned that you’ll find your best hair through the right shampoo bar.

3 Matte Lipsticks (£1.50)

Last year MUA fully transformed their line to become 100% vegan and cruelty-free. Now their reformulated matte lipsticks are completely beeswax-free and still cheap-as-chips at £1.50.

Nicole Whittle, better known as Vegan Beauty Girl, works hard to make living ethically as easy as possible. She’s been vegan for over 12 years and loves to share tips on veganising beauty products. @veganbeautygirl

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