Cruelty-Free vs Vegan: What’s the Difference?

Image of a white table full of beauty products, in front of a leaf of eucalyptus. Featuring a Barry M blush palette, Pansy perfume by Lush, foundation by MUA, Vitamin E moisturise from Superdrug, Lipstick by Boutique (Sainsburys) and two makeup brushed.

The terms ‘cruelty-free’ and ‘vegan’ are both buzzwords that are used interchangeably. But, don’t they just mean the same thing? Well, not exactly.

The demand for ethical products is only set to increase over the next few years. With ethical beauty once being a niche industry, we are now starting to see it becoming the norm, with consumers choosing to buy from brands that have a strong moral compass.

With interest in veganism rising – and fast – we’re starting to see more and more brands advertise their products as being vegan. For example, in 2018 Garnier started promoting their new vegan ultimate blends range on TV adverts and in magazines. However, Garnier is famously NOT cruelty-free.

Confusing, right?

As a new vegan or cruelty-free shopper, it can be difficult enough to navigate through what you can or can’t buy without brands confusing consumers with the terminology they use. With that in mind, in this article, we’ll explore what ‘cruelty-free’ and ‘vegan’ both mean and why it’s important to learn the difference between the two.

Cruelty-Free vs Vegan

While both the terms ‘cruelty-free’ and ‘vegan’ are both used to champion animal rights, they do in fact mean different things.

So, what is the difference between the two?

Let’s start with the term ‘cruelty-free’. This is something that I briefly touched upon in a previous blog post, but Cruelty-Free means that no animals were tested on, harmed or killed during the production of the product. Generally, this is referring to the testing process and not the actual ingredients of the product itself.

Currently, across the world there are millions of animals suffering during laboratory experiments. In fact, shocking statistics from Cruelty-Free International reveal that the UK conducts the most animal experiments in Europe, with 2.5 million experiments having taken place in the UK in 2017 alone. However, by choosing brands who are cruelty-free, you’re making sure that your purchase does not contribute to funding more experiments.

Now, let’s move on to products that are labelled as being ‘vegan’. If a product is advertised as being vegan, then this means that the product does NOT contain animal ingredients that have been derived from animals.

Many people are often surprised to learn that their favourite products actually contain some pretty weird ingredients derived from animals. Some of the most common include:

  • Lanolin: Commonly derived from sheep wool and is often found in products such as lip balms, sticks and glosses.
  • Beeswax: Sometimes labelled as ‘Cera alba’, beeswax is commonly used in products such as mascara to keep oil and liquid from separating.
  • Carmine: This can sometimes be labelled as ‘cochineal’, ‘natural red 4’, ‘E120’, or ‘C.I. 75470’. This is often used to add a red colour to lipsticks or nail varnishes and is made from insects which are crushed, and their colour extracted.

Both of these terms sound pretty similar, so are easily confused as being one and the same. However, there are many products that can just be one or the other.

Products That Are Cruelty-Free AND Vegan

If a product has been labelled as cruelty-free AND vegan, then it means that the product was not tested on animals and it doesn’t contain animal-derived ingredients or by-products. A great example of this is e.l.f. cosmetics, as all of their products are cruelty-free and vegan.

Products That Are Cruelty-Free But NOT Vegan

If a product is labelled as being cruelty-free but does not reference that it’s vegan, then it means that the product was not tested on animals, but it does contain animal derived ingredients or by-products. For example, whilst GOSH is a cruelty-free brand – meaning that they don’t test on animals – not all of their products are vegan. For example, one of their mascara’s contains beeswax, an animal-derived ingredient.

Products That Are Vegan But NOT Cruelty-Free

If a product is labelled as vegan but not as cruelty-free, then it means that the product has been tested on animals but doesn’t contain any animal-derived ingredients. A good example of this is the launch of Garnier’s vegan Ultimate Blends shampoo and conditioner which I mentioned above. Whilst the product doesn’t contain animal-derived ingredients, Garnier itself is a brand that does test on animals so aren’t labelled as being cruelty-free.

Graphic showing the difference between the terms cruelty-free and vegan.

Should The Two Terms Be Separate?

As someone who is vegan and only shops from brands that are cruelty-free – YES.

If a product has been tested on animals, then it shouldn’t be allowed to label itself as vegan. The ingredients might not have derived from animals, but animals were harmed in the process which is the opposite of what veganism is all about.

Unfortunately, brands are allowed to do this. There currently aren’t any legal definitions for labelling a product as ‘cruelty-free’ and ‘vegan’, so companies like Garnier are allowed to label their product as being vegan, despite harming animals in the process.

To avoid any confusion or risk from buying from the wrong brand, try and only buy from companies that are transparent about their animal testing policies and who provide a list of their vegan products (bonus points for buying from brands whose products are 100% vegan!)

There are some excellent resources out there to help you figure out which brands are cruelty-free and vegan, such as Cruelty-Free Kitty and Logical Harmony.

If you have any questions, feel free to ping me a message on Instagram or chat with me over on Twitter.

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