In this post, I’m taking a look at a “trend” that’s been happening lately, and that I predict will start growing: companies looking to sell in China while keeping their cruelty-free status intact.

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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Suzana Rose
By Suzana Rose|
Suzana is the founder of Cruelty-Free Kitty. She believes in ethical businesses and wants to see a global ban on animal testing. She loves cats, debunking myths, and shoegaze music.