The world of animal testing
While a number of organizations are working towards a future without animal testing, we're not quite there yet. Today, a range of species, but mostly rats, mice, guinea pigs, and rabbits, are still used in cosmetic animal tests.
According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), they are often made to swallow or inhale substances, or they have chemicals forced into their eyes and smeared on their skin.
Last year, the Humane Society International (HSI) released Save Ralph, an animated mockumentary about a rabbit used in cosmetic animal tests, starring Taika Waititi, Zac Efron, Olivia Munn, Rosario Dawson, and more. The film aimed to raise awareness about what actually happens to lab animals; Ralph is blind in one eye, deaf in one ear, and has sustained chemical burns.
Ralph is representative of ongoing suffering. PETA estimates that, across industries, more than 100 million animals are killed for testing in the US every year.
Why do skincare brands test on animals?
We are making progress towards a world without cosmetic animal testing. Several countries have passed laws against the practice, including India, Norway, Mexico, Israel, the EU, and Iceland. In the US, some states have laws against the sale of animal-tested cosmetics, like California, Maine, Maryland, and Nevada, for instance.
For most beauty brands, the catch is mainland China. The country is renowned for strict animal testing laws, although things have relaxed a little recently.
Until last year, only companies based in mainland China were allowed to bypass pre-market animal testing. This meant that all foreign brands had to allow animal tests to happen before they could sell in the country. But in May 2021, China changed its policy and allowed companies manufacturing outside of China to bypass pre-market animal testing.
But. (And it's a big but.) This only applies to "general" cosmetics, like skincare and haircare. Any products with sunscreen or hair dye, for example, still need to be tested. It's also not an outright ban, so it's not a guarantee that brands that sell in China won't have tested products on animals first.
China also used to mandate post-market testing (when products are taken from the shelves for further tests), but it remains unclear how common this practice is.
For these reasons, Cruelty-Free Kitty, as well as many other organizations like Cruelty Free International, does not deem companies that sell in mainland China to be cruelty-free yet.
Most of the brands on this list claim that they do not test on animals unless it is required by law. While many make it seem like they have no choice, in our view, these brands could opt not to sell their products in the Chinese market.
As seen with the alternative suggestions on this list, a number of skincare brands prove that it is possible to be successful, offer high-performance formulas, and remain truly cruelty-free.
Renowned for its use of skin-identical ceramides (lipids that support the skin barrier), CeraVe is popular among those with dry skin, as well as those who suffer from irritation. For that reason, it's often recommended by dermatologists.
However, while it claims to be cruelty-free, this drugstore brand is owned by the L’Oréal Group. The latter allows (and pays for) its products to be tested on animals when required by law.
Founded 70 years ago, US skincare brand Cetaphil is another favorite among dermatologists for its gentle cleansers, ideal for sensitive skin. But the brand is owned by the Swiss pharmaceutical company Galderma, which does allow for its products to be tested on animals. Again, when required by law.
Its policy states: "We are required by law to submit Cetaphil products for animal testing to import Cetaphil into the People’s Republic of China (i.e., Mainland China). This is no different than other similarly situated companies.”
Neutrogena has been around since 1930 and has since grown into a major beauty player, with products available in 70 countries.
The company claims to be "seeking alternatives to animal testing." But, as it sells products in mainland China and agrees to test when required by law, it is not a cruelty-free brand. Plus, Neutrogena is owned by Johnson & Johnson, which isn't a cruelty-free brand either.
One of Neutrogena's most popular products is its Hydro Boost Water Gel Moisturiser, but there are plenty of ultra-hydrating, cruelty-free alternatives on the market from brands like Summer Fridays, Biossance, and Ursa Major.
Another dermatologist favorite, Kiehl's started way back in the mid-1800s in Manhattan, New York. While skincare is still predominantly marketed at women, Kiehl's is known for being a hit with men, who make up nearly 40 percent of its customer base. But as the brand is also owned by L’Oréal, it's not cruelty-free.
One of the brand's biggest sellers is its Midnight Recovery Concentrate, a facial oil that helps to restore, repair, and replenish skin overnight. Cruelty-free alternatives include BYBI's Supercharge Serum.
Originally from South Africa, Olay is one of the biggest and most recognizable skincare brands in the world. But while its website states that it "does not test on animals" and that is working to "eliminate testing on animals," it continues to sell its products in markets where animal tests may be required by law.
It explains: "This is why we do not claim cruelty-free on our packaging. We do not believe these tests are necessary to evaluate safety or performance. But today, they won’t accept alternative non-animal testing methods."
Proctor & Gamble, Olay's parent company, is also not cruelty-free.
6. Bath & Body Works
Bath & Body Works is a one-stop shop for fun gift sets, soaps, body washes, lotions, and fragrances. However, because it sells products in mainland China, it is not considered cruelty-free.
But good news: Cruelty-free Lush sells a variety of unique skincare and body care products, as well as a range of gift options. Plus, as an added bonus, many of them are plastic-free too.
Founded back in the 1940s with a focus on natural ingredients, particularly oatmeal, many might assume that Aveeno is a cruelty-free brand. But unfortunately, that is not the case.
The brand states that it "doesn't conduct animal testing of our cosmetics products anywhere in the world." But after that, there's a catch. It adds: "except in the rare situation where governments or laws require it."
A number of cruelty-free brands also use oats in their products.
In many countries, "Vaseline" is synonymous with petroleum jelly, a semisolid blend of mineral oils and waxes that help to protect, repair, and moisturize skin.
But there are plenty of ethical alternatives that, unlike Vaseline, which is owned by non-cruelty-free Unilever and sold in mainland China, are guaranteed to be free of animal testing.
Glossier's After Baume, for example, works as a recovery cream for dry, sensitive skin. Many use Vaseline for dry lips, but Dr. PAWPAW's Original Balm can also soothe and protect lips, as well as cracked skin elsewhere on your body (like elbows and heels).
A household name, everyone knows Nivea. The Germany-based brand was founded way back in the late 1800s, and today its personal care products are available in more than 170 countries around the world.
But as the brand sells in mainland China, and therefore allows authorities to test its products on animals, it is not cruelty-free, and neither is its parent company, the German multinational Beiersdorf.
Nivea's best-sellers include its bakuchiol-infused face skincare products, as well as its body lotions for dry skin. But, as always, there are cruelty-free alternatives.
The Inkey List offers 1% Bakuchiol Moisturizer, for example. And when it comes to body lotions, there are plenty of ultra-hydrating options, including The Body Shop's Body Yogurts and Pai's Polly Plum Hydrating Body Moisturizer.
As already established throughout this list, L'Oréal is not a cruelty-free company.
Its official statement on the matter reads: "Today, L’Oréal no longer tests its ingredients on animals and no longer tolerates any exception to this rule. Certain health authorities may nevertheless decide to conduct animal tests themselves for certain cosmetic products, as is still the case in China."
If you're a fan of L'Oréal's products, but you're not a fan of animal testing, don't worry, there are plenty of top-quality, cruelty-free alternatives to choose from.
Facetheory's Regena-C Moisturiser, for example, is a contender for L'Oréal's Revitalift Hyaluronic Acid Serum. The former also contains hyaluronic acid, as well as retinol and vitamin C.
Clinique is known for its simple, clinical, dermatologist-approved formulas, many of which are sold at high-end prices. Like many of the brands on this list, it claims to be "committed to the elimination of animal testing," but, you guessed it: it allows (and pays for) testing to happen when required by law.
It's also owned by Estée Lauder Companies, another non-cruelty-free company.
12. Estée Lauder
As highlighted above, Estée Lauder is not cruelty-free. It claims it doesn't test on animals or ask others to do so on its behalf, but it also states that if tests are required by regulatory bodies, it can make an exception.
Estée Lauder's Advanced Night Repair range is one of its best-sellers when it comes to skincare. But there are tonnes of great cruelty-free nighttime alternatives on the market. Try Farmacy Beauty's 10% Niacinamide Night Cream, for example, or Tata Harper's Crème Riche Anti-Aging Night Cream.
Lancôme offers a lengthy explanation of its animal testing policy on its website. But the bottom line is that it tests on animals when required by law, and that means it cannot be considered cruelty-free. It's also owned by non-cruelty-free L'Oréal.
One of Lancôme's most popular products is its Advanced Genifique Serum, which, it claims, strengthens the skin barrier and improves radiance, smoothness, and firmness. But cult favorite The Ordinary offers plenty of cruelty-free skin-nourishing serums, as does Typology and Murad.
14. Clean & Clear
Originally developed by Revlon in the 1950s, Clean & Clear was sold to Johnson & Johnson (a non-cruelty-free company) in the 1990s.
But while a non-cruelty-free parent company doesn't always indicate that a brand tests on animals, in this case, Clean & Clear is not cruelty-free either. Again, this comes down to the fact that it allows products to be tested when required by law.
Clean & Clear is predominantly associated with spots, acne, and blackhead-clearing products. But (spoiler alert), cruelty-free products can help to clear up these skin concerns too.
15. Elizabeth Arden
Elizabeth Arden began as a small salon in New York in the early 1900s. Now, in 2022, it's a household name, sold in more than 90 countries, and owned by Revlon. Like its parent company, Elizabeth Arden is not considered cruelty-free, due to the fact it sells in countries that legally mandate animal tests.
It maintains that its "ultimate goal is to eliminate the necessity for animal testing globally," but as of right now, it is not cruelty-free.
European beauty giant Clarins was originally founded in Paris in the 1950s, but now, it's one of the most well-known skincare brands in the world. As it sells in mainland China and complies with the country's animal testing mandate, it is not considered cruelty-free.
The brand is known for its eye products, including its Double Serum Eye and Total Eye Lift. But there are plenty of cruelty-free contenders. Consider Kate Somerville's +Retinol Firming Eye Cream, for example, or Versed's Vacation Eyes Brightening Eye Gel.
Science-led US-based brand SkinCeuticals is owned by L'Oréal, a company that tests on animals, and allows regulatory authorities to test on its products when "required for safety or regulatory purposes." So, needless to say, it is not considered a cruelty-free company.
But good news: with its science-led approach and various serums, acids, and oils, The Ordinary is a great cruelty-free (and more affordable) alternative to SkinCeuticals.
Guerlain is one of the oldest beauty companies in the world, specializing in perfume, cosmetics, and skincare. It started in the 1820s in Paris, and to this day, its products are manufactured in France. But Guerlain is not considered cruelty-free, because it allows authorities to test its products in China.
The company admits on its website: "The NGO PETA has placed Guerlain on its list of Companies That Do Test on Animals due to the marketing of our products in China." It also notes that there is "strong engagement and mobilization" of cosmetic companies to work with the authorities to change the rules in China.
Guerlain's skincare best-sellers include its Abeille Royale Intense Repair Youth Oil-In-Balm. For a cruelty-free alternative, consider Paula's Choice Resist Intensive Repair Cream.
19. La Roche-Posay
La Roche-Posay is another dermatologist's favorite due to its gentle, mild formulas, which work well for people with dry or irritated skin. But as the company is owned by L'Oréal and allows products to be tested by authorities if "required for safety or regulatory purposes," it is not considered cruelty-free.
Cruelty-free brands that offer formulas for sensitive skin include Earth Science, Booda Organics, and Derma E.
Shaving and skincare go hand in hand. That's why Gillette offers plenty of skincare products alongside its best-selling razors and blades. But, owned by Procter & Gamble, the shaving giant is not cruelty-free.
It has not posted publicly about its policy, but as we note on our database, it "may test on animals" either by itself, through suppliers, or through a third party.
PETA also lists Gillette as a company that tests on animals.
Japanese beauty giant Shiseido has been around for 150 years and is known in particular for its high-performance anti-aging formulas.
Its official animal testing policy reads: “Shiseido does not test its cosmetic products or ingredients on animals except when absolutely mandated by law, or where there are absolutely no alternative methods for guaranteeing product safety." So, in short, it's not cruelty-free.
But, of course, the cruelty-free beauty market offers many products that claim to smooth wrinkles and boost collagen.
Versed offers products like its Gentle Retinol Body Lotion and its Doctor's Visit Instant Resurfacing Mask.
Multinational Avon was founded by a door-to-door salesman back in the 1880s. While it's now one of the biggest beauty companies in the world, it has kept that ethos. It still relies on door-to-door sales and brochures to sell products.
Avon has partnered with several organizations, including PETA and HSI, to work towards ending animal testing. However, it is not yet confirmed cruelty-free and continues to sell products in China.
Avon offers a wide variety of skin and body care products, from night creams to fruity shower gels. For cruelty-free alternatives, try Alba Botanica, The Body Shop, Herbivore Botanicals, or Kosas, for example.
23. Bobbi Brown
Bobbi Brown is one of the most well-known faces in the beauty industry. The professional makeup artist founded her eponymous cosmetics and skincare line in the 1990s. And, although she is no longer associated with the brand, it has kept her name.
Bobbi Brown is not considered cruelty-free. It is now owned by Estée Lauder and allows animal testing to occur when required by law.
That said, Brown's second beauty line, Jones Road Beauty, was founded in 2016, and this one is cruelty-free. It offers a handful of skincare products.
These include the Hippie Stick, a moisturizing balm for use on your face, body, and even hair.
Another Parisian skincare brand, RoC's main focus is anti-aging formulas. Actor Sarah Jessica Parker is one of its ambassadors.
Owned by Johnson & Johnson and with no clear animal testing policy (other than one sentence on its website), RoC is not considered cruelty-free.
One of RoC's biggest sellers is its retinol. In fact, the brand claims it was the first to discover a way to stabilize the retinoid, which is made from vitamin A.
Similar to Clean & Clear, Clearasil is known for its acne-fighting products. But just like the former, this brand isn't considered cruelty-free either. It's also owned by Reckitt Benckiser, which tests on animals.
26. Mary Kay
Founded by entrepreneur Mary Kay Ash in the 1960s, Mary Kay is a multi-level marketing giant specializing in beauty products. It is not cruelty-free.
Its animal testing policy reads: "Mary Kay does not conduct animal testing on our products or ingredients. Nevertheless, there are still some governments that conduct animal testing before they will allow certain products to be sold in their country."
27. Tom Ford Beauty
Fashion designer Tom Ford first launched a luxury beauty line back in 2006, and now it offers everything from fragrances to mists, moisturizers, and primers. Owned by Estée Lauder, Tom Ford Beauty is not considered cruelty-free. This is because it allows its products to be tested on animals in countries where it is required by law.
Luxury French beauty brand L'Occitane prides itself on its use of organic and natural formulas, which, it claims, are inspired by the south of France. The brand's emphasis on "nature" and "sustainability" might make you assume it's cruelty-free, but it isn't.
Its animal testing policy reads: "L'Occitane is fundamentally committed to the abolition of animal testing of beauty products worldwide. In China, where our products are retailed, the local Chinese authorities request testing on some cosmetic products sold on the Chinese market, as they view it as the best way to safeguard their consumers’ safety."
29. La Mer
Beauty editor favorite La Mer is known for its high-performance luxury formulas, sold at high-end prices. It had a unique start after a doctor called Max Huber allegedly suffered burns in a lab accident, and created a healing cream to help soothe his skin.
One of its most hyped products, an antioxidant-packed, deeply moisturizing formula called Crème de la Mer, sits at around $200.
But, owned by Estée Lauder, La Mer is not cruelty-free. Its animal testing policy notes that while it does not test on animals, "an exception can be made" for regulatory bodies.
Japanese brand Bioré is owned by the Kao Corporation, a Tokyo-based chemicals and cosmetics company. The brand is known for its pore- and acne-fighting formulas, like its face masks, cleansers, and nose strips.
Bioré is not considered cruelty-free. While its animal testing policy notes that its products are not tested on animals in "Western markets," it does not mention mainland China, where its products are also sold.
Cruelty-free brands offering similar products to Bioré include Peace Out, Starface, Zitsticka, Pacifica, and Garnier.
While many of the biggest skincare brands in the world continue to allow the threat of animal testing to loom over them, plenty of companies have eliminated that risk, and have chosen not to sell in countries where animal testing can sometimes be required by law.
For every popular mainstream skincare product or brand, there is an equally effective, ethical, cruelty-free alternative.
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