Cruelty-Free 101 / Educational

How To Tell If A Product Is Cruelty-Free?

Cruelty Free Rabbits

Over the last few years, we’ve seen a rise in the cruelty-free shopper as more people learn that animal testing still exists in the beauty industry. We’re a nation of animal lovers and it’s hard to justify unnecessary animal tests in the name of lipsticks and mascaras.

However, with brands trying their best to cover up any animal testing in their processes, it can make it hard for shoppers to know how to truly shop cruelty-free. In this post, we’ll go through how to find cruelty-free brands and how to spot misleading marketing.

What is cruelty-free?

Photo by ©AndriiKoval

First, let’s explain what cruelty free means. A cruelty-free product is made without animal testing. It sounds simple, but there are so many factors that need to be considered – including suppliers used and where products are sold.

Cruelty-free does not mean that a product is vegan, sustainably, or otherwise ethically made (though many cruelty-free products are also these things, that is not what ‘cruelty-free’ means).

What you can expect of a cruelty-free brand?

  1. They do not test on animals at any point during the production of their products
  2. They do not allow third-parties to test products on animals on their behalf
  3. Their suppliers, where they source ingredients, do not test on animals
  4. They do not sell their products in countries where animal testing is required by law

The most common reason a product would not be cruelty-free is that their products are being sold in China. Their animal testing laws are quite complicated – and they’re regularly improving and reducing animal testing requirements – however, for the time being, cruelty-free shoppers should generally avoid shopping from brands that choose to sell in mainland China.

An important thing to note is that ‘cruelty-free’ is not legally defined and it means slightly different things to different shoppers and certifications. Typically, cruelty-free shoppers can be split into three levels:

1. Cruelty free at product level – this means that the product will not have been tested on animals but the company may test on animals.

2. Cruelty free at brand level – this means that the company does not test on animals, but it’s parent company (the company that owns it) might test on animals. This is the most common regard for ‘cruelty free’.

3. Cruelty free at parent company level – this means that neither the company nor the parent company tests on animals.

It’s best to take some time and evaluate which level you want your shopping habits to align and appreciate that your ‘cruelty-free’ will not be the same as everyone else’s.

How to tell if a product is cruelty-free?

Confused about what's cruelty-free and what's not?

There are a few different ways to discover whether a product is cruelty-free, but each has their limitations. I’ll go through the different methods and what to watch out for:

A brand’s website / FAQ: Brands are often asked whether they’re cruelty-free, so this question should make it into their FAQs. Unless you know what you’re looking for, I recommend avoiding looking here to find out if a brand is cruelty-free. I’ve never seen a company answer this question with a bold ‘we are not cruelty-free’. Instead they will spin sentences round, assure you that they’re against animal testing ‘unless required by law’ – a big red flag! However, if a brand is cruelty-free this is where they’ll likely list any cruelty-free certifications that they have.

Google / Bloggers: This is my go-to method. If I want to find out whether a brand is cruelty-free, I give it a quick google. I then look for a search result from a reputable cruelty-free blogger: Logical Harmony, Cruelty-Free Kitty and Ethical Elephant are the key three. Between them they have most brands evaluated. I love that they often give extra information too – whether the brand has any certifications, whether they have a parent company and then the cruelty-free status of that parent company. It really helps form a clear, unbiased picture of the brand.

Certifications: Like I mentioned earlier, there’s no concrete definition for ‘cruelty-free’ so it’s really helpful to have certifications that set a standard for brands who want to be cruelty-free. There are a few different cruelty-free certifications, each one slightly different to the other, so I’ll go through the main ones below.

Logos: Cruelty-free certifications reward brands with logos to put on their packaging so that consumers know that the product is cruelty-free. Simple, right? Not so much. Unfortunately, its not uncommon for uncertified brands to mock up their own bunny symbols and write ‘against animal testing’ on their products. These give the illusion of a cruelty-free certification when there is none. So be sure to familiarise yourself with the leading logos so you can spot the imitators.


An increasing number of shoppers are concerned about whether their products are being tested on animals. This means that being cruelty-free is not just an ethical choice for companies, it’s now a profitable choice. Because of this more companies are self-declaring that they’re cruelty-free without any third party assurances or accreditations. This is why certifications are important – they verify these claims.

Certified vegan and cruelty free logos

Leaping Bunny by Cruelty Free International is typically considered the gold standard. It is the only internationally recognized symbol that guarantees that no new animal tests were used in the development of any product displaying it. Companies with the leaping bunny logo open themselves to independent audits and renew their commitments each year.  This certification evaluates cruelty-free at a company level.

Beauty Without Bunnies by PETA is another leading cruelty-free certification. Their Beauty Without Bunnies programme requires brands to submit a statement confirming that they’re cruelty-free. It’s a little more lax than the Leaping Bunny certification – brands aren’t subjected to independent audits (which are an effective way of verifying cruelty-free claims). Additionally, PETA has a different approach to brands selling in China: some products are able to bypass pre-market animal testing, but there’s still a slim chance of post-market animal testing. PETA, unlike many cruelty-free shoppers and other certifications, think this risk is so minimal that brands can be cruelty-free whilst selling some products in China. This is why you can see their certification on brands like Herbal Essences, Dove and Aussie.

PETA also evaluates cruelty-free at a company level.

Choose Cruelty-Free is an Australian based certification, so it’s less commonly seen here in the UK. Their certification is very similar to Leaping Bunny but also requires the parent company to be cruelty-free and for the brand to have been cruelty-free for at least 5 years.

Vegan Trademark is a logo which assures the consumer that the product is vegan. So what does this mean when you see it on a beauty product? It means that the product is made without animal derived ingredients (ie vegan) and that the product is cruelty-free. This does not necessarily mean that the brand is cruelty-free. For example, early 2020 the Vegan Trademark was awarded to a colgate toothpaste as the product was vegan and cruelty-free, despite Colgate not being cruelty-free.

Beyond all this, cruelty-free certifications aren’t the be all, end all. For example, Lush – a company famed for its animal-rights – is not certified cruelty-free. Instead they have thorough in-house policies and exercise transparency. Additionally, plenty of small businesses with core vegan ethics aren’t able to afford the cost of a cruelty-free certification so early in their journey.

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