The line between cruelty-free and vegan can be, and often is, a little blurred. Both terms are not regulated and so the basic difference between the two really hinges on your definition of each. For us, we define them as follows:
- Cruelty-free means that the products, and the ingredients that were used in the product, were not tested on animals at any stage during their development
- Vegan means that the products contain no animal ingredients or animal by-products (which includes things like honey, beeswax, gelatin, yogurt and other less obvious animal by-products)
While the definitions of vegan and cruelty-free are not altogether aligned, at its heart, the principle behind each is the same. Both labels represent, and are champions for, the protection of our furry and not-so-furry animal friends and their rights. However, with this fundamental principle in mind the definitions seem to yield an ethical gap:
- Cruelty-free products, while not tested on animals, may still contain animal ingredients or by-products which would have necessitated the death of an animal. This, of course, begs the question – are these products truly cruelty-free? We believe that regardless of what your diet is (vegan, vegetarian or omnivore) none of your cosmetic and body care products need to contain animal ingredients
- Vegan products, while they don’t contain any animal ingredients, may still be tested on animals, which is surely not in the spirit of veganism?
So, for example, it may surprise you as it did for us, a moisturiser may tick the cruelty-free box but contains beeswax and is therefore not vegan. On the flip side, a vegan mascara that is free of animal ingredients or by-products may at some point in its development have been tested on animals and is thus not cruelty-free.
Not quite…since these definitions are not standardised, there are some pitfalls to be aware of when shopping for ethical and sustainable consumables. Let’s delve into some of these pitfalls …
When it comes to the cruelty-free label, some brands regrettably use it purely as marketing lip-service but, in reality, their products are clearly not what they say they are, for example:
- Cruelty-free may just mean that the finished product is not tested on animals but the ingredients are tested on animals at some point in their development
- Some brands that claim to be “cruelty-free” might not personally test the product on animals but they have a third party do so. The most notorious example of this are brands that sell cosmetics and body care products in China, which is a gigantic market. The hitch is, China’s laws require products to be tested on animals before they can be sold in its territory. To get around this, brands just outsource the animal testing and voila, they get to hold on to the cruelty-free tag
- The three major trusted cruelty-free certification bodies in this space are the Leaping Bunny (an internationally recognised symbol), PETA (US based but recognised internationally) and Choose Cruelty Free (an Australian based certification). Sadly, a number of fake “bunny” type logos or symbols are popping up on products globally, misleading consumers and behind the scenes, undoubtedly still testing on animals
- Another cruelty-free issue, which is not as black and white, has to do with stance of the parent company. A brand, like Tom’s of Maine or The Body Shop may be cruelty-free but their parent companies (Colgate-Palmolive and L’Oréal respectively) are not. The question is, do you boycott them because their owners are not aligned with their cruelty-free ethos? Some people take a hard-line approach while others argue that boycotting them will have a negative impact on the growing awareness and popularity of cruelty-free products as less resources and marketing will be directed to those brands as a result of fewer or no product sales
For us, we prefer to back the independent cruelty-free brands out there. We believe that by supporting these truly progressive companies we can help them grow into their own ethical empires, which will, in time, replace the big brands and finally put an end to the archaic practice of animal testing (at least that’s the goal)
As for the Vegan label, it was originally created purely to describe a diet which excluded all animal ingredients and by-products. However, for many, it has evolved over time to a lifestyle choice, avoiding the use of anything animal related from leather to wool to carmine (red dye or in layman’s terms, beetles) in products:
- When it comes to the cosmetic and beauty care industry, many people tend to think cruelty-free and vegan are synonymous. However, as we mentioned above, something labelled as vegan does not necessarily mean that the product or its ingredients are cruelty-free
- While not as strong as cruelty-free certifications, there are a few trusted Vegan associations or bodies that provide their stamp of approval for vegan products. We’ve mostly come across Vegan.org and the Vegan Society UK. However, many products simply claim they are free of animal products and either still contain beeswax or honey (for example) or of course, use a fake logo!
- To curb the ethical gap, we’re prioritising products and brands we showcase that are both cruelty-free and vegan, as illustrated in our favourite venn diagram below, by scoring against these key criteria. For example, in a Sustainable Jungle product review, a product that is both Vegan and Cruelty-free will score much higher than a product that is Cruelty-free only. We also contact the brands we profile and ask them to confirm their position on each of our key sustainability criteria. To find products we have reviewed, visit our product review page and / or to find brands that we’ve profiled, visit our brand guides page.
Outside of Sustainable Jungle, we’d suggest looking out for the most trusted certifications/ logos available today as follows:
However, bear in mind that some brands and products may still be cruelty-free and vegan but not necessarily have the symbols or logos on their product (often due to licensing costs). To verify, follow these steps:
- To check the product is Vegan, read the ingredients list (see here for a good list of animal ingredients to watch out for) to ensure it has no animal ingredients or by-products
If you’re already supporting cruelty-free and/or vegan brands or if you’re just starting out on your ethical journey and you’re not sure what to buy, we’re happy you’re here. You’re making a conscious decision to land in at least one of the sustainability circles which can, collectively, have a massively positive impact on animal welfare and our environment.
As always, we hope you’ve got some value out of this.
If you have any questions/comments/anecdotes or other “vegan/cruelty-free” suggestions, leave a comment or get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!