How To Spot Truly Cruelty-Free Beauty Products

look at what you've gotIllustrated by Mary Schafrath.
If there was an emoji for how I feel right now after the response to my last piece on animal testing, it’d be a beagle wearing sunglasses and a sombrero doing a hearty “yes” motion. The question posed in the piece was, “Does cruelty-free matter?” and much to my delight, an overwhelming majority of you said, “heck yes.” So, as promised, I’m giving you a crash course in how to spot truly cruelty-free products. There will be a learning curve and a few challenges along the way, but with a little practice and a discerning eye, you will find animal-friendly, hard-working products that you will love.

Look At What You’ve Got
The first exercise I recommend is to go into your bathroom, look at your makeup bag, gym bag, diaper bag, and where you store their cleaning products. Look at the bottles. Do you see any mention of animal testing or cruelty-free? A good rule of thumb: A company that is truly cruelty-free will be like a person in love; they’re going to shout it from the rooftops. They’ve worked hard to legitimately receive such designations (we’ll talk about those in a second), and they want to promote that factor. A company that conducts animal testing is going to be quiet with lingo. — it doesn’t exactly make products fly off the shelves when something like "dozens of dogs died to bring you voluminous waves” is emblazoned on the label. So, a silent bottle, or a bottle with semantics or symbols that make you scratch your head, are telltale signs that you’ve got an animal tester in your hands. Put ‘er back and move on to step two.

Go Where the Goods Are
If you’ve determined that you have some products in your routine that you want to phase out, use them up and then go on an adventure to find ethical replacements. To make this sojourn easier, I recommend going to places like Whole Foods, which has a company-wide policy barring the sale of any animal-tested products in their Whole Body section. Many other health food stores, or places like Trader Joe’s and big-box stores like Target, Walmart, CVS, and Walgreen’s boast formidable “green and natural” sections that will often feature some cruelty-free goodies. Online stores like and have cruelty-free sections curated by Leaping Bunny. Get over to these brick-and-mortar or virtual places, and then move on to step three.

look for the signsIllustrated by Mary Schafrath.

Look For The Signs
These days, with green-washing and misleading marketing running rampant, any company can front by slapping “cruelty-free” text or a picture of a rabbit on their bottle. Having been in the cruelty-free game for a long time, there are only a few symbols I personally trust. Leaping Bunny and the PETA Bunny symbols are not only cute, but also ensure that in no phase of production has the item you’re holding been tested on animals. Companies are rigorously monitored to receive these designations, and those who have it will present it on packaging, or, at the very least, on their websites. It’s also a great idea to visit the Leaping Bunny site and the People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals site to access databases of cruelty-free companies. And, the National Anti-Vivisection Society has a wonderfully searchable database to point you in the right direction. If you’re vegan or simply want to avoid animal ingredients in your cosmetics and home care, look for the Vegan Certified symbol, which guarantees no animal testing and no byproducts. Win, win.

Who’s Your Daddy?
Let’s talk about parents for a sec — parent companies, that is. Many “green” companies are subsidiaries of larger companies that conduct animal tests. Tom’s Of Maine is owned by Colgate-Palmolive. Burt’s Bees is owned by Clorox. The Body Shop is owned by L’Oreal. Companies owning companies is a normal occurrence in our capitalist world, but if you’re deeply concerned about what activities your money supports, it behooves you to get the skinny on who owns whom, and make purchasing decisions accordingly.


Shanghai, And Bye
Perhaps the most buzzed-about happening in the realm of vivisection was the decision of some formerly cruelty-free companies to sell in China. Why is this buzz-worthy? Well, China mandates animal testing on any products sold in the country, even if the company tows the hard line on cruelty-free. This means that in order to expand in to the Chinese market, cruelty-free companies have to conduct pre-market animal tests on their products not manufactured in Mainland China, and the Chinese government conducts animal tests on those products post-market. It is estimated that more than 300,000 animals die in China for cosmetics testing alone each year. Mad props to good guys like Paul Mitchell who decided to stay true to their cruelty-free stance and eschew the opportunity to sell in China.

when in doubt, askIllustrated by Mary Schafrath.

When In Doubt, Ask
If you’re not sure whether or not a company or product is cruelty-free, ask! In our age of instant information, the answers are often as close as our fingertips. Visit company websites and FAQs, give them a friendly jingle to let them know that you’re concerned about animal testing, or visit some of these fantastic sites lovingly curated by folks who really care about cruelty-free:

My Beauty Bunny
Phyrra NYX
The Little Foxes (all vegan, too)
Logical Harmony (all vegan, too)
Vegan Beauty Review (all vegan, too)

Get Involved
If you’re itching to take action beyond supporting cruelty-free companies, there are plenty of ways to support legislation, participate in lab rescues and fostering, and spread the word about why cruelty-free matters. These organizations are doing big things to make the world a better place for critters big and small:

As always, if you have any questions, I’d urge you to check out my previous posts for Refinery29, all of which feature cruelty-free, vegan products, or send me a message. I hope this primer helps you to make more educated, confident purchasing decisions on the things that make you feel your most gorgeous.

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