Cruelty-Free Cruelty-Free for Beginners

What’s the Difference Between Vegan and Cruelty-Free?

It can be daunting trying to shop vegan and cruelty-free for the first time. That’s why I created this guide to help break down these terms and what they mean, explain why some products can be cruelty-free but not vegan, (and vice versa), and what to look for when shopping for vegan or cruelty-free products. Let’s get started!

What does cruelty-free mean?

Cruelty-free means a product that is not tested on animals during any point in the product’s development. Meaning, there is zero animal testing on the ingredients and finished products. And zero animal testing done by the company itself, suppliers, or any other third-parties.

But things can get a bit confusing due to these two things:

  1. Products sold in China
  2. Brands owned by non cruelty-free companies

All products sold in mainland China are required by law to be tested on animals. So if a company sells their products in China, their brand is not cruelty-free. But if a product is made in China, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the product was tested on animals, since their animal testing laws only apply to products sold in the country.

Now let’s talk about cruelty-free brands owned by non-cruelty free companies. It’s common for a cruelty-free company to be sold to a big company that tests on animals. And when this happens, the company is often referred to as a “parent company”.

This doesn’t always mean they lose their cruelty-free status. Oftentimes, a brand will continue being cruelty-free despite being owned by a company that is not.

For example, NYX, a cosmetics brand, is owned by L’Oréal, a company that tests on animals. Despite that, NYX is certified cruelty-free. They don’t test their ingredients or finished products on animals, and neither do their suppliers or any third-parties. So, despite being owned by a non cruelty-free brand, their practices haven’t been affected.

What does vegan mean?

Vegan products contain zero animal and animal-derived ingredients. Vegetarian products, on the other hand, are free of animal ingredients, but do include animal-derived ingredients such as, but not limited to, honey, beeswax, and lanolin.

Related: What’s the Difference Between Vegan and Vegetarian?

Can a product be vegan but not cruelty-free?

Yes, products can be vegan but not cruelty-free. An example of this is Garnier labeling their “Ultimate Blends” range as vegan. The formula is vegan, but the product is sold in China. Therefore their products are tested on animals.

[Update: As of March 2021, Garnier is now certified cruelty-free!]

Can a product be cruelty-free but not vegan?

Yes, a product can be cruelty-free but not vegan. These products are usually vegetarian (containing animal-derived ingredients.) Burt’s Bees lip balms are an example of this because they contain ingredients like beeswax.

Related: 10 Affordable Cruelty-Free Skincare Brands


Luckily, there are organizations that do some of the work for you. Look for certification such as, but not limited to, “Leaping Bunny, “Certified Vegan” or “Beauty Without Bunnies”.

But keep in mind that just because a product doesn’t have certification, doesn’t mean it’s not vegan or cruelty-free. More research may be needed, but it’s a great reference point.

Vegan and cruelty-free certifications

Related: 10 Reasons to Go Cruelty-Free

A Final Note

Now that you know the difference between vegan and cruelty-free, why some products are vegan but not cruelty-free (and vice versa), and what certifications to look for, you are well on your way to becoming a conscious consumer. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave a comment below. Happy shopping!

Recommended Reading: The Do’s and Don’ts of Going Cruelty-Free

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  1. I always read the labels and if I’m not very convinced I do deep research before purchasing the products.
    I personally don’t mind if the products contain beeswax as long it not been tested on animals then it all good for me.

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