“Not tested on animals.” You might have read it on a label. You might have been told by a company that they “don’t test on animals”. You might even have purchased their products as a result, only to find out that you supported a company that was never truly cruelty-free.

In the business world, profits matter over ethics, and if a half-truth can help sell more products, brands aren’t going to think twice about it.

When you read a label that says it’s “not tested on animals”, 9 times out of 10 it’s nothing more than a marketing scheme. It’s written there because they want you to buy it. Companies know that more and more of us demand cruelty-free products every day, which is great! But it also means that we have to be increasingly careful and discerning about those claims.

Let’s also not forget that animal testing claims are not regulated by the FDA, which means that companies are free to declare anything on their labels without breaking any laws.

If you’re a beginner when it comes to animal testing, here’s what you need to know. There are different ways for a company to be involved in animal testing:

1. The Finished Products

A finished product is the final product that’s being sold on the shelf. Finished products used to frequently be tested on animals, but it’s rare for this to happen today.

Some companies have the label “Finished product not tested on animals”, which does not mean they’re cruelty-free. Other companies that don’t test finished products will simply use the label “not tested on animals”, which is even less accurate.

2. The Ingredients

Finished products contain a multitude of ingredients, some of which might have been tested on animals. If the ingredients are already considered safe, they won’t be tested on animals. However, if it’s a new ingredient, companies might want to test on animals to prove that this new ingredient is safe.

3. The Suppliers

Cosmetics companies get their ingredients (or raw materials) from one or more suppliers. Some suppliers might test on animals. If and only if a company ensures that none of their suppliers test on animals, can the company itself be cruelty-free.

4. Third Parties

Many companies claim not to test on animals, yet fail here. China is the fastest-growing cosmetics market in the world, which makes it very attractive for western companies.

Unfortunately China requires finished cosmetics products to be tested on animals for any foreign company that wishes to enter that market (read more about it here). This means that any company that chooses to sell their products in mainland China is financing animal testing there.

5. The Parent Company

While a company itself can remain cruelty-free after being acquired by a big brand that tests on animals, it’s important to emphasize that part of the profits will go to the parent company and indirectly finance further animal testing.

Most companies will look at one aspect of animal testing and use it as proof that they’re cruelty-free, while ignoring the fact that their suppliers might test on animals, or that they test on animals where required by law (in China).

This is unacceptable, and frankly it’s deceptive on purpose. We need to stand up against these marketing tactics and not let companies get away with it. Never trust the “not tested on animals” claim, and always look for further proof by researching their policy online or by asking them the right questions via e-mail. Only when a company fulfills every single criteria above can you trust that it truly “doesn’t test on animals”.

Thanks for reading!

From The Cruelty-Free 101 Series:

  • Hi Stephanie! Tokyomilk is in that price range and they’re supposedly cruelty-free, although they dropped their application to the Leaping Bunny. I’m working on a perfume post though!

    • Why was the application dropped? That sounds a bit funky.

      • They just didn’t follow through and nobody knows why. : | I wrote a post about this a long time ago, so it’s definitely time for an update! I’ll do my best.

        • Fair enough. I’ok have to check that post out soon, and I look forward to the perfume post soon. I might check out Lush on Saturday to test some of their perfumes, because I’m on the hunt for a vanilla/warm spice type of scent.

          • Lexi Alexandra

            Omg you’ll probably love Pacifica’s island vanilla scent then!

          • I’m looking into that one but getting a rollerball scent for close to $20 is a bit steep in my books. I’m hoping to visit one of their stockists in the city so I can see what they’re like. Another scent that I’m also interested in are orchids. I love me some orchids.

          • Lexi Alexandra

            Have you found anything yet? 🙂

  • Yesss, such a good point! Food labels are not any better!

  • Helen

    I’ve been trying to purchase only cruelty free products and always check these lists for my information. I have bought cosmetics from Illamasqua in the past. I recently noticed that they now ship products to China and this has really concerned me that they are no longer cruelty free. Could anybody explain how they can be doing this and still be cruelty free or has their policy definitely changed?

    • Hi Helen! Fortunately companies can sell their products online to China without being subject to the mandatory animal testing laws. This is one way to bypass those regulations. I verified that Illamasqua doesn’t have any distributors or stores located in China.

      • Helen

        Thanks very much for the reply and the information Suzi 🙂

  • Damn those little loopholes >:-(

  • moxiereviews

    So sad, and so true!! Thank you for the post!! xo

  • Maggie

    If you don’t mind exploring the small-business/indie perfume range, Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab is cruelty-free, and aside from their honey-based scents, vegan as well. Their perfumes are in oil form, which is a nice option if you have a hard time tolerating the alcohol and fixatives in commercial perfumes. There’s also Sweet Anthem, which is currently on hiatus due to the owner’s maternity leave, and Arcana.

  • Yep, Benefit tests on animals where required by law, which means they’re not cruelty-free. Even if they don’t perform the tests themselves, they pay others to perform these tests for them in order to sell in China.

  • Shayna

    Nothing made me angrier than to learn that the Body Shop, who sucked us all in by their big “Against Animal Testing” campaign was owned by L’Oreal. Gosh, I remember every girl in high school wore their damn t-shits, I refuse to shop there now.

  • Lisa

    Do you count the use of animal ingredients in making something not cruelty free?

  • houda

    Hi Cruelty Free Kitty, I have made a new decision to stop using anything that tests on animals or support parent companies that do. I have also become a vegetarian and moving on to become a vegan….one step at a time. This a huge step in my life but very well worth it. I use AG hair products. They are on PETA but just found out they do sell in Taiwan. Does Taiwan have the same laws as China does about testing on animals? Thanks for any info you can provide. Houda

    • Hey Houda, congrats on making the switch! To answer your question, no, Taiwan doesn’t have the same animal testing laws. 🙂

      • Houda

        Thank you!