The complexities of cruelty free beauty

The complexities of cruelty free beauty

About 2 years ago, I decided to switch to cruelty free beauty. I’m not a massive makeup fiend, so this journey has mostly consisted of replacing products as and when they run out.

I think I’ve been doing pretty well. I’m a point now where my makeup bag (and my shower!) is totally cruelty free. Or at least it is if you define cruelty free the same way that I do.

See the thing about ethical beauty is that nothing’s ever as easy as it should be. There are a lot of minefields to navigate such as parent companies, whether or not a company sells in China, and the presence (or lack of!) vegan ingredients.

I’ll be honest, I’ve not got it cracked yet. I’m still incredibly muddled about which brands are and are not cruelty free, and I regularly get overwhelmed and wish I could just buy everything from Benefit like the good old days. But no one said ethical living was easy – if it was, we’d all do it.

So today I thought I’d break down some of the issues around going cruelty free, to help other muddled souls like myself gain a little clarity. I’ll preface this by saying I fully accept I may be wrong – and if anything I’ve said in this post is incorrect or you disagree, please feel free to point it out in the comments (nicely, of course).

Parent Companies

This is probably the greyest area of cruelty free beauty, and there is no one right or wrong approach to take with parent companies.

See, some brands are completely cruelty free – but they’re owned by companies that aren’t (parent companies). Urban Decay, for instance, doesn’t test on animals, but it is owned by L’Oreal who does.

Some people choose to avoid brands that are owned by ‘cruel’ parent companies, believing that by supporting the child you are indirectly supporting the parent. Others believe that by purchasing from the cruelty free subsidiary of cruel parent companies, you are showing a demand for cruelty free products, which is ultimately a good thing.

Personally, I’m on the fence about parent companies. Generally, I try to buy from independent brands, but if the choice is between a totally ‘cruel’ brand, or a cruelty free brand with a dodgy parent company, I’ll choose the cruelty free brand every time.

It’s important to note that brands chop and change ownership fairly regularly, and brands that were once cruelty free and independent now may be owned by a parent company. That’s why it’s important to stay up to date!

Ingredients vs. Products

Some companies claim they are cruelty free because they do not test their end products on animals. However, often they do test individual ingredients on animals – or use third-party suppliers who do. For many people, this means that the brand is not cruelty free.

Unfortunately, it’s not always clear whether brands test individual ingredients, and it’s easy to get it wrong. Just the other day I learned that two of my favourite brands, Sleek and Soap & Glory (who both make up around half of my makeup bag) do test some of their ingredients on animals. Now I’ll need to replace these products with alternatives once they run out.


Many brands do not test any of their products – or ingredients – on animals. They might even be independent from cruel parent companies. They may still, however, sell into China.

If they produce and sell any products in China, they are required to test them on animals by Chinese law. That means that they’re willing to forsake their ethics just to access the Chinese market.

Brands that sell into China are a big no-go for me. It shows that they value profits over ethics, and that’s just not something I’m down with.

Vegan vs. Cruelty Free

You’d assume that any brand that uses only vegan ingredients would also be cruelty free. I certainly thought so. However that is not always the case. Whilst vegan brands are usually cruelty free, that’s not always the case – so make sure you double check before buying! (Side note: does anyone know whether or not Original Source are cruelty free? They’re definitely vegan, but I can’t find any info about their cruelty free status!)

As you can see, ethical beauty isn’t always as simple as it first appears. You have to do a lot of research and decide where to draw your own personal line. Everyone is different. At the end of the day opting for a more ethical brand over a less ethical brand, even if they’re not perfect, is better than doing nothing.

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