What are Cruelty-Free Products?

Which Products are Cruelty-Free and Where Can You Buy Cruelty-Free Products?

Testing on animals
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Updated on May 20, 2016 by Michelle A. Rivera, About.Com Animal Rights Expert

The term “cruelty-free product” is generally understood within the animal rights movement as a product that has not been tested on animals by the manufacturer. If you consider yourself an "animal lover," It’s important to buy cruelty-free products to support companies that are animal-friendly and to boycott companies that still test on animals.

While you may not have a special affinity for rats, guinea pigs or even rabbits, it's important for you to know that dogs, cats and primates are all used in laboratory testing, and the tests are inhumane.

Several mainstream companies, such as Bon Ami and Clientele, have been cruelty-free for years. Unfortunately, three of the largest cruelty-free companies, Avon, Mary Kay and Estee Lauder, recently resumed animal testing in order to satisfy legal requirements in China, so that they could sell their products in China. Revlon, which was one of the first large mainstream companies to go cruelty-free, is now selling in China but will not answer questions about their animal testing policy. Because of their refusal to answer questions, Revlon is now on the cruel list. For companies with such good reputations; and who have generated such goodwill by first renouncing animal testing to hide behind the excuse that the Chinese government requires some testing is ludicrous.

The obvious step for them is to stop selling in China until China catches up with the 21st century. The tests conducted on animals for cosmetic purposes are redundant and can now be easily replaced with in-vitro testing

In the United States, federal law requires drugs to be tested on animals, but no law requires cosmetics or household products to be tested on animals unless they contain new chemicals.

With so many substances that are already known to be safe, cruelty-free companies can continue to offer new, quality products year after year without testing on animals.

Gray Areas

One of the gray areas is when the individual ingredients might have been tested on animals by a supplier to the manufacturer. Some animal rights activists seek to support companies that do not purchase ingredients from suppliers who test on animals.

Another tricky issue is when a cruelty-free company is owned or acquired by a parent company that tests on animals. For example, The Body Shop is cruelty-free, but was acquired by L’Oreal in 2006. Although The Body Shop still does not test its products on animals, L’Oreal continues to conduct animal testing. this leaves fans and patrons of The Body Shop with a dilemma. 

Cruelty-Free v. Vegan

Just because a product is labeled “cruelty-free” does not necessarily mean that it is vegan. A product that has not been tested on animals may still contain animal ingredients, rendering it non-vegan.

Companies like Origins and Urban Decay are cruelty-free, and carry both vegan and non-vegan products. The Urban Decay website has a page with vegan products, and if you visit an Origins store, their vegan products are labeled.

Completely vegan, cruelty-free companies include Moo ShoesMethod, Beauty Without Cruelty, Zuzu Luxe, and Crazy Rumors.

Companies v. Products

It is important to distinguish between whether a specific company tests on animals and whether a specific ingredient or product has ever been tested on animals. To expect that an ingredient has never been tested on animals is unrealistic, because centuries of animal experimentation mean that almost every substance, even those that are natural and generally considered safe, has been tested on animals at some point in history. Instead of focusing on whether an ingredient or product has ever been tested on animals, ask whether the company or the supplier currently conducts animal testing.

Where can You Buy Cruelty-Free Products?

Some vegan, cruelty-free products, like Method, can be purchased at Costco, Target or mainstream supermarkets.

PETA maintains a list of companies that do or do not test on animals, and their list of companies that don’t test on animals has a letter “V” next to the companies that are also vegan. You can also find vegan, cruelty-free products online at stores like Pangea, Vegan Essentials, or Food Fight. New companies, more enlightened than past counterparts, are cropping up everyday so if you are shopping online, do a search using the words "cruelty free, vegan, not-tested-on-animals or contains no animal products often so you don't miss out on new products. 

Doris Lin, Esq. is an animal rights attorney and Director of Legal Affairs for the Animal Protection League of NJ.