Update (Feb. 22, 2019)
This story was originally published on February 21, 2019.
As a lifelong vegetarian I’ve always considered myself ethically conscious. But taking a proper look through my ever-growing stash of beauty products recently, I discovered it’s an entirely different story. Behind the Instagram-worthy packaging and promises of better skin is an industry that exploits animals.
Even though there is an abundance of cruelty-free cosmetics brands out there, such as Lush, The Body Shop and Axiology, the market suffers from frustrating transparency issues. When it comes to cruelty-free beauty, there is a lack of international legislation, with brands that don't test on animals in the UK selling their products in China, where animal testing is required by law. Many companies, despite their persuasive marketing, have found loopholes in EU legislation such as third-party testing, international testing and separate ingredient testing. According to Leaping Bunny, "even the image of a bunny on a label may only refer to the finished product." In other words, a lot of animal testing takes place in the initial stages of product development, for example when choosing ingredients. The only two certifiable sources are PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies programme and Cruelty Free International’s Leaping Bunny certification. Combine this with preconceptions that cruelty-free beauty is expensive, hard to access and offers fewer choices, and seeking out cruelty-free products can be a chore.
But I wanted to discover how difficult it really is to go cruelty-free. And more importantly, whether it's possible on a high-street budget. The first step was to go through my existing products, which actually gave me an opportunity to Marie Kondo my collection. I discovered I already owned several cruelty-free buys I like and trust, which made building a new beauty routine far less daunting. Seeing the heap of 'cruel' products grow, I couldn't help but feel bad. Resisting freaking out and throwing them away, I chose to use them up and buy cruelty-free alternatives next time. Those unused I passed on to friends or gave to makeup donation charity, Give and Make Up.
Trawling through cruelty-free blogs for alternatives, I soon found myself overwhelmed, however. Many online sources offer conflicting information, every blogger seems to have a different opinion and companies' own websites can be misleading. I couldn't let that put me off, though. Here's how I did it.
I am surprised to find that my hair care go-to, Herbal Essences, is not cruelty-free despite its all-natural marketing. I head to Holland & Barrett and though slightly freaked out by some of the stranger skincare options (snail gel anyone?), I walk away with Dr. Organic Virgin Coconut Oil Shampoo, £6.39, and Conditioner, £6.39. Dr. Organic promises to be entirely vegan, cruelty-free and, obviously, organic. I cringe internally while handing over my card. This whole exercise may mean fewer cocktails on my next night out, but at least I’ll be guilt-free. You win some, you lose some.
After a recommendation from a vegan friend, I download the Leaping Bunny app (a godsend for cruelty-free beginners) and a quick search tells me that my usual purchase, Original Source Shower Gel, £1.95, is vegan and cruelty-free. Score. I’m a big moisturiser advocate, especially during these colder months, and notice that Vita Coco Coconut Oil, £6.99, is cruelty-free, so pick it up at my local Boots. It's almost double the price of my usual Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula, £3.99, but as 100% cold-pressed coconut oil, it’s brilliant for my skin, doubles up as a facial cleanser, hair moisturiser and shaving cream. A little goes a long way and the 500ml pot lasts for ages. This is one of my favourite cruelty-free purchases and I intend to make it a staple.
For deodorant, I usually use Sure Woman but I can't tell if it's entirely cruelty-free, so I opt for Salt of the Earth Pure Aura Lavender and Vanilla Spray Deodorant, £5.99. This brand uses mineral salt crystals to stop the growth of odour-causing bacteria. It smells divine and has none of the nasty synthetic chemicals usually found in deodorant. I wear it for a full day at work and a particularly sweaty spin session; it doesn’t quite stand up to Sure, but I’m willing to look past this in favour of its ecological benefits.
I'm so happy to find that many of my favourite skincare products (Glossier’s Milky Jelly Cleanser, £15, Pixi’s Rose Tonic, £10, and The Ordinary’s Buffet, £12.70), are 100% cruelty-free. I'm a sucker for a good face mask and need a replacement for my regular self-care treat, Garnier's sheet mask collection, as online blogs raise suspicions that the brand isn't cruelty-free. The Body Shop is one of the most vocal anti-animal testing brands and after hearing good things about their Himalayan Charcoal Purifying Mask, I splurge £17 on a pot, safe in the knowledge that it will last longer and be kinder on the planet than single-use sheet masks. It feels slightly tingly but leaves my skin feeling refreshed and looking bright. It really seems to draw out any impurities and after a week or two, a colleague tells me I'm "glowing". This is one product I'll repurchase. I vow to check out The Body Shop’s other masks, too.
With a little digging, it is not hard to find cruelty-free makeup on the high street. Big name brands such as Barry M, e.l.f, Revolution and GOSH are all examples. Superdrug’s own brand, B. Cosmetics, is wholly cruelty-free and vegan, while Primark’s beauty range has recently received Leaping Bunny status. Day-to-day, I don’t wear a lot of makeup, preferring a light base, touch of mascara and brow filler (Glossier Boy Brow, £14, which is also cruelty-free). After checking out YouTuber Cruelty Free Becky (brilliant if you're new to this), I opt for B. Flawless Silk Foundation, £4.99, a light, natural-looking foundation which lasts all day, and Lottie London Got It Covered Concealer, £4.95. I hadn't heard of this brand before but cruelty-free beauty bloggers rave about it. The coverage is brilliant, and it manages to disguise my dark circles better than my regular Rimmel Match Perfection Concealer, £6.49.
I found cruelty-free shopping more expensive than usual but if you look hard enough, there is a huge range of purse-friendly, cruelty-free alternatives on the high street. Superdrug and Holland & Barrett are great for first-timers, but it’s key to do your research first. The Leaping Bunny app is brilliant, as you can check the credentials of brands as you shop. Forced to bypass my go-to products (many of which are major corporations with big stakes in the Chinese market), I discovered loads of brilliant independent, vegan brands, many of which are not only ethically better but also avoid harsh chemicals. Not only has opting for cruelty-free, natural and organic products soothed my conscience a little, it has also been kinder on my skin and hair.
With increasing awareness surrounding vegan and cruelty-free beauty, and proof that these products are just as good, if not a little pricier sometimes, I really hope consumer pressure forces more brands to consider their manufacturing processes and that, ultimately, this inspires much-needed changes in legislation.