Is it possible? Is it too good to be true? Let's dive in.
There Are 2 Proven Ways To Bypass Animal Testing
So far, we know of 2 ways to sell cosmetics in China while remaining cruelty-free.
- 1. Selling online only. This includes popular Chinese online stores like Tmall or Taobao. I get questions all the time asking me to remove brands from my list because they sell on those websites, but this perfectly bypasses the animal testing laws and none of the products sold direct-to-consumer online are tested on animals.
- 2. Selling only in Hong Kong, Macau, or Taiwan. These territories are not part of mainland China and do not operate under the same laws. I can go in depth in an upcoming post as to why that's the case. Brands can have physical stores in Hong Kong with no animal testing whatsoever at any point.
Now, since the cosmetic market is still booming rapidly in mainland China, more companies are trying to enter this market.
And because it's becoming known across the world that China requires animal testing for cosmetics to be sold there, companies are trying to have the best of both worlds. They want to have their cake and eat it too.
The 2014 Update To Chinese Law
To achieve this, some brands are using the new rules added by the Chinese government in 2014.
This update stipulates that SOME products which are manufactured in China do not require pre-market animal testing in order to be sold in China.
These products are classified as non-special-use (or "ordinary") cosmetics and include products like perfume, skincare, and makeup. Special-use cosmetics include sun care and whitening products, both of which need to undergo animal testing no matter what.
Therefore, some brands are using this 2014 update to:
- Move manufacturing to China, thus cutting costs and increasing profit.
- Increase profits by selling in China, the world's biggest cosmetics market.
- Keep the business of cruelty-free shoppers like us.
You'll soon find out why this is all too good to be true.
A Real-Life Example: Nudestix
Nudestix was committed to being cruelty-free since their launch. In 2017, the founder of Nudestix reached out to me and told me that they had entered the Chinese market while succesfully bypassing the animal testing laws and remaining cruelty-free.
According to her, this was a very complex process that required time and effort -- and I don't doubt that. Using the 2014 update to the law, they were able to skip any required pre-market animal testing.
Is this possbile? Yes. As far as my research goes, it's possible to manufacture non-special-use cosmetics in mainland China, thus skipping the mandatory animal testing in concordance with the updated 2014 law. Is this process easy? Of course not. The brands have to set up production in China if they don't already have manufacturers there, and not all products fall under the non-special-use category of cosmetics. The founder of Nudestix informed me that they can't sell all their products in China for this reason, and some ingredients still require animal testing.
Unfortunately, there's a problem with this approach...
Post-Market Animal Testing
According to Chinese law, post-market animal testing can potentially be conducted on any products that are sold in China. This means that any cosmetic item can be pulled off the shelves and tested on animals if the Chinese authorities deem it necessary. It's part of the law.
After speaking with Chinese law experts, it became clear to me that it's not possible for any beauty brand to sell their products in China without putting their products at risk of post-market animal testing.
This is the exact reason why The Body Shop had pulled out of Chinese airport shops in 2014: selling in airports was bypassing the required pre-market animal testing, but they could still be subjected to post-market animal testing, thus jeopardizing their cruelty-free status.
While I have respect for companies who seek to bypass animal testing in China, this isn't something that can be fully achieved at the moment. As long as the animal testing laws don't change in China, no company that sells cosmetics in physical stores in mainland China can be considered "cruelty-free".
Can a brand be 90% cruelty-free? Of course not.
Although I've taken Nudestix off my cruelty-free list in 2017, I didn't want to address the reason why until I have the full picture. Now that I do, I wanted to answer all your questions in one post.
So while Nudestix shamelessly claim that they're vegan and cruelty-free on their website, you should know the full story.
Even though Nudestix does not test on animals, and has succesfully bypassed any required pre-market animal testing in China, this is not enough for a "cruelty-free" claim. Any brand that sells cosmetics in physical stores in mainland China can potentially have their products taken down the shelves and tested on animals. This is called post-market animal testing, and although it's not "required", it's possible and legal under Chinese law.
Therefore, no cosmetics company that sells in stores in mainland China will be on my cruelty-free list as long as the laws don't change in China. I consider these companies to be in the grey area: not officially cruelty-free, although they don't explicitly test on animals or fund animal testing.
I predict that this will become a trend, and more companies will silently enter the Chinese market while claiming to retain their cruelty-free status. However, if there's potential animal testing involved, it's unacceptable for brands to hold their cruelty-free claim.
I hope this answers your questions! Let me know what other topics you'd like addressed.
Image credit: White Bunny by Shipic via Shutterstock
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Thank you sooo much for your strong, no nonsense approach to the “Cruelty Free” label. You are either Cruelty free or you are not. There is no grey area when it comes to the pain and torment of animals, in the name of Beauty. Please keep up the great work you do!
Do you have a brand similar to Nudestix that is cruelty free that you would recommend? I love their colors but do not want to support them until they are 100% CF. Thanks!
Uggg! I’m writing this in 2020, & praying that this company has changed somehow! I thought I did my research. If Nudestix is still using this practice not only is that shameful, but I feel it’s fraud! Nudestix, as well as other company’s that are using this method should not be able to claim Cruelty Free status.
Thankyou so much for your hard work & honesty as always!
super informative! thank you!!
This is very helpful. shocking and sad. Thankyou for your thorough research, similarly ‘Burt’s bees’ is being said they are cruelty-free but it is sold online in china.
Thank you for this post! Very informative!
Hi Suzana. I reached out to nudestix with questions about post market animal testing and they provided me with a video stating that they only produce in areas that are exempt from pre market AND post market testing. I am having a hard time because they’re my favorite brand and they’re saying they are exempt from all types of testing and this article says that’s not possible. Can you please clear this up for me? I find it hard to believe that it’s legal for them to be blatantly lying about being exempt from post market testing.
They “produce” the products in areas exempt of animal testing, or they sell in areas exempt of pre-market and post-market animal testing? If, like you said, they produce their products in areas exempt from animal testing, then it doesn’t exclude the possibility of their products being tested on animals.
Hi! Thanks so much for getting back to me. It’s so hard getting to the bottom of these things. Here’s the link to the video and I transcribed the excerpt where they talk about this:
“We spent the last year and a half understanding how we can get around this. We ended up finding out that if we became a locally produced brand, and produce in specific provinces within china, then we are no longer mandated to have pre market animal testing. And if we incorporated our company as well as produced and distributed our products in provinces that are exempt from post market animal testing, then we didn’t have to do post market animal testing either”
After reading Nudestix’s reply on their Facebook I was wondering if you would consider putting them back on your cruelty free list. If not why? I have a bunch of Nudestix products and want to make sure they are in fact cruelty free.
Unfortunately not. As much as I would love to consider Nudestix to be a cruelty-free brand, I don’t think they are. If the risk of animal testing is there, the brand isn’t cruelty-free.
Thanks so much for this informative blog post! Dove, which PETA recently certified as cruelty free, sells in China and uses 2014 law to explain how they can sell in China and be cruelty free. But on their Facebook page, when asked about post-market testing:
“… post-market testing would only be required in the rare occurrence of a serious consumer safety concern. We have requested to the Chinese Authorities that they notify us if there were such a concern, so we can withdraw the product rather than it be subject to animal testing.”
So could that make a company cruelty free while still selling in China?
Disgusting glad to know really angry at them
So I believe this makes Korres and Kora are not cruelty-free as well?
Korres claim that they will only be selling online which would mean they’re still cruelty-free. I don’t know about Kora.
I believe other companies, including Burt’s Bees, have withdrawn from the Chinese market after setting up production operations there for the same reason!
I have the same standards for my list – absolutely NO marketing on the Chinese high street!
I looooooved your investigation so complete, i appreciate that you make these efforts to keep people well informed. From México, thaaaank you very much
Shame on them. Imagine being so greedy for money. Unbelievable.