Askanesthetician's Blog

An esthetician explores skincare issues and concerns

Is Cruelty Free Really Cruelty Free? January 2, 2012

I’ve been a vegetarian for ethical reasons for the past 21 years so it stands to reason that I do not use cosmetics or skincare products that have been tested on animals.  I also, of course, make sure that all the make-up brushes are cruelty free as well (Urban Decay makes fabulous, but pricy, vegan brushes and Eco Tools has great lower priced brushes).

Unfortunately finding cruelty free cosmetics is not as straight forward as it would seem to be.  Keep a few things in mind when looking for cosmetics or skincare products that are not tested on animals.  It turns out that terms such as “cruelty free” or “not tested on animals” are not overseen or regulated by any government body and are essentially meaningless.  According to the FDA:

Some cosmetic companies promote their products with claims such as “CRUELTY-FREE” or “NOT TESTED ON ANIMALS” in their labeling or advertising. The unrestricted use of these phrases by cosmetic companies is possible because there are no legal definitions for these terms.

Some companies may apply such claims solely to their finished cosmetic products. However, these companies may rely on raw material suppliers or contract laboratories to perform any animal testing necessary to substantiate product or ingredient safety. Other cosmetic companies may rely on combinations of scientific literature, non-animal testing, raw material safety testing, or controlled human-use testing to substantiate their product safety.

Many raw materials, used in cosmetics, were tested on animals years ago when they were first introduced. A cosmetic manufacturer might only use those raw materials and base their “cruelty-free” claims on the fact that the materials or products are not “currently” tested on animals.

You may ask yourself if cosmetics really do need to be tested on animals in order to be sure that are safe for human use.  The FDA does not actually require animal testing in order to establish that a cosmetic is safe for human use, but they don’t out right discourage its use either:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for assuring that cosmetics are safe and properly labeled. This mission is accomplished through enforcement of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FD&C Act), related statutes, and regulations promulgated under these laws.

The FD&C Act does not specifically require the use of animals in testing cosmetics for safety, nor does the Act subject cosmetics to FDA premarket approval. However, the agency has consistently advised cosmetic manufacturers to employ whatever testing is appropriate and effective for substantiating the safety of their products. It remains the responsibility of the manufacturer to substantiate the safety of both ingredients and finished cosmetic products prior to marketing.

Animal testing by manufacturers seeking to market new products may be used to establish product safety. In some cases, after considering available alternatives, companies may determine that animal testing is necessary to assure the safety of a product or ingredient. FDA supports and adheres to the provisions of applicable laws, regulations, and policies governing animal testing, including the Animal Welfare Act and the Public Health Service Policy of Humane Care and Use of Laboratory Animals. Moreover, in all cases where animal testing is used, FDA advocates that research and testing derive the maximum amount of useful scientific information from the minimum number of animals and employ the most humane methods available within the limits of scientific capability.  …

FDA supports the development and use of alternatives to whole-animal testing as well as adherence to the most humane methods available within the limits of scientific capability when animals are used for testing the safety of cosmetic products. We will continue to be a strong advocate of methodologies for the refinement, reduction, and replacement of animal tests with alternative methodologies that do not employ the use of animals.

The European Union certainly thinks that a lot of animal testing should be severely limited.  The New York Times article Leaving Animals Out of the Cosmetics Picture explains:

On March 11, 2009, the European Union banned cosmetics and personal-products companies from testing their products on animals for things like skin irritancy, sensitivity to light and acute toxicity. The decision also banned the import of cosmetics containing ingredients that have been animal-tested in this way. By March 11, 2013, companies will be forbidden from further tests designed to establish longer-term toxicity.

Unfortunately the US lags behind in establishing a ban on animal testing.  According to The New York Times article:

But no such laws exist in the United States. The closest is the Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011, which was introduced on June 24, 2011, (it has yet to be adopted) and encourages, among other things, the development of alternatives to animal testing.

What is interesting about the fact that the FDA or another government branch hasn’t done more to stop animal testing on cosmetic products is that the majority of Americans actually oppose animal testing for cosmetics.  According to an independent survey conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine :

  • 72 percent of respondents agreed that testing cosmetics on animals is unethical.
  • 78 percent agreed that the development of alternatives to animal testing for cosmetics testing is important.
  • 61 percent said cosmetics and personal care product companies should not be allowed to test products on animals.
  • 58 percent said they would purchase cruelty-free personal care products.


So how do you make sure the products you are using are cruelty free?  Look up PETA‘s list of companies that do not test on animals or the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics list of companies.  Each of these groups also has symbol that you can find on cosmetics so keep your eyes open for those as well.  You can also help support bans on animal testing through both of these two organizations.


%d bloggers like this: