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Cruelty-Free 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Cruelty-Free Beauty

by Suzana Rose

Aug 19, 2023

Thank you for clicking the "Cruelty-Free 101" page! This means that you have an interest in going cruelty-free, or perhaps you've already made a positive change with your beauty and household products. I'm here to answer all your questions about animal testing, so you can go cruelty-free the simple way.

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My name is Suzana and as the founder of Cruelty-Free Kitty, I've been researching and promoting cruelty-free beauty since 2014. With over a decade of experience in the world of ethical consumerism, I've been keeping track of all the latest updates, laws, and regulations as we've built the go-to resource for going cruelty-free. You can learn more about my cruelty-free journey here.

Here's everything you need to know before going cruelty-free.

Table of Contents

  • How Cosmetics Are Tested on Animals in 2023
  • What “Cruelty-Free” Means
  • Shopping Truly "Cruelty-Free"
  • Why "Cruelty-Free" and "Vegan" Are Different
  • How Some Brands Mislead You
  • Animal Testing in China: 2023 Update
  • What Are Parent Companies?
  • The Truth About Animal Testing Bans

How Cosmetics Are Tested on Animals in 2023

Animal testing for cosmetics still occurs around the world. Most often, the tests are performed on bunnies, but rats, mice, and guinea pigs are also commonly tested on. These are some of the horrific experiments performed on them:

  • Bunnies are restrained while chemicals are dripped into their eyes, unprotected, often causing redness, ulcers, bleeding, and blindness. At the end they are killed. (Draize Test)
  • Rats and mice are force-fed increasing doses of chemicals until many of them convulse, suffer seizures, or die. The survivors are then killed and dissected. (Acute Toxicity Testing)
  • Chemicals are rubbed onto shaved skin of rabbits to see if they cause damage. The rabbits are given no pain relief while they suffer from swelling and inflammation. (Skin Irritation Test)
  • Mice have pipes forced down their throats as chemicals are pumped into their stomachs for weeks, causing illness and internal damage. (Force-Feeding Tests)
  • Rats are forced to swallow chemicals until a lethal dose is found that causes organ failure and death. No pain relief is given. (Lethal Dose Tests)

At the end of the tests, animals are brutally killed by asphyxiation, neck-breaking or decapitation without anesthesia.

You can see what these tests involve for yourself here, but please note this image is very graphic.

It's astonishing that in our modern times, these tests are still being routinely performed on animals. There are now several alternatives to animal testing that are more accurate, so there's absolutely no reason for us as a society to keep torturing animals for our beauty and household products.

What "Cruelty-Free" Means

If a product is cruelty-free, it means that it's not tested on animals. However, beware that animal testing can occur at several levels:

  • The brand itself can perform animal testing
  • The brand's suppliers could also test on animals
  • A third-party may have tested on animals on the brand's behalf (for example in a country that requires it by law)

In addition to this, animal testing can happen when:

  • The finished product is be tested on animals
  • The ingredients may have been tested on animals

In order for a product to truly be cruelty-free, we need to make sure that no animal testing happened at any level, anywhere in the world.

Shopping Truly "Cruelty-Free"

Unfortunately, we can't always rely on "cruelty-free" claims. This is because the term "cruelty-free" is not regulated by the FDA, meaning any company can legally claim to be cruelty-free, even if they're not.

"Some cosmetic companies promote their products with "cruelty-free claims". The unrestricted use of these phrases by cosmetic companies is possible because there are no legal definitions for these terms."


For example, some companies will claim to be cruelty-free if their finished products aren't tested on animals, even though their ingredients are tested on animals. Others claim to be cruelty-free if the brand itself doesn't test on animals, even though their products are tested on animal by third parties.

This is why it's important to ensure the following in order to shop truly cruelty-free:

  • The brand itself doesn't test finished products or ingredients on animals
  • The brand's suppliers don't test finished products or ingredients on animals
  • No third parties test the finished products or ingredients on animals
  • The brand doesn't test on animals where required by law

Click here to find out more about our cruelty-free standard and the questions we ask brands to verify their cruelty-free status.

Why "Cruelty-Free" and "Vegan" Are Different

These two terms have different meanings and can not be used interchangeably! Some products are cruelty-free and not vegan, and just the same, some products can be vegan and not cruelty-free.

Cruelty-free: Not tested on animals.

Vegan: Does not contain animal-derived ingredients.

Cosmetics sometimes contain animal-derived ingredients. For example, carmine is a popular red pigment used in blushes and eyeshadow, made from crushed beetles. Beeswax is another popular ingredient used in skincare products and lip balms among others. See my list of cruelty-free and vegan lip balms here if you're looking for beeswax-free options.

All the brands in our cruelty-free database are cruelty-free, but not all of them are 100% vegan (though most offer a selection of vegan products). You can find brands that are cruelty-free and 100% vegan here.

How Some Brands Mislead You

Brands sometimes mislead their customers, which is the case with brands like L'Oreal and MAC. The most common way this happens is when a brand is available in China, which has mandatory animal testing laws. Because foreign governments are the ones performing these mandatory animal tests, the brands claim no responsibility.

Let's be clear: when animal testing happens, brands are not just allowing it - they're actively paying for these cruel experiments themselves. It doesn't matter if the tests are conducted by a third party or where in the world they take place. Any brand that finances animal testing is not cruelty-free in my book, period.

If a brand claims to be "cruelty-free" while also testing on animals "where required by law", the claim is false and misleading, and the brand is not truly cruelty-free. For a full list of brands that test on animals, visit this page.

Animal Testing in China: 2023 Update

In China, animal testing is still required by law in 2023 for most cosmetics. However, in some rare cases, beauty brands are able to sell their products in China without testing them on animals first. Several brands have been added to our cruelty-free list in 2023, including Herbal Essences, Dove, and First Aid Beauty. Click here to read more about the latest update.

In the vast majority of cases, companies who choose to sell in China are not cruelty-free. The only way to bypass animal testing is to sell products online-only. This is what several companies including Fenty Beauty and Huda Beauty decided to do in order to remain cruelty-free.

These animal testing laws only apply to mainland China, which does not include Hong Kong. This means that brands are able to sell their products in stores in Hong Kong while being cruelty-free.

IMPORTANT NOTE: These laws only apply to products sold in China, not made in China. I want to stress that many brands manufacture their products in China while being 100% cruelty-free, for example e.l.f. which is not only cruelty-free but also vegan.

What Are Parent Companies?

Some cruelty-free brands are owned by parent companies that are not cruelty-free. In our brand database, we mark such brands with their parent company. You can also refine the brand list to completely remove all brands owned by a parent company that tests on animals.

Some brands owned by parent companies that test on animals include:

  • NYX, owned by L'Oreal
  • Tarte, owned by Kose
  • CoverGirl, owned by Coty
  • Drunk Elephant, owned by Shiseido
  • Hourglass, owned by Unilever
  • Ole Henriksen, owned by LVMH

It's up to you whether or not you will support these brands. Some cruelty-free shoppers support them to show the parent company there's demand for cruelty-free beauty. In contrast, others avoid them since they would prefer not to support a company that tests on animals indirectly.

For a full list of cruelty-free brands owned by a parent company that tests on animals, please visit this page.

The Truth About Animal Testing Bans

Several countries as well as several U.S. states have banned animal testing for cosmetics. We're thrilled about these bans, and they indicate a clear interest for a cruelty-free world.

However, you need to stay aware that just because animal testing was banned in a country, does not mean that all beauty and household products there are cruelty-free.

This is counter-intuitive and saddening, but it's true.

If the animal testing happened outside of the country which banned it, it's exempt from the law. Since much of the animal testing in the beauty industry happens in mainland China, many brands are able to sell their products in counties and states which have banned the practice.

Before You Go

If you've made it this far, thank you. The world needs more conscious consumers like you. The next step is to switch over to cruelty-free products if you haven't already. Head over to my article on how to use Cruelty-Free Kitty to get the most out of it and make a permanent change in your shopping habits.

Which Brands Are Cruelty-Free?

Download our list of 600+ verified cruelty-free brands straight to your device. Bring it with you everywhere you go, and never worry about supporting animal testing again. Click here to download

+ Show Comments (17) - Hide Comments (17)
  • Lucia kontopirakis says:

    Hi I’m trying to determine if the perfume zadig & voltaire is cruelty free & vegan. Some searches indicate they are but they are not on your list. We live in South Africa. Cruelty free is unheard of – nobody cares. I’m trying my best to buy only CF and have managed well in all areas except for fragrances – I want a beautiful fragrance . Please help

  • AMY WILSON says:

    Can you please confirm with me that Bath and Body Works is NOT cruelty free. When I contact them, they claim to be cruelty free.
    Thank you for your time

  • Jazz says:

    Made it this far and I’m ready to start making the right choices for my household and daily living. Thank you for your time and effort of countless hours of research so that is consumers can be appropriately educated. Very happy to be part of this community and supporting the ethical brands.

  • Yolanda Barker says:

    Can you check brands for me and tell me if they’re cruelty free or not? Is Curl Mix and Donna’s Recipe cruelty free?

  • Morgan says:

    Do you plan on releasing a lower level of subscription box? Some people can’t afford $35-$39 a month on products, but still want to support cruelty free. Why not offer a subscription service at half that cost with smaller sample sizes?
    Being passionate about kindness shouldn’t be exclusive.

    • Suzana Rose says:

      Hi Morgan, thank you for your feedback! We’re working on making it easy to skip a month, so you can only receive the boxes you want and skip anything extra.

  • Tonya says:

    I’m looking at a company called “Brazilian Bare” when Google they list cruelty free. But they are not on your list.

  • Natalie Dyer says:

    Thank you for the research you do and helping educate us on this. You are my go too if and when I am going to try a new product. I also direct others to your site, so they know what they are supporting. Again, thanks for all the info.

  • Arlene Stone says:

    You are doing an amazing job!!! Thank you thank you. I am such an animal lover I get choked up when I hear of the way animals are treated. With this list I should never have to buy from anyone that uses animals for testing. One question. Do any companies use animals to test electrical equipment? I am looking at the Elchim hair dryer from Italy. Do you know if they use animals to test anything and if they do I would be looking for one that does not. Thank you.
    Arlene Stone

    • Suzana Rose says:

      Hi Arlene, thank you for your kind words! I’m not familiar with any animal testing required for electrical tools, however be careful if these same brands also sell hair products or cosmetics of any kind.

  • Bobbie Day says:

    I purchased the Drmtlgy brand because they insisted they were cruelty free but when I asked for proof they gave me a explanation that all their products are screened and they are required to provide documentation.
    But seems sketchy, they’re not on any of your lists.
    Can you help?

  • Monica says:

    Dear Suzana,
    Thank you for all that you do!!!!Keep up the fantastic work.

    I am ashamed to tell you that 99.9% of my cosmetics and household purchases are on the cruel list. Shame on me.
    Your website is amazing and have made it easy for me to choose CF products going forward.

    Thank you for being there to help our furry loved ones that we need in our lives, not in a lab.
    Monica S

  • d norton says:

    Thank you for what you do. I’m curious about replacing some products that I did not realize have parent Companies that test on animals. Is there a resource that gives alternatives for products ? For instance, Olays’ product Reginerist?

  • Cherie says:

    Hi Suzana. I am a vegan since 2007 and I applaud your work. I have been following you for years. Thank you for what you are doing. There is a huge difference between cruelty-free and vegan on labels. I also cannot stand disingenuous advertising to try to fool us. Animal testing is unnecessary and cruel. I have a blog too and wanted to write a post about you and your incredibly helpful site. Please email me if you are interested. Best, Cherie

  • Barbara Montano says:

    Thank you so much for your “pain staking “ work
    In behalf of precious animals and those of us who love them!I can’t tell you how frustrating it has been to purchase products claiming they are cruelty free only to find out ,not so!Never again,thanks to you and your company.wishing you all the best.from a very loyal supporter Cruelty Free ???? ????????

  • Jacqui ward says:

    Thank you, greatly appreciated,
    This makes it so much easier to go cruelty free shopping.
    Thank you
    Stay safe ????????

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