A Guide to Cruelty-Free Cosmetics BrandsMarch 23, 2021
Many cosmetics companies are aiming to provide a clean and natural alternative to conventional makeup and skincare by becoming completely vegan, meaning their products don’t contain any animal-derived ingredients. Furthermore, many of those companies are also choosing to become cruelty-free, meaning that they don’t test their products on animals. Not every cruelty-free company is vegan, and vice versa, so it’s important to distinguish between these two terms and learn what each of them entails. With this in mind, there are makeup brands that are endeavouring to embrace both philosophies, and this guide will list some of the those brands attempting to do good by becoming vegan and cruelty-free.
This article contains affiliate links. Should you happen to make a purchase after visiting some of the brands mentioned below, then, at no extra cost to you a small, a percentage of that sale will go towards the efforts of this publication to present global stories around the key issues of sustainability, ethics, climate, ecology, and equality.
By Ana Marković
The Basics: Vegan vs. Cruelty-Free
Vegan beauty products are defined as products that don’t contain animal ingredients, animal by-products, or any other animal-derived ingredients, such as honey and beeswax. Unfortunately, plenty of animal-derived ingredients are commonly used in the production of cosmetics. Furthermore, such products may be labeled organic or natural without necessarily being more ethical. For example, beeswax is a natural ingredient, but it is certainly not vegan; and palm oil, even if it is certified organic, is still a highly debated ingredient.
Veganism is all about preventing and eradicating cruelty to animals, so a vegan beauty product shouldn’t be tested on animals. However, this isn’t always the case. We have grown so accustomed to interpreting the term “vegan” only in the meaning of “plant-based”, and, as a result, numerous beauty products are labeled vegan because they contain only plant-based ingredients, even though they have been tested on animals. Therefore, vegan products aren’t necessarily cruelty-free, so you need to research a particular product well to be sure you’re buying what you’re looking for.
Cruelty-free beauty products are defined as products that haven’t been tested on animals and don’t contain ingredients tested on animals by another party. Also, they must not be sold in mainland China, as the Chinese market requires animal testing on all cosmetic products imported into the country by law. If you’re unsure whether a company is cruelty-free, you should always check their FAQ section. If they mention that they don’t test their products on animals, except where required by law, it means that they actually do test on animals and they can’t be considered cruelty-free.
For a company to be cruelty-free, it needs to meet the following criteria:
- Their products haven’t been tested on animals
- Their products’ ingredients haven’t been tested on animals
- They don’t hire a third party to do the animal testing on their behalf
- Their products are not sold in mainland China
- Their suppliers of raw materials don’t test on animals
However, if a product is cruelty-free, it doesn’t mean that it’s automatically vegan. Since the term “cruelty-free” only refers to animal testing, a cruelty-free product may still contain animal-derived ingredients. For example, Milani Cosmetics launched a lipstick that’s cruelty-free, but not vegan. This means that Milani lipstick hasn’t been tested on animals, but it still contains animal-derived ingredients such as carmine, which is the red pigment created from crushed insects.
There are also some cases of brands that are cruelty-free, but are owned by some other company that performs animal testing. One such example is Urban Decay, a brand that’s certified cruelty-free by PETA, but its parent company is L’Oreal, which is known to test on animals when required by law.
Vegan vs. Vegan-Friendly – Is There a Difference?
“Vegan” and “Vegan-Friendly” are terms that refer to products that don’t contain animal ingredients, animal by-products, or any animal-derived ingredients. In other words, they mean the same thing, but which term is used will depend on whether a product is officially certified by an organization or not. For example, if a product is labeled “vegan” with a logo or trademark, it means that it has been approved by the Vegan Society. If a product is labeled “vegan-friendly”, it means that it hasn’t been registered with a Vegan Trademark, but it is said to be vegan by the company itself. This doesn’t make the product any less vegan, it simply means that it hasn’t been certified by an external organization to make sure it meets their standards. Still, you should always be careful with brands that don’t have official logos or trademarks and reach out to them for information if necessary.
Vegetarian Beauty Products
If you see a product labeled vegetarian, you may assume that it doesn’t contain animal ingredients, but unfortunately, things are not that simple. As we mentioned before, vegan products don’t have anything that came from animals or was produced by them. On the other hand, vegetarian beauty products don’t contain parts of an animal, such as meat or fat, but they do contain ingredients that were produced by animals, such as milk, egg whites, honey, and beeswax. Vegetarian products are not vegan and they aren’t necessarily cruelty-free.
Animal Ingredients to Look Out For
It may be tedious, but you’ll need to get accustomed to reading labels to ensure your chosen product doesn’t contain animal ingredients. They are listed under different names and while you can’t memorize all of them, there are several animal ingredients that are commonly used, so you’ll be able to spot them right away.
Here are some of the ingredients to look out for:
- Collagen – a protein from animal tissue
- Lanolin – a wax or grease produced by sheep, often found in eyeshadows
- Gelatin – a thick matter derived from cows’ skin or bones
- Carmine – a red pigment derived from crushed insects, often found in lipsticks and blushes
- Tallow – animal fat, often derived from cows or sheep
- Keratin – ground-up hooves or feathers
- Retinol (Vitamin A) – can be derived from animal sources, such as eggs, beef, chicken liver, and fish, but it can also come from plants and vegetables, such as carrots, pumpkins, and sweet potatoes
- Guanine – derived from fish scales, often found in lipsticks and mascaras
- Musk oil – genital secretions from musk deer, commonly used in perfumes
- Squalene – an oil derived from a shark’s liver
- Civet oil – a cat’s glandular secretions, commonly used in perfumes
- Ambergris – derived from the digestive system of a whale, typically used in perfumes
- Stearic acid – typically derived from the stomach of a pig, cow or a sheep, but it can also come from plant fats
- Beeswax – commonly used in lipsticks and mascaras
You can find a full list of animal ingredients to avoid here.
Our List of Vegan and Cruelty-Free Makeup Brands
Some makeup brands chose to become vegan and cruelty-free to ensure a safe and ethical cosmetics production, and the following companies offer a wide range of vegan makeup products that haven’t been tested on animals.
Bésame Cosmetics is a California-based makeup brand that is dedicated to creating cruelty-free makeup products specifically designed for sensitive skin. Their products are formulated without the use of gluten, mineral oils or parabens. Their historically inspired makeup is highly-pigmented and produced using a minimal-waste policy. It’s important to note that they are not entirely vegan, but they do have some vegan products, which include all of their powders, Cream Rouges, Black Cake Mascara and Brown Cake Mascara. They emphasize that their Classic Color Lipsticks and mascaras contain beeswax for texture, but that the wax is properly sourced from bees.
Pacifica’s entire product line is completely vegan and cruelty-free, which represents their belief that proper skincare shouldn’t come at the expense of your health and the environmental wellbeing. Their products are free of petroleum, phthalates, propylene glycol, mineral oil, sulfates, parabens, and other chemicals that can have a negative effect on skin and the entire body. Also, their company runs a recycling program which allows their customers to return empty packages and components, which are later re-used. Apart from being one of the most inventive and cutting-edge beauty companies, Pacifica is also one of the most affordable vegan makeup brands out there, and they are committed to providing everyone with access to the best possible skin care.
Developed by Gabriel Cosmetics, Zuzu Luxe is a makeup line that’s 100% vegan and features products made of completely natural ingredients. Manufactured in the USA, their products are also devoid of gluten and potentially harmful chemicals. Zuzu Luxe never tests their products on animals, and the company is dedicated to preserving the environment with the use of eco-friendly packaging. One of their bestselling products are vegan eyeshadows.
Clove + Hallow
Clove + Hallow company combines simplicity with clean cosmetics to achieve the highest-quality makeup and skincare products accessible to every woman. Their formula contains only 15 natural ingredients consisting of butters, oils, botanicals, and eco-friendly synthetics, so you won’t have to worry about any potentially dangerous chemicals getting absorbed by your skin. Their products are made in the United States, but follow EU’s rigorous formulation standards for safe cosmetics.
Aveda is another inspiring brand that creates hair care, skin care, body care, and makeup products with nature and sustainability in mind. All of their products are ethically sourced, vegan, and cruelty-free. The formula they use is free of parabens, synthetic fragrances, mineral oils, paraffin, or polyethylene beads. Also, they were the first beauty company to manufacture all products with 100% wind power and to use 100% post-consumer recycled material in packaging.
VEGAMOUR specializes in creating products for hair, brows, and lashes, and their hair serums are getting rave reviews. All of their products are vegan, cruelty-free, and gluten-free and made of natural ingredients. In addition to employing a plant-based formula, VEGAMOUR is also dedicated to preserving the environment as the ingredients they use are sustainably and ethically sourced. Also, they have started a Fair Trade initiative with their sister company Southern Botanica with the aim of providing economic opportunities to over 5,000 women in southern Africa.
Fitglow Beauty relies on science in choosing the right ingredients for their products and is dedicated to creating gentle and clean formulas that deal with issues such as dehydration, redness, sun damage, and premature aging. Fitglow uses ethically-sourced, plant-based ingredients that don’t contain heavy oils, silicones, and waxes. All of their products are vegan and cruelty-free, and in addition to makeup, skincare, and body care items, they also offer vegan and cruelty-free brushes.
Love The Planet
Love The Planet is a Scotland-based beauty company that manufactures makeup, cleansing pads, and brushes. All of their products are cruelty-free, vegan, and free of parabens and palm oil. Love The Planet is dedicated to reducing plastic waste, which is why their products are delivered in a biodegradable pouch that is meant to be removed into an existing container. They offer a range of makeup products, but if you’re wondering what to try out first, their mineral foundations and eyeshadows are a good place to start.
Shade M Beauty
Shade M Beauty specializes in manufacturing lipsticks in diverse shades that contain high-quality and ethically sourced ingredients. Their formula is free of parabens, formaldehydes, mineral oils, coal tar, and other potentially harmful substances. In addition to being cruelty-free and vegan (approved by PETA), Shade M cosmetics is also halal-certified, which means their products don’t contain animal-derived ingredients, alcohol or GMOs that are deemed unclean in Islam.
Red Apple Lipstick
Red Apple Lipstick produces makeup for lips, eyes, and cheeks, and their clean and green formula is free of parabens, gluten, lead, and soy, and enriched with Vitamin E. You can browse through their selection of moisturizing lipsticks, highly pigmented eyeshadows, and vegan brushes. All Red Apple Lipstick products are vegan and cruelty-free and manufactured locally in the US.
adesign Beauty specializes in creating makeup brushes designed by artisans using only the highest quality materials. The ingredients they use are ethically and sustainably sourced in their fully owned, end-to-end supply chain. adesign makeup brushes are PETA-certified vegan and cruelty-free. Also, the packaging they use is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
Driven by desire to create beauty products that combine clean ingredients and high performance, Cover FX provides a variety of vegan and cruelty-free makeup products that contain vitamins and antioxidants. Also, their products are free of parabens, sulfates, mineral oil, talc, fragrance, gluten, and phthalates. With Cover FX, it’s all about customization, so you can experiment with many different formulas, shades, and tones until you find the one that’s best suitable for your skin.
100% Pure is committed to producing the healthiest, all-natural, and organic beauty products that are also vegan and cruelty-free. Their products are infused with vitamins, antioxidants, and essential oils to hydrate and nourish the skin. 100% Pure uses pigments sourced only from fruit, vegetables, cocoa, and tea, so you won’t have to worry about your makeup containing heavy metal dyes and other toxic chemicals. Another benefit is that they use recyclable packaging. 100% Pure cosmetics line offers everything from skincare products to shampoos, but you may want to try their fruit-pigmented makeup first.
Lime Crime is a well-known innovator in the beauty industry, as they were among the first makeup brands to feature liquid matte lipsticks. They continue to break new grounds by going fully vegan and cruelty-free, with PETA and Leaping Bunny certifications. Lime Crime makeup is designed to stand out and last longer by using rich colors and textures, which can be seen in their famous Venus eyeshadow palettes. In addition to makeup, you can also get brushes.
This planet-friendly makeup brand never uses more than 10 ingredients while formulating their products, and some of them include organic avocado oil, kokum butter, and elderberry extract. Axiology produces creamy vegan and cruelty-free lipsticks, balmies, and crayons in a variety of colors that range from warm and light tones to vibrant and deep shades.In addition to using clean and sustainably-sourced ingredients to produce ethical makeup, Axiology donates a percentage of their annual profits to vegan and cruelty-free organizations to support their work.
Vesca is a makeup brand that goes a step further when it comes to wide shade ranges. In addition to foundations, they also produce bronzers and highlighters that are suitable for all skin tones. Vesca beauty products are vegan and cruelty-free, and the brand is committed to doing their bit in protecting the environment. Vesca uses recyclable and compostable packaging for their products, except their paper tape, which can only be recycled. Also, their Soft Sun Radiant Skin Primer & Luminizer bottles are made from EVOH plastic and can be recycled at some facilities, together with the primer caps and plugs.
Hynt Beauty is a makeup brand that fully discloses the ingredients they use so that you always know what their products contain. They are committed to creating formulas with natural and organic ingredients, such as antioxidants, plant extracts, and phytonutrients, and their products lack parabens, nanoparticles, artificial preservatives, and gluten. In addition to being cruelty-free, this brand is PETA-certified vegan for all of their products, except mascara. You can choose from a variety of makeup and skincare products, and they also offer brushes.
Ecco Bella creates makeup and skincare products using nutraceuticals, which are some of the most effective anti-aging ingredients in nature. They are derived from pigmented fruits and vegetables and some of Ecco Bella’s favorites are lutein from marigolds, beta carotene from carrots, astaxanthin from sea algae, and lycopene from tomatoes. All Ecco Bella products are gluten-free and cruelty-free. Most of their products are vegan as well, except for certain lipsticks, blushes, and lip liner pencils that have carmine, which they outline in their FAQ section. Also, Ecco Bella products come in biodegradable packaging.
Bare Minerals formulates makeup and skin care products with just a few natural and botanical ingredients, and their products are free of parabens, mineral oils, microbeads, and other additives. All of their products are cruelty-free, while the majority of them are vegan, including cleansers, moisturizers, and treatments. Also, many of their products are gluten-free. Bare Minerals is committed to reducing unnecessary waste, so members of their free loyalty program get points with every recycled item.
Nude by Nature
Nude by Nature uses a high-performing formula that contains only natural ingredients and is free of chemicals such as parabens, silicones, talc, and bismuth. This Sydney-based company uses locally sourced ingredients and is Australian No. 1 Mineral Make-Up brand. Nude by Nature is PETA-certified cruelty-free and it offers a selection of vegan-friendly products listed on their website. They also outline that some of their products use ethically sourced beeswax and lanolin.
Emani cosmetics believes in treating makeup as skincare and their formula contains high-performance doses of Vitamin C, hyaluronic acid, peptides, organic oils, and plant extracts. They aim to provide a sustainable, clean, and gluten-free alternative to conventional makeup. Emani uses green technology and eco-friendly manufacturing to make a positive impact on the planet through their cosmetics. Also, their 30-day guarantee allows you to return even a partly used product if you’re not satisfied and exchange it for something else or get a full refund.
Everyday Minerals is one of truly inspiring makeup brands, as their products are formulated with just a few clean, natural, hand-crafted, and sustainably-sourced ingredients. Instead of testing on animals, Everyday Minerals evaluate ingredients on human volunteers and they make sure that their suppliers stay in good standings with their beliefs. From eyeshadows and concealers to lip glosses and blushes, you’re likely to find everything you need to upgrade your beauty routine.
Antonym Cosmetics is a certified organic and natural makeup brand launched by a makeup artist with plenty of experience working with professionals in TV, film, commercials and print. Despite the clean and gentle formula, Antonym doesn’t cut down on color vibrancy as it creates highly-pigmented makeup that’s suitable for all skin types. In addition to being cruelty-free, all Antonym products are vegan, except lipsticks, which contain organic beeswax. Antonym Cosmetics is dedicated to preserving the environment and their compacts are made of sustainable bamboo, while the paper for packaging is either recycled or FSC (sustainable forest) paper.
NCLA is a Los Angeles-based company that quickly rose to prominence due to its vegan formula and high-quality, affordable makeup products. They started off with nail wraps and nail lacquers and expanded to lip products and care. Vivid colors and clean ingredients are defining traits of this company, as well as staying committed to never testing on animals.
Atomic Makeup is the rock star among makeup brands, and its edgy and colorful look will certainly spice up your makeup routine. Their extensive range of lipsticks, lip glosses, eyeshadows, highlighters, and body glitter is completely vegan and cruelty-free and comes at affordable prices. Bold and unique colors are the core of this New York-based company, and they believe in creating makeup that matches every skin tone and personality. Atomic Makeup is also the first makeup brand to launch a full line of CBD-enhanced lipsticks and lip glosses.
Inika is an Australian-owned brand that’s well-known for its use of natural, organic, and non-toxic ingredients. Their makeup is vegan and cruelty-free and it’s infused with botanicals and pure minerals intended to provide hydration and nutrition. Inika’s products are suitable for all skin types, and in addition to makeup and skincare products, they also offer an extensive range of brushes. This company applies eco-friendly practices in every stage of the production, and their packaging is made of recyclable materials.
EcoTools company manufactures makeup brushes, sponges, and other bath accessories that are PETA-certified vegan and cruelty-free. This innovative brand features makeup brushes made using high-quality, soft bristles, while the handles are made of renewable bamboo. EcoTools is committed to repurposing old and used things, so their products are made from recycled aluminum and plastics. Also, they endorse Tree-Free paper philosophy, which is why their packaging is made of cotton and bamboo fibers.
Vegan and Cruelty-Free Certifications
Organizations like PETA, The Vegan Society, and Vegan Action certify vegan beauty products, and if a particular product has one of their logos, it means that it meets their standards for being vegan. While PETA is the only one of the three that offers separate certifications for vegan and cruelty-free products, both Vegan Action and The Vegan Society list animal testing as one of the criteria for evaluating whether a product is vegan or not.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) is a non-profit organization founded in 1980 with the aim of protecting animal rights. They focus on issues such as animal testing, factory farming, fur farming, and the use of animals in entertainment. Although the organization has been the focus of controversy several times, especially regarding their euthanasia practices, PETA continues to grow, attracting over six million supporters.
PETA supports a vegan lifestyle and it certifies personal care and fashion products that fulfill their requirements of being vegan. The “PETA-Approved Vegan” logo can be used on individual products, for collections or for an entire brand.
In addition to vegan certifications, PETA also certifies brands or companies that don’t test on animals, under its Global Beauty Without Bunnies program. As they state, “to be considered “cruelty-free” under PETA’s Global Beauty Without Bunnies program, a company must not only ban animal tests but also refuse to use any animal-derived ingredients, such as honey, beeswax, or carmine in its products.”
The Vegan Society
The Vegan Society is a registered educational charity founded in 1944 by Donald Watson, who coined the term “vegan”, and it’s the oldest vegan society in the world. Its mission is to provide information on vegan lifestyle and promote it through numerous campaigns. Companies can register their products with the Vegan Trademark, provided they meet the society’s vegan standards. The products include anything from food and drink, to cosmetics, clothing, and household items.
Vegan Action is another non-profit organization that certifies vegan products. It was founded in 1995 and it is dedicated to eliminating animal suffering, reducing environmental impacts, and promoting a vegan diet as a way to improve health. Their “Certified Vegan” logo has been used on thousands of products that don’t contain animal products or byproducts and that haven’t been tested on animals.
Organizations like Cruelty Free International, Choose Cruelty Free, and Beauty Without Cruelty certify beauty products that haven’t been tested on animals.
Cruelty Free International
Cruelty Free International is an animal protection and advocacy group founded in 1898. This organization campaigns for abolition of all animal experiments. They certify cruelty-free cosmetics, personal care and household products under the internationally known Leaping Bunny program, with an instantly recognizable logo.
Choose Cruelty Free
Choose Cruelty Free is an Australian non-profit organization that advocates for animal rights. This group is the only independent body in Australia that surveys and accredits cruelty-free companies selling cosmetics, toiletries, and household cleaning items. The products that are certified by Choose Cruelty Free have the Not Tested on Animals Rabbit Logo.
Beauty Without Cruelty
Beauty Without Cruelty is an animal rights organization created in 1975 in South Africa with the aim of informing and educating people about animal abuse and exploitation, and about humane alternatives to cruel lifestyle choices. The organization offers a humane guide, which is a list of 120+ companies certified cruelty-free according to BWC’s set of criteria.
All of these companies feature a bunny-like logo, but when buying a certain product, you should always pay attention to logos and check whether they are legitimate and from a reputable brand. That said, a company can be cruelty-free without having the official logo, because displaying it on a product requires additional cost. If you’re unsure about the company’s policy regarding testing on animals, it’s always a good idea to reach out to them and ask for information.
Final Thought: The Future of Vegan Makeup
Using a vegan formula and showing compassion to animals is something every major beauty company should strive for. These makeup brands started a revolution that was met with a hugely positive response, so we can hope that the rest of the big and smaller players alike will follow in their footsteps.