So you’ve done your research and decided that you want to transform your beauty kit for the better. You’re all good on the vegan front, with a handful of the best vegan brands to shop right now to get you started. But you also want to make sure you’re buying from cruelty-free brands. Same thing, right? Wrong. The beauty world's lack of clarity strikes again: not all vegan brands are cruelty-free and not all cruelty-free brands are vegan.
Largely this is due to where brands are sold. In China, it is a legal requirement that products are tested on animals. This means that if a brand wants to cash in on the lucrative Chinese market, they have to play ball; it’s a big draw especially for nearby markets, such as South Korean and Australian brands. It’s also a big draw for mega parent companies. For example, IT Cosmetics – which is cruelty-free – is owned by L’Oréal, which is not. Complicating the matter even further are loopholes and grey areas like third-party testing, international testing and separate ingredient testing. It’s enough to make any beauty lover confused, however good their intentions are.
That’s where we come in, with our guide to the best cruelty-free beauty brands on our radar. From skincare to haircare, body care to makeup, we’ve done the research on whether their claims are legit. Some have been accredited by PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies programme or Cruelty Free International’s Leaping Bunny certification, others have been vetted by conscious shopping sites Cruelty-Free Kitty and Ethical Elephant.
Monika Blunder knows her stuff. A makeup artist with years of experience in the industry, she’s worked on countless faces, from A-list celebrities for red carpet events to editorials for the world's biggest magazines. Now she’s channelling her know-how into her own brand, a range of botanically infused, natural formulas which are all cruelty-free (PETA approved), vegan, sulphate-free and fragrance-free – perfect for those with sensitive skin. Launched only last year, the brand has just two products at the moment but Monika’s Blunder Cover is already creating a buzz. Bridging the gap between concealer, foundation and contour cream, it’s designed to let you build up your coverage however you like. It’s also packed with lots of natural goodness: arnica to reduce redness, edelweiss to keep skin soft and supple, aloe vera to attract moisture, vitamin E-rich sunflower extract, antioxidant-rich rosemary extract to calm skin and anti-inflammatory chamomile to soothe. We also love that the brand is dedicated to giving back, biannually donating to nonprofit organisations that benefit women.
Facetheory proves that good quality, cruelty-free (PETA approved) and vegan beauty needn’t cost an arm and a leg. Their formulas bring together science and nature, combining high-performing actives like retinol and vitamin C with botanical extracts like soothing green tea and chamomile, making them a gentler alternative for skincare novices and sensitive complexions. The brand is dedicated to eliminating single-use plastic, with most of its products in amber glass jars with aluminium caps or in 100% aluminium tubes, which are easier to recycle. Packaging is biodegradable, too.
Besides having one of the funnest names, Supergoop! is one of our favourite sunscreen brands. When her friend was diagnosed with skin cancer, it inspired founder Holly Thaggard to dig deep into the world of sunscreen and why we’re reluctant to wear it. Often, she found, it was greasy textures, chalky finishes and dubious ingredients that put people off. With this in mind, she developed a range of PETA approved, broad-spectrum formulas that you’ll actually want to put on.
If anyone knows how much our hands go through and how much they suffer, it’s a nurse. Nursem’s cofounder Antonia Philp, a paediatric intensive care nurse, often came home with sore, cracked and bleeding hands, the constant hand washing needed for her job taking its toll. In 2009 it got so bad that she was unable to work for weeks. Wanting to make a change, Antonia teamed up with her husband, Jonny, to develop an intensely nourishing, effective hand cream formula which nurses could use repeatedly during busy shifts. They came up with the Caring Hand Cream, £9.99, made with medical grade Manuka honey and a soothing white willow extract.
Over seven years they worked with British nurses, laboratories and Newcastle Science City to create the full Nursem range. This now includes the Caring Skin Fix, £14.99, a thick cream packed with moisture-locking hyaluronic acid and calming colloidal oatmeal, and the soap-free Caring Hand Wash, £9.99, with avocado oil and pro vitamin B5. In addition to being Leaping Bunny approved, the brand promises to donate a month’s worth of Nursem to a nurse or midwife for every product you buy.
Danessa Myricks is a self-taught makeup artist, entrepreneur and photographer who has broken boundaries and pushed industry norms throughout her career. When developing her brand, she wanted to build a world of beauty that doesn’t feel ‘exclusive’ and is for people of all races, ages and genders. Each of her products is designed to be multifunctional and inclusive, inspiring artistry whether you’re a novice or not. Personally, I’m obsessed with her Colorfix 24 Hour Cream Colours, £18, which come in almost every shade you can think of and can be used on your eyes, lips or cheeks. While the brand is not certified by any organisations, its animal-testing policy has been vetted by Cruelty-Free Kitty.
Olaplex is a salon and celebrity favourite for its power to transform dry, damaged hair. Based on an innovative, patented active ingredient that works on a molecular level, Olaplex’s formulas seek out broken hair bonds – the stuff that gives our hair its structure, strength and stability – and repairs them. The result is stronger, healthier, glossier, salon-worthy hair. Even if your hair isn’t coloured or damaged, Olaplex works wonders.
You’re bound to recognise Paula’s Choice – the brand’s Skin Perfecting 2% BHA Liquid Exfoliant, £10, is an undisputed cult classic, regularly earning a spot on beauty It lists. What you might not know is that its high-performing products are all cruelty-free (PETA approved). Another bonus is the affordable price point, which makes quality skincare accessible to all.
Ultra Violette founders Ava Matthews and Bec Jefferd wanted to "design a wardrobe of facial sunscreen that looked good, felt nice to wear, and didn’t bore us to tears." The result is a range of silky, lightweight products packed with antioxidants, which easily slot into existing beauty routines and don’t pill under makeup. The bestselling Queen Screen Lightweight Skinscreen SPF50+, £36, is pricy but a joy to put on. The light, serum-like formula glides on seamlessly, is easily absorbed, plumps the skin with vitamin C and gives it a glow, making skin look and feel better while protecting it.
You might not have heard of makeup artist Patrick Ta but you’re sure to have seen his work. He’s painted some of the world's most famous faces: Gigi and Bella Hadid, Jessica Alba, Ariana Grande, Rihanna and Kim Kardashian, among others. Launched in 2019, his eponymous brand channels all of his expertise and experience into beautiful, quality makeup products you’ll want to use again and again. Our favourite, the Major Dimension Eyeshadow Palette, £58, is definitely not cheap as eye palettes go. But it more than makes up for its price with a versatile mix of luminous cream bases, velvety mattes, iridescent metallics and pearl toppers in a mix of warm and cool tones. Perfect for building up smoky, intense looks or subtle shimmers.
Every once in a while, a beauty brand becomes the Next Big Thing. Right now, it’s Youth To The People, a range of totally vegan and cruelty-free skincare products that combine superfoods like antioxidant-rich leafy greens with vitamins and science. The Superfood Cleanser, £12, which is packed with kale and spinach, was a number one bestseller on US Sephora last year. Now it’s been name-checked by supermodel Kaia Gerber in her Vogue Beauty Secrets, we’re sure it’ll go viral once more.
After finding their hair damaged by the Balinese sun and sea, the founders of Coco & Eve turned to local ingredients to save their locks: raw virgin coconut and fig, blended with argan oil and shea butter. Years of development later, they had perfected their Super Nourishing Coconut & Fig Hair Masque, £14.90, which is now a social media star with its own cult following, loved for its ability to transform parched hair. They’ve since built a range of quality, nourishing and cruelty-free skincare, haircare and tanning products.
Since going viral in 2018, Sunday Riley products have generated a cult following for their fast-acting, high-performance formulas. You’re bound to spot a bottle of Luna Sleeping Night Oil, £45, or Pink Drink Essence, £42, in your favourite influencer’s bathroom cabinet. Sunday Riley isn’t just the skincare brand all the cool girls use, though; it’s also totally cruelty-free (PETA approved).
Launching Lanolips, Kirsten Carriol was inspired by her youth, growing up on an Australian sheep farm, and by her father, a DNA scientist. Starting off with lip balm and developing into hand care and ‘all over’ lotions, the brand uses lanolin – a cruelty-free byproduct of sheep's wool washing – to transform dry, parched skin. Not sure where to start? The brand’s 101 Ointment, £10.99, does it all. An odourless, colourless and non-sticky ointment that mimics skin oils to restore precious moisture, it's completely free from parabens, petrolatum, mineral oil and sulphates. This one has been vetted by Cruelty-Free Kitty.
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