Confused About Cruelty-Free Labels?

Confused Jack Russell Thumbnail Confused About Cruelty Free Labels?

“Cruelty-free” or “not tested on animals” – we’re seeing these phrases in mainstream marketing more and more. They may be printed on your deoderant, the back of your shampoo bottle, the website of your favorite cosmetics brand – but what exactly do they mean?

Unfortunately, maybe not what you think.


Like many, I used to think seeing these words on a product meant… well, that it wasn’t tested on animals. It was only later, through online resources like blogs and forums, that I learned this isn’t the case. I assumed that companies weren’t be permitted to market products as “not tested on animals” if they were. But they can. Here’s how:


No legal criteria must be met in order for a company to market itself as “cruelty-free” or “not tested on animals.”  Therefore, what exactly these phrases mean can vary depending on how each company chooses to define them. Clearly, this can cause some problems. Two major ones:


1. Ingredient vs Finished Product Testing

A company may state their products are not tested on animals and be referring to the finished product only—that is, the eye shadow, hair spray, nail polish, etc. was not tested on animals. However, the vast majority of animal testing is done in the formulation phase, testing individual ingredients, not the finished product.  So the company may test on animals while formulating the product, but still claim it’s not tested on animals, without clarifying that the ingredients are.


2. Third-Party Testing

A company may claim that they never test on animals yet they may commission another organization to perform the animal testing for them.  This allows them to say they do not test on animals, despite that animals were tested on their behalf. Another potential situation where this happens is if the company buys their products from another source. Their suppliers may test on animals, but because the testing is done before the product is in the company’s possession, they can maintain that they do not test on animals.

If a company’s animal testing policy states that animals are not tested in any stage of manufacturing or by any third parties – that’s a good sign.  But be wary of statements and labels that do not make these points explicitly clear.


Unfortunately, the inability to rely on label claims does complicate shopping cruelty-free.  It means we have to look into the company’s animal testing status before purchasing. However, there is one logo that, unlike the rest, truly does indicate the product is 100% cruelty-free – the Leaping Bunny Logo. This logo means the product is confirmed as cruelty-free by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics.



A note on “never tested on animals, except when required by law”

The truth is – some countries require animal tests be performed in order for the product to be sold in the country.  The US does not require cosmetics and household products to be tested on animals.  It’s banned in the EU.  When you see this phrase in company statements, it often means that the company has chosen to sell their products in China, where testing is required.


Learn more on the FDA’s website: – Cruelty-Free/Not Tested on Animals – FDA Authority Over Cosmetics – Animal Testing


About Animal Testing Regulations:

AAVS – Laws on Product Testing



So what are we to do?  Luckily, there’s help available. Check out the links in the sidebar under “Resources” and head over to the Resources page for a look at some of the best cruelty-free information sources.


Questions about other claims you’ve seen on product labels? Check out Eco Beauty Bootcamp 101: What the Label Really Says by Emilie Cowan on Beautylish - a “cheat sheet” for the various certifications, logos, etc. that may appear on consumer products.