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Animal Testing and the Beauty Industry - What Is Cruelty-Free?

One of the most common "free-of" claims is cruelty-free. No one wants to think of cuddly animals being subjected to testing in a laboratory. While it may be easier to justify testing animals for the development of life-saving medicine, it seems unnecessary and unjustified in the case of cosmetic products. Despite Elle Woods' best efforts in Legally Blonde 2, testing on animals is legal in the United States. Today I'd like to go into detail on how to determine whether your favorite brand tests on animals.

Interpreting the Language

The language around animal testing can be confusing and misleading. Some products claim "cruelty-free" or "not tested on animals,” but as most animal testing occurs on ingredients and not finished products, this may not be meaningful. Companies can also claim that they do not test on animals, but they may contract other companies to do the testing or use raw material suppliers who test on animals. Similar to the definition of natural products, in order to make it easier to distinguish companies that do not test on animals, certifying groups have stepped in.

Leaping Bunny

The most prominent certifying group is known as the Leaping Bunny program. You may recognize their logo below as it is printed on the packaging of many products. The leaping bunny program was created by eight national animal protection groups in order to make shopping for animal-friendly products easier and more trustworthy. They have a single standard and internationally recognized logo. They certify that companies do not test on animals in any part of product development and conform to the standard set by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC) and Cruelty Free International (CFI). This certification is the most comprehensive because it is internationally recognized and includes all parts of product development.

Leaping Bunny Logo

PETA's Beauty Without Bunnies

The animal right's group PETA, or People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, also has a cruelty-free logo through their Beauty Without Bunnies program. They certify brands and maintain a searchable database of companies for consumers to use as a resource. Their logo can also be used on the packaging of products that have been certified through the program. In order to be certified, a company must submit an application and a statement to PETA asserting that they do not perform testing on animals. They also have a vegan version of the logo for companies who do not use any animal-derived ingredients.

PETA Cruelty Free Logo

International Requirements


In the past, companies importing cosmetic products into China were required to submit product samples to be tested on animals. This made it difficult for companies to sell into the Chinese market without compromising their brand ideals. Products made in China were an exception to the rule as were direct-to-consumer sales, but this policy limited access to the country for smaller brands without international manufacturing operations.

Earlier this year, the Chinese government's National Medical Products Administration (NMPA) approved several non-animal based testing methods for the registration and pre-market approval of products. Legislation will go into effect in 2020 according to Vogue UK's reporting. This is great news for many brands that have not been able to sell into China in the past.

European Union

The EU has laws in place banning animal testing of cosmetic products and raw materials as well as the sale of cosmetics that have been tested on animals. These laws are referred to as the "testing ban" and the "marketing ban," respectively. There are some limitations to the laws as they are currently interpreted to include consumer safety testing only, not testing for environmental risk or worker safety. Additionally, the laws only include products that are tested or sold in the EU. Products that are tested in other countries do not violate the law.


In my experience, there is no need for animal testing on cosmetic products. Formulation is typically done with known ingredients and subjected to in vivo formula safety and clinical testing on consenting human subjects with limited risk of irritation or safety concerns. It is also common for new product development chemists to test things themselves or on coworkers as part of the product development process. For animals to be subjected to tests they cannot consent to which will be repeated on humans later is unnecessary and outdated.

What are your thoughts on animal testing? Have you noticed these bunny logos on your favorite products? Will you be looking for them in the future? Let me know in the comments below!

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