What Does Cruelty-Free Mean in Skin Care?

When browsing your local skincare aisle, you may see products labeled as “cruelty-free,” – but what does this mean? In the push for natural and ethical skincare, cruelty-free is just one of many labels that a product can have.

“Cruelty-free skincare can help ensure that your skin routine aligns with your values.”

  • Shani Darden

Read on for more information on what it truly means to be cruelty-free, as well as some tips on how to know if a product is actually cruelty-free.

What Does Cruelty-Free Mean?

There is a large push today for natural and ethical skincare, especially as cosmetic science and product safety have evolved past the need for animal testing. Because of this push, many cosmetic and beauty companies have started using product labels like “cruelty-free,” “clean beauty,” or “all-natural.” 

While these labels may make products sound ethical, these terms are not very regulated. In fact, at the time of this post, there is no legal definition for the term “cruelty-free.” Unfortunately, many cosmetic companies use the term as a marketing ploy to make more sales in the vegan product or cruelty-free cosmetics market.

Read on for a few things that cruelty-free can mean.

No Animal Testing

Truly upstanding cruelty-free companies do not employ any kind of animal testing for their products. This means that the whole product, from start to finish, was created without violating any animal rights. This even means there was no animal testing in creating the ingredients that go into each product.

This is the purest form of cruelty-free skincare. Unfortunately, it’s rather rare, as most skincare ingredients and products undergo animal testing at some point in product development.

Fortunately, I offer a selection of products that are not only award-winning and highly effective but are also fully cruelty-free from start to finish. From cleansers to serums to moisturizers, I’ve got you covered for all of your cruelty-free skincare needs.

Some Animal Testing

Most cruelty-free skincare falls into this category. In this category are a few different types of product development.

First, some cruelty-free products may have used animal testing on individual ingredients. In this case, while the final product hasn’t been tested on animals, some ingredients have during the production process.

Second, this label may mean that cruelty-free brands don’t perform any testing themselves but still source ingredients from ingredient suppliers that employ animal testing. Whether this testing occurs within the United States or countries like mainland China that legally allow animal testing, it is still part of the product.

Previous Animal Testing

This interpretation of cruelty-free means that while the finished product you’re holding in your hands wasn’t tested on animals, animals were tested on previously in the product development. For instance, a beauty company may be using a newer version of an older formula made with animal testing.

One consolation in this area is that your product is not actively contributing to animal cruelty. Whether or not you use a product in this category is up to you and your own ethical standpoints.

Why Choose Cruelty-Free Skincare?

With so much debate and vagueness surrounding cruelty-free beauty products, you may be wondering why you should even choose cruelty-free skincare. While it can be tricky to find truly cruelty-free products and the waters are murky regarding product development, I still think that cruelty-free is a better choice for the animals, the environment, and your skin.

You may choose cruelty-free products to align with your own ethical viewpoints. For instance, if you are greatly concerned about animal welfare, you might be more interested in finding a cruelty-free personal care product

If you’re vegan, however, the options may be a bit narrower for you. While cruelty-free cosmetic products generally mean no animals were harmed, they may still use animal products. For instance, many of these formulations still use ingredients like beeswax

If this is the case, you’re in luck. Many of my products are also completely vegan – like my Lactic Acid Serum. My award-winning formulation uses lab-derived lactic acid that doesn’t come from animal byproducts. This just goes to show that you don’t need to give up glowing skin in your quest for ethical products.

Another reason to choose cruelty-free products is that they are often designed with non-toxic ingredients. Companies that truly care about being cruelty-free are also very environmentally conscious and toxin-aware, so you can rest assured that the product you’re using will help your skin.

Is Cruelty-Free Skincare Safe?

While animal testing started as a way to ensure product safety, there’s no need for the practice to continue today. Back at its origins, we didn’t have the technology to ensure that the products we were putting on and in our bodies were safe. Animal testing was all we had to make sure our products were safe.

However, now there are methods of testing cosmetics and skincare products that enable us to leave animal testing out of the equation. New methods like in-vitro and ex-vivo testing allow us to test products for reactions on skin cells outside the laboratory in controlled environments. In fact, this method is even more reliable than animal testing!

How Can You Know if a Product Is Cruelty-Free?

Although the FDA doesn’t regulate the term cruelty-free, plenty of reputable companies have their own seal of approval. Here are a few to look out for:

  • The Leaping Bunny program is a cruelty-free certification from Cruelty-Free International that features a logo of a leaping bunny. Being Leaping Bunny certified shows that a product is not currently using any animal testing in its development or production.
  • The PETA Caring Customer certification program is designed to help consumers choose cosmetic and truly cruelty-free household products. Also called Beauty Without Bunnies, this bunny logo indicates that no animal testing was involved in developing or producing a product.
  • The CCF Rabbit logo comes from Choose Cruelty-Free and means that no animal cruelty was involved in making a product. If you are in the United States you may not see this one as often since this certification serves only Australia, but you may see it if you purchase Australian beauty products.

Here at Shani Darden, you can rest assured that my products are PETA-certified cruelty-free and vegan. Even highly powerful and effective anti-aging formulations like my Retinol Reform are certified for your peace of mind.

In Conclusion

Unfortunately, the term “cruelty-free” is not regulated, so it can be hard to determine when or if a product is truly cruelty-free. While some companies may truly care about being purely free of animal cruelty, others may employ or benefit from animal testing using backdoor methods.

Fortunately, there are a few certifications from third parties that can help you choose truly cruelty-free products. Schedule a virtual consultation with one of my skincare experts to learn more about my cruelty-free skincare.


"Cruelty Free"/"Not Tested on Animals" | U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA

What Does Cruelty-Free Skincare Mean? | North Pacific Dermatology

Cruelty-Free Labeling | MSPCA-Angell