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What You Need to Know about Cruelty-Free Makeup

BY: Colleen Loggins Loster | Dec 1, 2017

Closeup view of makeup products and brushes in pastel colors

Cruelty-free makeup is the same as, say, stirrup pants or nonalcoholic beer—I'm vaguely aware it exists, but know it's not for me. Or so I thought. Then, about eight months ago, I was listening to the Natch Beaut podcast and the host, Jackie Johnson, was talking about how it's important to her to only use cruelty-free beauty products, or beauty products that weren't tested on animals.

The way she put it, she didn't think it was worth it to harm animals just so we could look slightly more attractive. And that message clicked with me, especially when I learned more about what it means to be cruelty-free. Like the fact that:

Animal testing doesn't have to happen.

Technological advances have come so far that cosmetics companies can actually use models of human skin to test products. The models are made from lab-grown human skin, which starts out as skin cells donated from willing plastic surgery patients. These human-skin models have been used in cosmetics labs since the 1970s, and they've only gotten more sophisticated over the years.

These lab scientists now maintain that tests on their human-skin models are better at predicting what will be safe for actual human skin than tests on animals like rabbits or rats.

Testing on animals still happens because the Chinese market requires it.

Despite the fact that animal testing has been banned in the European Union, Australia, and India, and is rarely done in the United States, many cosmetics companies still do it. That's because they have to if they want to sell in China, which requires the tests. And those brands definitely want to sell in China. It's the largest beauty market in the world, and not selling there means potentially missing out on millions or even billions of dollars.

There are some exceptions to the animal-testing regulations, but not many. So basically, if a company sells in China, they are most likely testing on animals.

Many makeup brands are already cruelty-free.

Are you worried that only hard-to-find, pricey indie brands are cruelty-free? I used to be. Then I started doing some research and learned that some of the biggest names in beauty don't test on animals, including a few drugstore brands.

BareMinerals makeup

List of Popular Cruelty-Free Makeup Brands

Milani, NYX, and Physician's Formula makeup

List of Popular Cruelty-Free Drugstore Brands

Note: Brands marked with an asterisk (*) don't test on animals but are owned by parent companies that do test on animals. There's a debate about whether or not supporting the child brands of non-cruelty-free parent companies is bad. I tend to think it's generally a good thing to go with these companies, especially if the 100% cruelty-free companies don't do it for you.

There's a difference between cruelty-free and vegan makeup.

Some of the confusion surrounding cruelty-free beauty stems from the belief that cruelty-free and vegan items are the same thing. They are not. Vegan makeup contains no ingredients derived from animals, whether that's beeswax or lanolin. Cruelty-free makeup, on the other hand, may contain these ingredients, it just wasn't tested on animals. It's harder to use both cruelty-free and vegan makeup, but not impossible.

Supergoop! and EcoTools brushes and makeup

Cruelty-Free and 100% Vegan Brands

At this point, I'm still a baby when it comes switching to cruelty-free beauty products. I've primarily been buying cruelty-free stuff from the drugstore—a lot of NYX and Wet 'n' Wild—but I did recently buy some foundation from Sephora. I specifically asked them to only show me cruelty-free options and walked out with Tarte's Amazonian Clay foundation. I may not be 100% cruelty-free, but I am trying to make more conscious decisions. And hey, we all have to start somewhere.


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Three of the bronzers on this list were created by cruelty-free brands.
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This intensive beauty regimen incorporates such cruelty-free brands as Tarte and S.W. Basics.
Guide Staff Writer
BY: Colleen Loggins Loster