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The Important Difference Between Cruelty-Free And Vegan

by Suzana Rose

Apr 7, 2020

If you're starting your cruelty-free journey, you're probably hearing the terms "cruelty-free" and "vegan" thrown around, and you're wondering: What do these words really mean? Are they the exact same thing?

Spread the word.

First of all, "cruelty-free" and "vegan" are not synonyms. There's a big distinction between the two, and here's why.

What We Mean By Cruelty-Free

Although "cruelty-free" has no legal definition according to the FDA, it's nonetheless an English word and we can find it in the dictionnary.

Cruelty-free: (of cosmetics or other commercial products) manufactured or developed by methods that do not involve experimentation on animals.

Oxford Dictionnary

When we use the term "cruelty-free", we mean that the product wasn't tested on animals. It's important to note that although "cruelty-free" is often used about individual products, it's the brand itself that needs to fulfill the cruelty-free criteria in order for all their products to be considered cruelty-free.

Meaning, a product can't be cruelty-free unless the brand who makes it is cruelty-free.

What We Mean By Vegan

The term "vegan" is often used as a noun and is defined as "a person who does not eat or use animal products." In the context of beauty products, we're looking at its second definition as an adjective:

Vegan: using or containing no animal products.

Oxford Dictionnary

If a product is vegan, this means it contains no animal-derived ingredients, which are commonly found in cosmetics and personal care. Some examples include carmine (a red pigment made of crushed bugs), bee-derived ingredients such as honey or beeswax, lanolin, and also some forms of glycerin, hyaluronic acid, or retinol.

An individual product can be labeled as vegan, even though the brand doesn't exclusively offer vegan products. Some brands only develop products which are vegan, and we refer to these brands as "100% vegan".

Cruelty-Free vs. Vegan

Now you know that products can be:

  • Both cruelty-free and vegan: Not tested on animals and don't contain animal-derived ingredients
  • Cruelty-free but not vegan: Not tested on animals, but contain animal-derived ingredients.
  • Vegan but not cruelty-free: Don't contain animal-derived ingredients, however they're tested on animals.

You might be surprised that although these two terms are so heavily linked, we often find examples of products that are one, but not the other.

Not all cruelty-free brands (brands that don't test on animals) make vegan products (products which don't contain animal-derived ingredients).

Some products can be vegan (contain no animal-derived ingredients) while they're not cruelty-free (the brand tests on animals).

At Cruelty-Free Kitty, we focus on exposing brands that test on animals and supporting all cruelty-free brands. We only feature cruelty-free products, though not all are vegan.

If you're a vegan reader and are looking for vegan options, you can go to our list of cruelty-free brands and select "100% vegan" from the filter. This will narrow the list to only brands that are both cruelty-free and 100% vegan, meaning none of their products contain animal-derived ingredients.

I hope this helped clear up any confusion you might have.

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