Cruelty Free vs. Vegan (and the Impact of China)

The difference between cruelty-free, vegan and why China has such a big impact on the beauty industry.

** If you're here about the update to the Chinese laws regarding animal testing, skip to the bottom of the page.

Long before I went vegan, I started phasing out my cosmetic and skincare products, swapping them out for cruelty-free brands. It's probably for that reason that I've struggled to get my act together and make sure that all my new purchases are vegan as well. Not even a month ago I went to Seamakers in La Jolla to buy a MLBB (my lips but better) lipgloss and I ended up with one that was cruelty-free, but not vegan. I entered the shop without any clear direction and quickly became overwhelmed. I thought the woman helping me understood that I was looking for a vegan option, but somehow, I ended up with a Vapour Organic Gloss, which contains beeswax. It goes without saying that 2 weeks later and $30 later when I finally discovered my screw up, I was annoyed and frustrated.

My mistake was that I strolled into a shop thinking that because they had a focus on organic, clean, cruelty-free beauty that it would be easy to find a vegan product as well. It always helps to do research before you go into a store. A lot of times people don't really understand the difference between vegan and cruelty-free, and if you want to avoid buying a new product in vain, it's probably better to have a list of brands ready before you start narrowing it down further. Once you've chosen a brand, you then need to figure out if they're completely vegan or not, because a lot of the time it varies based on each product.

It can be a lot to absorb and remember, so I've created this cheat sheet (on the right) to help people better understand how the industry works, and how each classification can impact the other.

Vapour Organic, Perricone Md, Soap Brows

Two CF glosses that aren't vegan, and one cruelty-free + vegan brow product by Soap Brows.

The Breakdown:

100% Vegan: If a company is completely vegan, they will almost always be cruelty-free as well. Milk Makeup is a good example of this.

Cruelty-Free: If a brand is cruelty-free and leaping bunny certified, they will be open about their ingredients and help you pick out vegan products (if there are any). A great example of this is Charlotte Tilbury, a high-end, cruelty-free brand who has a list of all the vegan-friendly products available on her site.

Grey areas: Cosmetics and beauty products sold in China must be tested on animals. They might not perform animal testing in the United-States or Europe when creating the products, but they are still agreeing to perform animal testing for a specific market, so if a brand chooses to sell in China it automatically removes their cruelty-free status

Another grey area is parent-companies. If a brand that was once cruelty-free and vegan is bought by a parent-c0mpany that is neither, it can negate the cruelty-free certification. Tarte is a perfect example.  The brand was sold to KOSÉ, a Japanese company that performs animal testing a few years ago, leaving a lot of their loyal customers looking elsewhere for a cruelty-free brand. Even though they insisted that Tarte itself would still be a cruelty-free company, the fact that they were owned by a parent-company that tested on animals meant they had given up and sold out. You can decide for yourself if you want to support them, but I agree that anyone who is truly looking out for animal welfare is not going to sell out to a billion dollar company that tests on animals.

**I started this article before it China released the changes in their laws, but I still wanted to clarify what happened, because there has been a lot of confusion. The internet has been exploding with "CHINA ENDS ANIMAL TESTING!!!" comments and that's simply not the case. What happened is simple: China no longer requires post-market animal testing on cosmetic products, both imported or domestic. The hope is that cruelty-free companies will have an easier time getting into the Chinese market and that China will eventually change their tune on animal-testing altogether.

So while the impact of this decision isn't yet clear, I understand why so many people are excited about the changes. The beauty industry is valued at about 530 billion dollars, with Asia / Oceania leading the pack, bringing in about 40% of that dollar value, with China representing a large chunk of that. Here's to hoping this decision is more than just a step in the right direction, but the first step towards a cruelty-free global cosmetics market.

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