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Cruelty-Free Cosmetics: Why the Movement Matters

March 20, 2018

Cruelty-Free Cosmetics: Why the Movement Matters

In the past decade, consumers have become more and more conscientious about the sources of the products that they purchase, and there has been an increasingly positive trend in consumers who care about what, and from whom, they buy. It begs the questions: what does it mean to shop for cruelty-free cosmetics, and why does it matter?


In the 1930s, the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act was passed in the United States, requiring that manufacturers use animal testing to verify the safety of drugs. As a result, animal testing has become an unfortunately common practice.

Here’s a hard fact: over 800,000 animals were involved in animal testing and research in the United States in 2016 (fiscal year). Cats, dogs, guinea pigs, hamsters, mice, pigs, nonhuman primates, and sheep are all commonly used for laboratory testing purposes, and many experience great suffering as a result.


In research laboratories, dogs and cats are only required by law to be fed once a day, and researchers are only required to provide water once every twelve hours. In addition, temperatures are only partially regulated; the ambient temperature when dogs, cats, or primates are present can’t fall below 45℉ or above 85℉ for more than four hours.

In effect,  a laboratory temperature could be 20℉ and still be within the law, as long as it’s for less than four hours. Though there’s a loophole there, too, since the attending veterinarian can override that requirement if they choose. Space is often minimal as well, non-human primates are only required to have three times the floor space that they take up when on all four feet, leaving them just enough room to turn around.

In short, even when animals aren’t part of active testing, their environment is still far less than optimal for comfort and well-being. For animals like dogs, who experience complex emotional lives, isolation from normal human and canine interactions can be very distressing.

Non-human primates such as rhesus monkeys, chimpanzees, and gorillas have been shown to exhibit altruistic and empathetic behavior, mourn the loss of family members, and console one another when distressed. Laws concerning the psychological well-being of primates are not well-regulated in the United States, leaving most laboratories to define their own practices.


In addition to the generally poor conditions within research laboratories which often cause psychological distress for animals, the testing processes themselves can be painful and traumatic. Common procedures include:

  • Chemical exposure: including forced inhalation, forced ingestion, and prolonged skin contact
  • Exposure to infectious diseases which can result in suffering and death
  • Physical restraint for hours at a time
  • Food and water deprivation
  • Surgical procedures
  • Infliction of wounds to study healing
  • Distressing behavioral experimentation

Animal testing for cosmetics is not required by law in the United States, and other methods of testing are now available that have rendered animal testing unnecessary. Despite that fact, cosmetics and skincare ingredients continue to be tested on thousands of animals each year.

There are multiple reasons why animal testing for cosmetics is no longer necessary. There are thousands of cosmetic ingredients that have already been tested, and from which cosmetics companies can formulate their products safely.

In addition, toxicity tests on animals are often inaccurate and scientifically useless, due to the major genetic differences between humans and animals. Perhaps most importantly, new methods of testing have been developed that don’t require animals. Some of these methods include:

  • Computer simulations and models
  • Artificial human skin testing
  • Test tube (in vitro) testing
  • Microdosing (which can be performed on human participants)

While it may be surprising to some, alternative testing methods are often much more effective (and also cheaper!) than traditional animal testing. For example, synthetic human skin, which is used to test chemical corrosivity, can provide extremely quick results (from within a few minutes to a few hours), while traditional animal testing methods often take weeks. Utilizing cruelty-free alternatives can greatly benefit companies in the long run!


There is some confusion circulating around the term “cruelty-free.” Cruelty-free companies are those that do not test their products on animals. Unlike vegan products, which contain no ingredients derived from animals whatsoever, cruelty-free products may contain animal derivatives like beeswax, milk or honey, but companies do not test those finished products on animals.

Carmine, for example, is a common colorant derived from crushed beetles, which as an ingredient gives a bright red-pink hue to certain products. Since it is animal derived, any product containing carmine could not be considered vegan, but if a finished product containing it is not tested on animals, that product can be considered cruelty-free.

To further compound the issue, terminology and phrases like “cruelty-free” or “not tested on animals” are not regulated by the FDA, which means that companies that do test on animals can advertise using that phrasing!


To determine whether or not a company or product is truly cruelty-free, outside research and independent verification is absolutely essential. Ask these four important questions:

  • Does the company test their finished products on animals?
  • This one is fairly straightforward. The company should be able to unequivocally state that they do not test any finished products on animals. Thankfully, this is becoming a fairly common standard within the cosmetics industry.

  • Does the company test any ingredients in their products on animals, or purchase from manufacturers/suppliers that do?
  • This is where things get a bit more complicated. Oftentimes, companies will use careful wording to make it seem as if they don’t support animal testing at all; for example, “product not tested on animals,” “product never tested on animals,” or even simply “not tested on animals” are frequently used phrases on packaging, when in actuality the ingredients within the products may have been tested on animals.

  • Does the company utilize animal testing in other countries?
  • Certain countries, China or Japan in particular, require that all foreign cosmetics sold there be tested on animals. Sadly, this means that any company selling in those countries cannot be considered cruelty-free, even if they don’t test on animals in their home country. Some companies still consider themselves cruelty-free even if they sell in China, but they clearly do not meet the requirements of a truly cruelty-free claim.

  • Does the cruelty-free company have a parent company which is not cruelty-free?
  • Many cosmetics and skincare lines fall under umbrella (“parent”) companies that own them, which may or may not be cruelty-free themselves. Some consumers prefer not to purchase from cruelty-free lines owned by non-cruelty-free parent companies, as they have concerns about financially supporting animal testing within the parent company.

    Others are of the opinion that purchasing from cruelty-free lines (even those that fall under umbrella companies that test on animals) makes an important statement about consumer preference, and supports a shift toward cruelty-free products in the long run.

    In addition, some cruelty-free companies ask third parties for independent verification which give them the right to use certain logos, like the ubiquitous “Leaping Bunny” logo. Leaping Bunny certifies cosmetic products as being cruelty-free, and has great credibility within the cruelty-free community.


    Transitioning to a cruelty-free lifestyle is not only beneficial to animals, consumers, and companies, but also helps to protect the environment. Thankfully, there are more and more products now available as alternatives to the products we use each day, and it’s no longer as difficult to find animal-friendly makeup, skincare, and household products when shopping. Together, we can help build a future where animal testing will no longer be necessary, and cruelty-free cosmetics and skincare are no longer the minority, but the industry standard!