Cruelty Free’s Definition: Actual Meaning and More

Animal Welfare

Just like eco-friendly products, cruelty free cosmetics are becoming more popular among ethical consumers. Most of them are aware of the cruel practices of animal testing and they prefer to buy cruelty free products.
If you care about animals, you probably prefer animal-friendly products too. Unfortunately, some companies take advantage of their “cruelty free” definition to attract customers and sell more!
Keep reading to learn the actual cruelty free definition and how to tell if a brand is being honest about its practices!

Cruelty Free Definition

Cruelty free means that a brand doesn’t test their products or ingredients on animals at any stage of production. The cruelty free definition implies that the brand didn’t kill or harm animals to test its products anywhere in the world.
That said, it doesn’t mean you should trust every single product that has “cruelty free” labels. While the cruelty free definition is very popular, there isn’t a globally accepted legal definition of the term. In other words, brands can use cruelty free labels as a marketing strategy even if they still harm animals!
For that reason, it’s important to know how a brand uses the term before buying its products and falling into a marketing trap. Below you will learn how some companies use the cruelty free definition!

What’s the Difference between Cruelty Free Definition and Vegan?

Cruelty free Definition: not harming animals
Usually, consumers confuse the cruelty free definition with the term “vegan”. These labels can be pretty confusing because you could think they’re both related to animals’ wellbeing. Yet, they tend to focus on different principles:

  • The cruelty free definition focuses on the testing process, not the ingredients a product contains. A cruelty free product could still contain animal-derived ingredients, such as beeswax, honey, carmine, lanolin, albumen, and so on.
  • A vegan label means that the product doesn’t contain animal-derived ingredients. Unlike cruelty free products, vegan products refer to the ingredients used, not the testing process. Therefore, a vegan product could have been tested on animals.

If you want to use products that are completely free of animal suffering, choose products that are both cruelty free and vegan!

The Truth about Cruelty Free Labels

Reading the information and checking the labels of every single product can be overwhelming. Brands put this information to let you know more about their product, but remember they also want you to buy it. So, they usually use unregulated terms like “cruelty free” to sound more attractive to you!
As it doesn’t have a legal definition, companies can use their own “cruelty free definition” to promote their products. For that reason, it’s important to know the most common cruelty free definitions in marketing:

  • Some brands use this term to talk about their finished product. Even if they don’t test the final product on animals, they do test ingredients. As a result, their cruelty free label is not completely true!
  • Some brands say that their products are “cruelty free” because they don’t conduct animal testing in their own facilities. That said, most companies rely on raw material suppliers or contract laboratories to do animal testing, according to the FDA.
  • Although some brands state that they’re against animal testing, they still choose to do it if it’s required by law.
  • The brand has a cruelty free certification by a third party. Even though it isn’t a legal regulation, it’s a certification by a trustful organization that the brand doesn’t conduct animal testing.

In short, finding a genuine cruelty free product is a little more complicated than it seems. Most companies don’t care about animals; they just want to sell more. Fortunately, below you will learn how to recognize true cruelty free products!

How to Tell if a Product is Truly Cruelty Free?

Hugging Rabbit: Cruelty Free definition
Before buying “cruelty free” products, make sure they’re actually what they claim to be and that they’re not using the term to deceive customers. Here are some easy ways to find and recognize true cruelty free products:

1. Check if the product has a certified bunny logo on the packaging

You’ve probably seen some pretty bunny logos on cosmetics.
However, only a few of them are a true certification by respected organizations. Check if the product has one of these certified logos: PETA, Choose Cruelty Free, or Leaping Bunny. If you find one of them on the packaging, you will know that the cruelty free claim is backed up by a third party!

What does having a certified bunny logo mean?
If the brand carries one of these logos, it meets the cruelty free standards of the organization that provides the logo. The logo guarantees that the brand and its suppliers don’t conduct animal testing anywhere in the world. In contrast, brands with non-certified logos have their own “cruelty free definition”.

2. Check online lists of certified cruelty free brands

Looking for a certified bunny logo is the easiest way to recognize products that weren’t tested on animals. That said, some brands don’t have the bunny logo on their packaging even though they’re cruelty free certified. Why? Well, they might not be able to afford the fee to use the logo or they chose not to show it.
While there’s a fee to use the logos, it’s free to become certified by the organizations that provide the logos! There’s just one condition: the brand must meet their cruelty free standards. So, if you want to make sure, check the following online lists of certified cruelty free brands:


With these simple actions, understanding cruelty free definition, you will tell if your products are indeed cruelty free!
Finally, remember that nowadays there are many alternative methods to animal testing that can guarantee product safety as well. So, there’s no excuse for companies to keep harming innocent animals. That’s why it’s important to support true cruelty free brands and encourage others to do it too!
Want to know more about overall cruelty free and the cruelty free movement?

Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. “”Cruelty Free”/”Not Tested on Animals” Labeling on Cosmetics.” U.S. Food and Drug Administration. FDA. Web. 22 Jan. 2021.
Author: Monica Chang
On my own ethical journey since 2010. Always happy to learn more!