Cruelty-Free, Vegan + Vegetarian Beauty: The Difference

Let's talk animals and beauty products. Lately, we have been inundated with tons of beauty brands that claim they don't contain animal ingredients and don't test on animals. They use words like vegan, vegetarian and cruelty-free, but what does this mean exactly?


This means no animal testing at any point in the creation process of a beauty product. This includes individually sourced ingredients, third party testing and finished products.

Countries that have banned animal testing are the 28 countries in the European Union, Norway, Isreal and India. Australia will go into effect July 2017. (YAY!) There are several other countries that are in the process of creating a ban and will hopefully be passed and go into effect very soon. They include the United States, Brazil, Canada, South Korea, New Zealand, Argentina and Russia. 

However, animal testing is still legal in 80% of countries. There are some countries like China that "require by law" to test on animals. So even if the product is an American or British brand for example, the product is still required to be tested on animals to be sold in the Chinese market. For example, in a statement on the website of Estee Lauder, it says "The Estee Lauder Companies does not test on animals and we never ask others to do so on our behalf. If a regulatory body demands it for its safety or regulatory assessment an exception can be made." You know what that's code for right? It means that the empire of Estee Lauder is absolutely not going to miss out on the 29 billion dollars brought in annually by the beauty market of China. So animal testing it is! - Advancing Science Without Harming Animals - Advancing Science Without Harming Animals

Cruelty-Free Certifications

If you are looking to avoid beauty products that are not tested on animals it's important to familiarize yourself with certain beauty packaging symbols and certifications.

All three of these certifications mean there are no testing on animals, however, that does not mean they don't contain animal ingredients or animal by-products. Which symbol is used on a package depends on the origin of the product and what organization the brand wanted to get their product certified by.

Another thing to remember is if a product simply says "not tested on animals" or "cruelty-free" that does not mean it's necessarily true! There was no certification involved to verify this. BUT, that also doesn't mean it's untrue either. It just could simply mean they don't put it on their label, but it very well could be on their website.

What Makes a Beauty Product Vegetarian?

This means no animal part is in the formula, but animal by-product ingredients are allowed.

Animal By-Products

Beeswax - It's made by bees to make their honeycomb homes and used in lip balms as an emollient.

Honey - Food made by bees from the nectar of flowers. Used in moisturizers and as a soothing/antiseptic agent. 

Lactic Acid + Yogurt - By product of milk that contains probiotics and lactic acid which act as an exfoliate for the skin. Can also be made from beets and should specificilly say. 

Boar Bristles - Hair from wild or captive boars, used in hair brushes.

Egg + Milk Proteins - From chickens and cows and are found in some shampoos, moisturizers and hair/skin conditioners. 

What Makes a Beauty Product Vegan?

This is defined by no animal ingredients and no animal by-product ingredients.

Also, just because a product says it's vegan does not automatically mean it's cruelty-free or because a product says it's cruelty-free doesn't automatically make it vegan. They mean two very separate things. 

Animal Products

Gelatin - Made from boiling down the bones, tendons, skin and ligaments of animals. Used in cleansers, moisturizers, toner and hair products.

Collagen -  Fibrous protein in vertebrate and found in many skin care and hair products. It can be formed from marine/plant collagen as well. But in the end, the molecule is too large to be absorbed into the surface of the skin anyway! More about collagen....

Shellac - A dark resin found from the excretions of scale insects, found in nail polish.

Steric Acid - Obtained from fats of slaughtered red animals (pigs), used as a cleansing agent most often in facial cleansers. It also can be made from vegetables, so read your labels!

Squalene - From shark liver oil, used in anti-static products and has a hair conditioner. (Not to be confused with squalane which is from olives.)

Carmine - Red dye obtained from beetles by boiling them in ammonia. It's used as a colorant for makeup and shampoos, example - "crimson lake." 70,000 beetles are killed in order to make 1 pound of this dye. 

Animal hair - Used for makeup brushes and false lashes. 

Keratin - Obtained from ground up horns, claws, hooves, hair, scales and feathers of animals. Used in Keratin hair treatments.

Lanolin - The fatty oily substance of sheepskin, used as a hair/skin conditioner. Most commonly used in lip care and breastfeeding nipple care products. (That means baby is ingesting this! GAG.)

Hydrolyzed Silk - Proteins obtained from boiling silkworms, used as a hair/skin conditioner.

Tallow - Melted fatty tissue from slaughterhouses, used as an emulsifier in beauty products.

This list is the most commonly used ingredient in beauty products that I have found. If you would like to do more research on your own, here is a link to the full animal ingredient list on 

Vegan + Vegetarian Certifications