With so many beauty products claiming to be natural and good-for-you while also plastered with legitimate-looking symbols, it can be super tricky to know what each of those certifications really means. A particularly confusing differentiation is between cruelty free and vegan beauty. Those terms tend to be used interchangeably—but they actually mean very different things.
What’s the difference?
Cruelty-free suggests that the final product and all of its ingredients were not tested on animals. It refers to the testing methods, not the ingredients themselves, meaning it is possible for a cruelty-free product to include non-vegan ingredients, like beeswax or collagen.
Vegan, on the other hand, implies that the product does not contain any animal-derived ingredients such as honey, lanolin, carmine and many others. Instead vegan beauty products are usually made from plants, minerals and synthetic ingredients.
Cruelty free AND vegan?
Yes, this is definitely possible and many brands cater to this specifically, including Elate Clean Cosmetics, Meow Meow Tweet and 100% Pure. This means that no animal testing was used, AND the products do not contain any animal by-products.
Cruelty free but NOT vegan?
There are also lots of products in this category. This means the product does not use animal testing but contains non-vegan ingredients. A common case would be beauty products that are not tested on animals but that include beeswax, which is often found in lip balms, mascara, and moisturizers.
Vegan but NOT cruelty free?
This one is a bit trickier but yes, sometimes a product can be vegan but not cruelty-free. These are often called “accidentally” vegan products, which means they happen to not contain any animal-derived ingredients but do not claim to be cruelty free. Although most certified vegan products are cruelty-free, you should always look for the official cruelty-free accreditation.
A few things to keep in mind –
Companies could use unethical means to claim pretty much anything they want to on the packaging of their products—for example, they might commission animal testing to a third party, allowing them to use twisted truths through “unofficial” symbols and labels on their packaging. I recommend looking for certifications by known and trusted organizations such as the Leaping Bunny Certification Program, PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies, and Choose Cruelty Free.
It’s also important to remember that cruelty-free and vegan do not necessarily mean that a product is clean or all natural. You always need to read the ingredient list carefully to feel confident that you’re not applying harmful chemicals to your skin.
I know it can seem super intimidating, but don’t feel like you need to have it all figured out right away. There’s no need to switch out all of your products at once—instead, start by familiarizing yourself with respected certification labels and learning how to read ingredient lists. Do what feel right for you and your personal beliefs!
Eve is a photographer and writer from Toronto, Canada with a passion for natural beauty and healthy eating. She loves green products, yoga, big salads and even bigger cups of tea.