Article by: Perry Romanowski

Hello and welcome to Hot Topics from Chemists Corner, the show where I pick some topic about the cosmetic industry that caught my eye and give my 2 cents.

Today’s topic…Cruelty Free Cosmetics.

I’ve seen a lot of articles about this topic and a quick look at Google trends shows that interest in cruelty free beauty products has rapidly increased in the last three years. Just the other day I read that Unilever has gone on a crusade to get animal testing banned around the world, Dove was credited with being cruelty free by PETA and California just passed a law called the Cruelty Free Cosmetics act that banned animal testing. I’ll save animal testing for another day but in this video I wanted to cover the claim “cruelty free”.

What does it mean? What effect does it have on animals? and are cruelty free cosmetics, really cruelty free?

According to Wikipedia the term cruelty-free refers to “products or activities that do not harm or kill animals anywhere in the world.” Now, Wikipedia isn’t always the most accurate source of information but it does reflect the beliefs of many people so there is a large segment of the population that believes cruelty-free products are not harming animals.

But is this true? Are cruelty free beauty products ones that do not harm or kill animals?

No. This isn’t true at all.

In fact, with the recent movement towards more plant derived ingredients, the production of cosmetic products may actually be becoming more cruel and harmful to animals.

How’s that you ask? Well I’ll tell you.

When beauty product companies use the claim “cruelty free” what they really mean is that their company has not done any animal testing. Essentially they rely on using only ingredients that were previously tested on animals by other companies and they use human volunteers for other testing. To cosmetic companies & the state of California cruelty free means not tested on animals. Well, non-human animals anyway.

While it is true that companies claiming cruelty free don’t harm animals by testing on them, this isn’t the only place in the production of cosmetics where animals can be harmed and killed.

Consider farming.

Now, it’s complicated to figure out exactly how many animals are inadvertently killed during plowing, planting and harvesting but one study by Fischer and Lamey published in the Journal of Agricultural and Environmental Ethics estimates about 7.3 billion wild animals are killed every year. And this doesn’t even include the insects that are both accidentally and purposely killed. Of course, this is a controversial number because no one has actually gone out and counted wild animal deaths. Critics will claim that most of the animals escape. But certainly everyone would agree that some animals are killed during this process of growing & harvesting crops. And this is my point….

Cosmetic products that use plant derived ingredients are not cruelty free. Indeed they are still responsible for killing and maiming a vast number of animals every year.

One thing that bugs me about the claim is that it is just wrong. Cruelty free cosmetics are not free from cruelty. That’s the wrong word. And it’s misleading because consumers really think that the products are cruelty free. They think that no harm is coming to animals in the making of these products. And that is just wrong.

But what really bugs me is the manipulative, holier-than-thou attitude that brands who make this claim have.

The cruelty free claim automatically implies that other cosmetic brands that don’t make this claim are evil, cold hearted, rabbit killing abominations. And this isn’t true.

In the EU and elsewhere animal testing of cosmetics has been banned since 2013. Pretty much every beauty product sold in Europe is cruelty free. And since big multinational brands who sell around the world don’t want to complicate production by using different formulas, most of them have stopped using animal testing too.

The reality is even in the United States the vast majority of companies have avoided doing animal testing. This is primarily because it is expensive, it’s a PR nightmare, and they can make most products perfectly fine without animal testing.

The cruelty free claim for cosmetics is just outdated and misleading. And the implication that somehow the brands that label themselves as “cruelty free” are better for animals than other brands, that’s just false.

Cruelty free cosmetics are nothing special and they certainly aren’t harmless to animals. It’s just morality marketing that attempts to paint competitors as immoral.

Now, I love animals. I had lots of pets over the years and even studied biology. Amphibians are my favorites but I love all animals. I even volunteer at a cat shelter every week. I think it’s great that companies are doing away with animal testing. For the most part, they aren’t needed for cosmetics and these tests are cruel. I’m happy the cosmetic industry is getting away from it.

But don’t be fooled by cruelty free marketing. Products with a bunny on the front or endorsed by PETA may avoid animal testing (like most every other cosmetic brand) but they are not free from cruelty and certainly harm animals. Just ask the rabbits who’s bodies were mangled during the harvesting of that corn-derived, gentle cleanser.

That’s it for me. Thanks for watching another Hot Topics from Chemists Corner. I’m Perry Romanowski and I’ll see you next time.

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About the Author

Perry Romanowski

Perry has been formulating cosmetic products and inventing solutions to solve consumer problems since the early 1990’s. Additionally, he has written and edited numerous articles and books, taught continuing education classes for industry scientists, and developed successful websites. His latest book is Beginning Cosmetic Chemistry 3rd Edition published by Allured.

2 comments

  1. jeff thompson

    but companies who sell in china, lancome and estee for example. do they not test on animals because it is law there, and how do they get away with selling the same cream in EU?

    1. Perry Romanowski

      Yes, some do. The EU does have an exception and allows companies to sell products in the EU as long as they do not use animal testing to support it’s safe use.

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