What’s The Difference Between Cruelty-Free & Vegan? We Explain All

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Wondering what the difference is between cruelty-free and vegan? Here’s all you need to know about animal-friendly beauty.

When it comes to buying makeup and beauty products you may well have noticed the terms “cruelty-free” and “vegan” popping up on the labels of more and more products. Whilst it feels like the two terms can be used interchangeably, many shoppers aren’t aware that there is actually a big difference between the terms cruelty-free and vegan. 

As such, it might surprise you to learn that some cruelty-free products aren’t vegan, or that some vegan products aren’t cruelty-free. Say what?!

So what is the difference between the two terms, exactly? And how do you ensure the products you buy are 100% cruelty-free and vegan? Read on for all the information you need to be a more informed shopper.

What Does Vegan Mean?

Amber beauty product bottle with a blue text box that reads the difference between cruelty-free and vegan explained.

First off, let’s look at what vegan means.

The term “vegan” means that the product does not contain any animal-derived ingredients or by-products. Instead, it is made solely from ingredients of non-animal origin. This means animal-based ingredients such as honey, beeswax or lanolin should have been omitted from the product.

What Does Cruelty-Free Mean?

“Cruelty-Free”, on the other hand, means that the brand has not tested the finished product on animals.

Do beware though. If the claim is unverified, it could mean that the ingredients used have been tested on animals, or that the brand has instructed a third party to test its product on animals.

Both things can happen with some brands. So, particularly when it comes to cruelty-free claims, you need to stay on your toes and don’t take unverified claims at face value.

Do What Is The Difference Between Cruelty-Free And Vegan Products?

As you can see, vegan and cruelty-free both have quite different meanings.

What this means in practice is that some beauty products can be both vegan and cruelty-free. The gold standard, if you will.

Meanwhile, other products can be labelled as vegan as they don’t contain any animal products. However, they may not be cruelty-free as they were tested on animals.

Some people believe that vegan products that are not cruelty-free should not be classified as vegan. This is because animals have been used in the production of these products. Unfortunately, this is not how the beauty industry thinks, so when you see the word vegan don’t assume that the product is cruelty-free.

And, somewhat confusingly, non-vegan products can be labelled as cruelty-free. This is because the brand does not test on animals but does use animal-derived ingredients. 

If it were down to me, then if a product uses animal-derived ingredients it shouldn’t be allowed to be labelled as cruelty-free. There clearly is some cruelty to animals involved. However, it is not down to me. This is how the beauty industry chooses to use these terms. As such, it’s important to be aware of these terms’ meanings, so that you aren’t misled or greenwashed.

The Labels To Look Out For When Shopping For Cruelty-Free And Vegan Products

To ensure the products you buy really are 100% cruelty-free and/or vegan, don’t just take the brand’s word for it. Instead, look out for independent certifications on the packaging.

The Cruelty Free International Logo and The PETA Cruelty-Free Logo

For products that are independently certified as cruelty-free, look for the Leaping Bunny logo from Cruelty-Free International or the Beauty Without Bunnies logo from PETA. These logos mean that the product/brand does not test on animals at any stage of the product’s development, or in any of the products’ ingredients.

Both organisations have a handy database that you can search. This means if you are in any doubt about the cruelty-free status of any beauty products that you have bought, or plan to buy, you can check them out.

The vegan society approved logo and the vegetarian society vegan approved logo.

For products that are certified vegan, look for the Vegan Society logo, or The Vegetarian Society Vegan Approved logo. These logos mean that the product/company is independently verified as using zero animal products or animal-derived in their products.

The Bottom Line

Despite what some beauty brands would have you believe, vegan isn’t always the same as cruelty-free. Some cruelty-free products may not be vegan. And some vegan products may not be cruelty-free. Always look out for labels to help make sure the products are animal-friendly.

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