Is cruelty-free really free from cruelty?
If you’ve been religiously buying cruelty-free cosmetics, you may be in for a nasty shock. It turns out that just because it says cruelty-free doesn’t actually mean that it is cruelty-free. The good news is that this is changing, and what it means to be genuinely cruelty-free is becoming more standardized.
Around the world, countries like the UK, Australia, India, Israel, and the whole of the European Union have actively banned animal testing for cosmetics. Other countries, like the USA, have amended their laws to say that animal testing is no longer required before cosmetics can go on sale. These are all massive steps in the right direction, as they force brands to change how they run their companies and bring products to the shelves.
No Single Definition
Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as placing a ban on animal testing.
This is because there’s no unified definition of what cruelty-free actually means for the cosmetics industry. For some, the label of cruelty-free gets applied if the end product is not tested on animals. For others, each phase of the manufacturing process needs to comply.
An ethical brand like 100% Pure goes through meticulous processes to ensure that every ingredient used is never animal-sourced nor tested on animals. But not all brands go to the same great lengths to stay cruelty-free. And with the current laws, they don’t have to.
Under current regulations, a product is cruelty-free if it’s not tested on any animals. However, the suppliers of the different ingredients could have tested their components on animals without impacting the certification of the end product.
This is highly misleading for those of us who want to make a stand.
Still Using Animal Products
Another big problem is that a product can include animal derivatives or products in its ingredients and still get cruelty-free certification. This is because it isn’t a legal requirement for ingredient suppliers to disclose what their sources are. In the best-case scenario, the manufacturer of the end product doesn’t know that they’re using animal products. In the worst-case scenario, they don’t care.
All Earthlings conducted a major study of international cosmetics brands. The study found that a worryingly high number of products are still using shark squalene. This was the case even though the ingredient is readily available from plants and can be manufactured synthetically. 89% of the products they tested containing shark squalene were actually certified as vegan or cruelty-free. Yet clearly, they weren’t.
The Product’s Afterlife
Another area that should concern us is what happens to a product after it’s sold, used, and the packaging discarded.
There may be no animal ingredients and animal testing at any stage in the manufacturing process. However, that doesn’t mean the product can’t cause harm to animals and the environment in its afterlife.
All the packaging that’s non-biodegradable or non-recyclable will end up in a landfill, or as litter on the ground, in lakes, rivers, or the ocean. The chemicals in our products are also getting washed away into our water supply each time we remove our makeup, rinse off our face wash, or let out the bathwater. Every time we go swimming with sunscreen on, we’re polluting the water and harming marine life. Yet, none of these products warn us about the dangers that come with using them and the effect they can have on animals.
Alternative Testing Methods
It’s clear that positive steps are being taken by countries, legislators, and cosmetics brands worldwide. However, they need to start taking responsibility for the entire lifespan of their products—from sourcing cruelty-free ingredients to planning what happens when the product gets disposed of.
The first step is to look at the testing process for both the end product and the ingredients used. Natural ingredients and compounds are essential, as they’re far healthier overall and are safe and toxin-free.
Additionally, if the manufacturer can’t confirm that their suppliers didn’t conduct animal testing or use animal products, they need to hold them accountable. They shouldn’t be allowed to certify products as cruelty-free.
There are three ways that businesses now test their cosmetics and ingredients without involving animals. These methods are just as effective, if not more so:
- In Vitro – Using human tissue and cells in a Petrie dish to run tests.
- In Silico – Using sophisticated computers to run simulations and models.
- Human Volunteers – Working with people to see real-world reactions (usually only done after one or both of tests 1 and 2 are complete).
What Embracing The Holistic Approach Looks Like
Once the testing phase has been taken care of, it’s time to focus on the rest of the product’s life. It’s vital to ensure that the product can’t harm the environment when it’s in use and when it’s finished.
- Multi-Use Products – Having products that you can use for more than one thing is a game-changer. Especially in terms of the amount of packaging and potential waste that’s put into the world. A one-color palette that contains blush, eye shadow, and lipstick means you have one item of packaging instead of three.
- No Harmful Chemicals – Manufacturers must consider what the ingredients they use will do to the environment. Going back to the sunscreen example, coral reefs have started dying due to sunscreen washing off when people swim in the ocean. Additionally, plastic microbeads in exfoliating face and body washes are causing massive problems for marine life. These tiny beads get swallowed and make animals sick.
- Refillable Or Plastic-Free Packaging – Single-use plastic is a significant problem in the cosmetics industry. Makeup compacts, lipstick and mascara tubes, face wash bottles, and moisturizer jars are traditionally made from non-recyclable plastic and thrown away when empty. Cosmetic and beauty companies need to make a change if they want to be genuinely cruelty-free in the future. This switch comes in the form of refillable packaging that you can use over and over again. Alternatively, the packaging should be made from a material like glass so that users can properly recycle it.
One thing is clear: cruelty-free beauty isn’t all that clear. But knowing the facts can help you shop smart and steer clear of the products that aren’t doing animals any good.