Behind the label: Is your beauty product truly cruelty-free?

Dazzled by the colossal advertising empire that supports the beauty industry (one of the largest industries worldwide) many people still have yet to realize many of the dirty secrets behind the products they buy. However, thanks to over 20 years of campaigning, many consumers have become aware of the animal-cruelty practices involved in cosmetic manufacturing.  Cruelty-free logos now abound, but do you really know what these mean?  Is your cruelty-free makeup truly cruelty-free?

Why cruelty-free

Every year hundreds of thousands of animals suffer and die in research facilities that test your beauty and household products, yet the tests they are exposed to are crude, subjective, and unreliable. In fact, an international study that examined the results of rat and mouse LD50 (Lethal Dose 50 is the amount of a material, given all at once, which causes the death of 50%of a group of test animals and is a way to measure the short-term poisoning potential of a material) tests for 50 chemicals found that these tests were able to predict toxicity in humans with only 65% accuracy (1).  Moreover, in the U.S. animal tests for cosmetics or household products are not required by law and in Europe and Israel they have been recently banned for cosmetics.  Although to market a product a company must demonstrate its safety, this can be done by using approved non-animal tests and combinations of existing ingredients that have already been established as safe for human use.

Cruelty-free certifications

Some companies proudly display environmentally responsible or animal-related icons on labels but many of these are legally meaningless.  Here are four legitimate ones and what each one stands for.

Beauty without bunnies (PETA) – Global

The weakest certification. All companies included on PETA’s cruelty-free list have only signed or submitted a statement of assurance verifying that neither they nor their ingredient suppliers conduct, commission, or pay for any tests on animals for ingredients, formulations, or finished products. PETA believes that a company that has publicly announced an end to tests on animals and states in writing that it doesn’t test on animals would face a public relations disaster and potential lawsuits if it was caught lying.  In reality, the manufacturing supply chain is very complicated and obscure, and tracking an ingredient back to its source can be very hard.  In addition, anyone who has witnessed the ongoing sweatshop and child labor scandals that have plagued companies like Nike since the 90s knows this is not foolproof. Furthermore, PETA will certify companies whose parent-companies test on animals (which means your money still supports animal testing–see below).

Leaping bunny (CCIC) – Global

Third-party certified. The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics’ (CCIC) Leaping Bunny Program administers the only third-party certified cruelty-free standard. The Standard is a voluntary pledge that companies and their ingredient suppliers make to clear animal testing from all stages of product development. All Leaping Bunny companies must be open to independent audits, and commitments are renewed on an annual basis. To become approved a company must no longer conduct or commission animal testing and must apply a verifiable fixed cut-off date–after which none of its products or ingredients have been animal tested.

Choose Cruelty-Free (CCF) – Australia

Very strict. Companies applying for accreditation by CCF must sign a legally-binding contract about their practices. The CCF standard requires the manufacturer, all its related corporations (if any), and its suppliers or anyone acting on its behalf to have either never or at no time within a period of five years immediately preceding the date of application for accreditation tested products or ingredients on animals. Unlike other lists of cruelty-free companies, CCF also has a strict policy on animal-derived ingredients. CCF will also not accredit companies unless all parent and subsidiaries are also accredited.

International Manufacturing Association against Animal Testing in Cosmetics (IHTK) – Germany

Very strict. To abide by the IHTK certification companies must make a legally-binding declaration that: (1) no animals tests are used in the development and production of the end product; (2) no raw materials are used which have been tested on animals after January 1st, 1979; (3) no raw  materials were used that required killing an animal (e.g. mink oil); and (4) the company has no financial dependence on other companies that carry out animal testings directly or indirectly. In addition, they must provide a detailed list of raw materials including the name of the supplier and must fully declare all ingredients on the packaging or catalog.

Do you know where your money goes?

Although the array of brands, products and colors at your typical beauty store can be dazzling, you might be shocked to find out that what seems like a hundred different companies is in fact just a handful.  And, even if a particular brand is cruelty-free, your money may still end up paying for the animal testing of its parent company.  Yes, buying a cruelty-free brand of makeup or a synthetic brush may feel good (and is a first step), but to be truly cruelty-free you need to look deeper.

Below is a list of the major beauty multinationals, all of which test on animals and/or sell products in China (please note this list is illustrative and not all inclusive):

Some of the companies above have only recently started testing on animals once more as they entered the very lucrative and fast growing Chinese market.  This is because Chinese law requires all finished cosmetic (including personal care) products sold there to be tested on animals first.  Sadly, these companies derive substantial amounts of their income from the Asian markets (e.g. 20% of sales of L’Oreal come from the Asia-Pacific region and about half of all business done by LVMH–Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy, owner of Sephora– is done in the Eastern part of the world) so they are unlikely to pull out from China without a major financial deterrent.

Which is why the recent EU ban on animal testing could not have come at a better time. As of March 11, 2013, no beauty product tested on animals may be sold in the European Union (another very big market).  But how these two opposing approaches will be handled by companies still remains to be seen.  Shiseido announced it would stop all animal testing ahead of the EU ban, yet is still also present in the Chinese market.  This most likely means that products sold in one market are not tested, but those sold in the other market are.

So what should a consumer that cares about animal rights do?  Remain vigilant, read labels carefully and opt for small, independent, and ethical companies that choose to do what’s right for consumers, animals and the environment.  All the brands featured on this blog are not only non-toxic and mostly 100% natural and organic, but also cruelty-free (2) and many have chosen not to sell in China because of this requirement.  These are the brands I think you should support, and they are many.  Yes, you may not find them at your nearest “eye-candy galore” beauty emporium, but I can guarantee you that there’s more than enough to satisfy the most demanding consumer (and even makeup artist) out there without having to sacrifice your health or ethics in the process.

(1) R. Roggeband et al., “Eye Irritation Responses in Rabbit and Man After Single Applications of Equal Volumes of Undiluted Model Liquid Detergent Products,” Food and Chemical Toxicology, 38 (2000): 727-734
(2) Please note that up until recently I used and recommended products from Boots organics. Given that their animal testing policies are not up to par with the standards above, I have chosen to stop using their products and will no longer recommend their products either.  I regret the oversight.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. It’s important to have safety in every product and to know what is done behind the scenes, America is waking up to cruelty free and safe everyday product, and getting plenty of its necessary attention. I advocate these working ideas and advocate newsworthy information regarding the safety and quality that is placed in our consumables,

  2. Thank you for your post. It’s very informative. I have only just found out about Avon 😦

    1. Hi Norma,

      Glad you found it useful. If you stick to the truly natural and organic brands you should not have any more unpleasant surprises (plus they are better health-wise too).

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