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Vegan Skincare vs Cruelty Free Skincare. Tomato, Tomatoe… right? Wrong.The terms “Vegan” and “Cruelty Free” are often used interchangeably even though their meanings differ. They are not mutually exclusive but the heart of each principle is to protect against the exploitation and harm of animals, big and small. Unfortunately, with the lack of regulations or legal terms and policy loopholes, companies can freely make generic claims and use convincing logos, leaving it all open to interpretation. It is left to consumers to figure out if a product actually aligns with their values and is truly animal-friendly and responsible. We are here to help you understand the difference between the terms, know what to look for when reading beauty labels and why all of this matters.

Quick Comparison of Terms

Vegan Skincare: Product does not contain any animal or animal by-product, including the production process. Purely plant-based.

Cruelty Free Skincare: Product and its ingredients are not tested on animals, during any stage of the product development.

Important to Know: Just because a product is vegan does not mean it is cruelty-free and vise versa.

Vegan Skincare vs Cruelty Free Skincare: Why Does Knowing the Difference Matter?

Understanding the terms and why each is important when it comes to skincare, the environment and the kindness to animals might help you decide what products are right for you. Looking at what products you use, or don’t use, can make an overall impact on animal consumption and our environment.

Did you Know? A red dye derived from a crushed beetle/bug is used for lipstick colour?

Vegan Skincare

Vegan refers to the actual beauty products and how they are made. There are no animal or animal by-product used in producing their formula.

Disturbingly, animal-derived ingredients and by-products like crushed up bugs, fat from slaughtered animals, and ground-up horns and claws, are still commonly used and found in our everyday beauty products. – Ethical Elephant

There are ingredients such as keratin, collagen, lanolin, honey and bees wax that are considered animal-derived that can be found in a large amount of skincare. If people are looking for strictly vegan, they may want to stay away from these products.

Did you Know? Gelatin, the protein you get when boiling bones, skin and tendons, is often used in face masks, shampoos and other beauty products.

Some gross animal-derived ingredients actually lurking in your beauty products:

  • Squalene (shark liver oil) – Skincare, Hair products
    • Note: if you are looking for vegan squalene – look for squalene derived from olives
  • Placenta (Sheep organs) – Skin & hair conditioning
  • Snail secretions – Antiaging creams
  • Chicken bone marrow – Moisturizers
  • Carmine (crushed up cochineal beetles) – Red dye found in cosmetics, such as Lipstick
  • Ambergris (whale vomit) – Perfumes
  • Bull semen – Makes hair shiny

What is considered Vegan Skincare?

According to, vegan skincare (products considered vegan):

“Must not contain meat, fish, fowl, animal by-products, eggs or egg products, milk or milk products, honey or honey bee products, insects or products from insects such as silk or dyes, or sugar filtered with bone char or be processed with any animal products or by-products.”

“Must not have involved animal testing of ingredients or finished products by the supplier, producer, manufacturer, or independent party for any type of research whatsoever to include environmental safety, feed or nutrition trials, toxicity testing, or animal tests or trials “as required by law” to include third-party testing and may not be tested in the future.”

Cruelty Free Skincare

Cruelty free means the products were not tested on animals. Unfortunately, there are no regulations in North America for using the term “cruelty free” and still normal practice for many companies. When choosing to develop new beauty products, companies have the choice on what type of tests to conduct for public safety.

In the U.S., no law requires that people test these types of products on animals, but some greedy corporations continue to pay for tests in which animals are tormented and killed. Why? Usually, it’s so that they can sell their products in China, where animal testing for many products is required by law. – PETA

Choosing to test on animals is cruel, unnecessary and not required by law. There is an exhaustive list of ingredients deemed safe that do not require any further testing, available for companies to use when creating innovative formulations.

A few invasive testing that have been conducted on animals:

  • Rubbing chemicals on shaved skin or dropping into eyes as restrained, without pain relief
  • Repeated force feeding over a long period of time
  • Mutagenicity
  • Forcing swallow of “lethal doses” of chemicals to determine dose that causes death

According to Humane Society, “at the end of some tests, the animals are killed, normally by asphyxiation, neck-breaking or decapitation. Pain relief is not provided. In the United States, a large percentage of the animals used in such testing (such as laboratory-bred rats and mice) are not counted in official statistics and receive no protection under the Animal Welfare Act.”

Did you know? California was the first US State to ban the sale of cosmetics that have been tested on animals in January 2020.

Alternatives to Testing on Animals

In the past, it was believed products were to be tested on animals to know if products were safe to be used by humans. This is not only cruel, it is an outdated practice, more expensive and less effective than what new advances now offer. Today, according to Leaping Bunny, there are reliable alternatives to using animals, like sophisticated computer and mathematical models, testing human tissue and cell cultures and even recruiting human volunteers.

Neither the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission require animal testing for cosmetics or household products. There is sufficient existing safety data as well as in vitro alternatives to render animal testing for these products obsolete. While it is true that virtually every ingredient, even water, has been tested on animals in the past, we can help prevent future animal testing. – Leaping Bunny

In 2021, Cruelty-Free Kitty composed a list of companies that are not cruelty-free. Their research was conducted in unison with PETA sources. Some of the companies that show up on this list might surprise some consumers.

Selling beauty products in China

Up until recently, China was the only country that required animal testing on all cosmetics being sold there. Note: Just because a company has its products made in China does not necessarily mean it was tested on animals. Only if the products are to be sold in China.

In 2021, changes to China’s animal testing laws were implemented so some non-special use cosmetics may qualify for an exemption from animal testing. – Ethical Elephant

Animal Testing Laws in Other Countries

“Animal testing for cosmetics has been banned throughout the 27 member countries of the European Union since 2009, and the sale of cosmetic products or ingredients subject to new animal testing after March 2013 is also illegal. Israel imposed similar bans in 2007 and 2013. Similar policy change is also under consideration in India and South Korea.”

– Animal Alliance of Canada

North America needs to Catch up!

United States does not have any national law that prohibits animal testing for cosmetics. Canada does not have a ban on animal testing for cosmetics.

Did you Know? In September 2021, Mexico became the first North American Country – and 41st country- to ban animal testing in cosmetics. -Online Academy



“Without Consent,” PETA’s traveling exhibit, challenges human exploitation of animals by revealing the long history of suffering inflicted on nonconsenting animals in laboratories. The exhibit features almost 200 stories of animals used in real-life experiments, from decades ago through the present.

Donate to PETA

Donate Here

“ANIMALS ARE NOT OURS – to experiment on, eat, wear, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.” – PETA

Animal Liberation

In his book Animal Liberation, Peter Singer states that the basic principle of equality does not require equal or identical treatment; it requires equal consideration. This is an important distinction when talking about animal rights. People often ask if animals should have rights, and quite simply, the answer is “Yes!” Animals surely deserve to live their lives free from suffering and exploitation. Jeremy Bentham, the founder of the reforming utilitarian school of moral philosophy, stated that when deciding on a being’s rights, “The question is not ‘Can they reason?’ nor ‘Can they talk?’ but ‘Can they suffer?’”


Learn More about ELLA i SKiN, cruelty-free and vegan.


Vegan Beauty Basics (Quick & Easy Guide to Understand What Vegan Beauty Is). Ethical Elephant.

What is the Certified Vegan Logo?

Myths and Facts. Leaping Bunny.

What does Cruelty Free Mean. PETA.

China Animal Testing Laws. Ethical Elephant.

Cosmetics Testing FAQ. Humane Society.

China Announces New Animal Testing Policy for Cosmetics After PETA Push. PETA.

Cosmetic Testing in Canada. Animal Alliance.

Companies that Test on Animals (2021 Update). Cruelty Free Kitty.

Translation of Research Evidence From Animals to Humans. JAMA Network.

Mexico Becomes First Country In North America To Ban Animal Testing For Cosmetics. ANIMALS & SOCIETY RESEARCH INITIATIVE. Jemima Webber. University of Victoria, Canada.

Making North America cruelty free. Cruelty Free International.

 SB-1249 Animal testing: cosmetics. California Legislative Information.

13 Gross Ingredients Hidden in Your Beauty Products. Total Beauty. Molly Roemer.

Vegan Versus Cruelty-Free Beauty: What’s The Difference On Your Labels? Mind Body Green.