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What Does it Really Mean to be “Cruelty Free?”

“Cruelty free” is a term that many brands use to market their products. However, what "cruelty free" means isn’t exactly clear. Lists of brands circulate on social media sites that state what brands are cruelty free and which ones aren’t, but they do not seem to include what "cruelty free" really means. Here are a few questions and answers about the definition of "cruelty free."

What is the definition of a cruelty free brand?

Unfortunately, a clear definition or government regulation of cruelty free brands does not actually exist. Any brand can say that they are “cruelty free,” and it could mean a variety of things. This label might mean that a brand is truly completely cruelty free, but it could also mean that individual ingredients were tested on animals but not the final product. It could also mean that the company themselves does not do animal testing but outsources to a third party to test the product.

If a product isn’t tested on animals, how is it tested?

Some companies use cell and tissue cultures, or advanced computer programs to see how certain chemicals react. However, most cosmetic ingredients have already been tested on animals or in other ways, and further testing typically isn’t required. There have been enough tests done on the majority of cosmetic ingredients to deter more animal testing.  

Is there any way to know exactly how “cruelty free” a cruelty free brand is?

The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics has a certification program called Leaping Bunny that outlines exactly what it means to be cruelty free. The qualifications include things like not testing on animals but also more specific qualifications like not buying ingredients from companies that test on animals, monitoring suppliers consistently, etc. If a brand has the leaping bunny symbol, all you have to do to know exactly what this means is read the complete standards compilation on Leaping Bunny’s website. If a brand claims to be cruelty free but does not have this certification, there is no real way to know exactly what they mean.

Do companies have to pay for cruelty free certification?

It is completely free to become cruelty free certified through Leaping Bunny’s certification program!


Information and photo source: leapingbunny.org

Margo Milanowski

Northwestern '22

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