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What is the difference between vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics?

Many of us are unaware of what hides in our everyday skincare products and where these ingredients come from. Also, the difference between “vegan” and “cruelty-free” beauty products is still a mystery to many of us.

Indeed, these terms are often used interchangeably even though they have different implications. The term “vegan” indicates that a product is not only free of any animal ingredients but is also not tested on animals, while “cruelty-free” only implies that the product was not tested on animals.

In other words, it’s possible for a cruelty-free product to contain animal ingredients. Therefore, it’s good to be mindful of this difference when shopping.

Let’s talk more about these terms in light of the beauty industry.

Growing attention to how cosmetics are made

With increasing awareness about the impact of food choices on our health in the last decade, consumers are also growing more conscious about the quality of cosmetics they use.

The relation between food and cosmetics is not uncommon. Often, trends in the beauty industry follow trends in the food industry because they use many common ingredients. If a product is good to eat, then it is probably also safe to apply topically.

This explains the increasing attention that natural and vegan cosmetics are receiving today, to the point that it’s now possible to talk about the growing “vegan revolution” in the beauty industry.

Moreover, people are also turning more sensitive to the issue of animal testing across different industries, including beauty. More consumers are choosing to buy from companies that respect the environment and animal rights.

Needless to say, choosing products that are vegan rather than only cruelty-free is better for the animals, our health, and the planet.

How to know if a product is vegan and cruelty-free?

The national guidelines on cosmetics labeling are not always helpful in this regard. For example, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration guidelines lack set criteria about what products can be considered vegan or cruelty-free. Besides, some ingredients that can be derived from either plants or animals, such as squalane, are often identified with the same name.

A handful of organizations are attempting to fill these gaps by creating certification marks specifically for the beauty industry. These certifications are good indicators of whether a product is vegan or cruelty-free.

The Leaping Bunny Program is among the most distinguished certification programs. It grants certification to those personal care and household product companies after verifying that no animal testing is conducted at any phase of their operations.

Another certification program is PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies Program, which lists every registered company that is either cruelty-free and/or vegan. The program has different logos to match these two classes.

It can also come in handy to know the most common animal ingredients used in cosmetics today. Here’s a list:

  • Honey
  • Beeswax
  • Lanolin -wool grease
  • Squalene -shark liver oil
  • Carmine, aka cochineal, natural red 4, E120, or C.I. 75470 -crushed-up beetles
  • Shellac -from lac bugs
  • Gelatin -cow or pig bones, tendons or ligaments
  • Allantoin -cow urine
  • Glycerin -from animal fats
  • Ambergris -whale vomit
  • Guanine -from the scales of dead fishes
  • Stearic acid -from pigs’ stomachs
  • Collagen -from animal tissues, bone, skin, or ligaments
  • Keratin -from the hair or horns of animals
  • Placenta -sheep organs

Also, many other types of products used in the makeup industry often come from animals. For instance, some make-up brushes, hairbrushes, and false eyelashes are made from fox, sable, horse, goat, mink, or squirrel hair. 

“Hidden” animal testing

Many popular brands in the beauty industry claim to be cruelty-free but that may not be true. The reason is that these brands are global and sold in many countries. While the laws in the European Union have completely banned animal testing, it is still mandatory by law in other countries like China.

It’s a good practice to refer to brand policies to assess if they are really cruelty-free. Many big brands claim to be cruelty-free but include an exclusionary clause in their policies stating “except when required by law”. This means that they may not be entirely cruelty-free, as they might allow testing on animals to serve their markets in some countries.

You can find a list of these brands here.

The vegan beauty revolution

Fortunately, there is also some good news. Today, we can find heaps of awesome vegan and cruelty-free brands offering make-up and beauty products that are showing remarkable growth. A good example would be AVEGAN Beauty‘s range of plant-based and cruelty-free skincare products.

In addition, a growing number of big players are starting to shift their product lines towards more natural and non-animal tested products. Some of these brands are Dermablend, Too Faced, Tarte, Urban Decay, Wet n Wild, Lush, and Kate von D Beauty.

The vegan beauty revolution is encouraging consumers to make informed choices by assessing ingredients lists and researching before buying. This is extremely empowering as they can consciously decide what brands are worth their support and in what direction they would like the beauty industry to head.

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