The Truth About Cruelty Free Beauty Header

Right now you are probably either for or against animal testing, but how much do you really know about the practice? When I decided years ago that I would be against animal testing it was purely because I didn’t like the idea of animals being used to benefit humans. I had no idea what the tests actually were, and as stupid as this sounds, I thought it would just involve a lab assistant applying blush to the cheeks of a monkey or applying body lotion to a rat. The details of what the tests were didn’t interest me until a couple of years ago, and that was because I wanted to be a more informed consumer. Now that the EU has banned animal testing, it has brought the animal testing debate back into the spotlight and frankly, I am confused once again.

Not so long ago I implemented ‘Animal Cruelty Policy’ disclaimers in all my product reviews as a result of many readers asking to know more about the brands I was reviewing. Since the EU ban was announced earlier this year I have received even more questions, so with the help of some amazing cosmetic experts we are going to explore what animal testing is and how the EU ban may affect you. In Part 1 we explore what experiments are involved in animal testing, the different classifications and common misunderstandings. In Part 2 (tomorrow) we look at the EU ban and how that may or may not change things for the global beauty industry.

The one thing I always aim to do at The Plastic Diaries is give you all the information so you can make an informed choice. I must point out that in researching this article I did also express interest to a number of cosmetic companies that do test on animals, hoping they would participate and shed some light on why they run these experiments but none of them wished to be part of this article. Hopefully I have still succeeded to understand their point of view without their input.

The Testing

Let’s start right at the beginning. “Animal testing” is a term that gets thrown around a lot but as Mark Kindness, CEO of The Body Shop Australia, explains it doesn’t accurately reflect the practice.

Millions of animals are put through extremely painful and usually fatal experiments to prove the safety of ingredients and products for cosmetics. Animals, including rabbits, guinea pigs, mice and rats are routinely injected, gassed, force-fed and killed for cosmetics testing worldwide.

The Body Shop are just one of the global cosmetic companies who work with Cruelty Free International to end cosmetic testing. Michelle Thew, Cruelty Free International’s Chief Executive, gives us further insight into the experiments.

The term ‘animal tests’ may sound fairly harmless, but sadly, this is not the case. In terms of cosmetic testing, this is usually known as toxicity (poisoning) testing – looking for the adverse effects that a substance (or varying amounts of it) has on the animal internally or externally. So, for example, ingredients can be dripped into an animal’s eye, rubbed into the skin of their shaved back or forcibly put into their stomach (via a tube). The animals are monitored for adverse reactions and then killed after the test and their bodies dissected to see what effect the ingredients has had. These tests can involve a great deal of suffering.

Rabbits in stocks ready for cosmetic testing

Rabbits in stocks ready for cosmetic testing

Image Source: Cruelty Free International

When I spoke with Ayla Wilton from Lush Cosmetics Australia, I asked why do other cosmetic companies still feel this is a neccessary practice?

Many brands still test on animals because they don’t know whether or not their products or chemicals they intend to use are actually safe enough for use. So, they’d rather subject the burning, irritation and damage on animals rather than people. The idea is that they would want to find out what would happen if a specific ingredient/ product got into someone’s eyes, and target specific chemicals within the product. The result of this is intense torture, pain, and even death for the animal.

Ms Thew points out another sad reasoning behind the testing:

Over 80% of the world still allows cosmetics tests on animals, and some countries – notably China – actually require animal tests before imported cosmetics can be sold there.

I wanted to know more about these tests. As a beauty addict I use a wide range of cosmetics for all parts of my body, and I don’t see why a leg wax would need to be rubbed into the eyes of rabbits. Ms Thew was only too happy to give me the technical run down of the tests.

Repeated dose toxicity

This test assesses whether long-term repeated use of a substance is poisonous. Rabbits or rats are forced to eat or inhale a cosmetics ingredient or have it rubbed onto their shaved skin every day for 28 or 90 days, and are then killed.

Reproductive toxicity

This test assesses whether use of a substance may have an effect on fertility, sexual behaviour, birth and growth of the young. Pregnant female rabbits or rats are force-fed a cosmetics ingredient and then killed along with their unborn babies. Such tests take a long time and use thousands of animals.

SPF Germ-free Laboratory Equipment Animal Testing Picture

Germ-free laboratory where forced breeding is taking place.


This test assesses how a substance is absorbed, distributed, metabolised and excreted by the body. Rabbits or rats are forced to consume a cosmetics ingredient before being killed and their organs examined to see how the ingredient was distributed in their bodies.

Skin sensitisation

This test assesses whether a substance will make the skin increasingly inflamed and itchy each time it is used. A cosmetics ingredient is rubbed onto the shaved skin of guinea pigs and ears of mice to see if they have an allergic reaction. They are then killed.


A carcinogen is a substance that causes cancer or increases the likelihood that someone will develop cancer. To assess this, rats are force-fed a cosmetics ingredient for two years to see if they get cancer and are then killed.

Guinea Pig Vanity Irritancy Cosmetic Animal Testing Picture

Guinea pigs undergoing skin sensitivity tests resulting in burns and blisters.

Ok, so a monkey isn’t getting a makeover and it sounds quite nasty, but the brands do testing to ensure their products are safe for their customers. I wondered if these tests would be possible without involving animals and without also putting their customers at risk?

Ms Ayla answers that for us:

Of course it is, Lush is living proof! Since inception, Lush has always had a very strict policy against animal testing, whereby not only do we not test on animals, but we won’t purchase any of our ingredients from suppliers who test ANY of their products on animals. So there is no possible way that Lush’s money is supporting animal testing on any level. All it comes down to is using ingredients with a long history of safe use, so we know that they aren’t harmful in the first place. Then you can test the effectiveness of the finished product on volunteer humans. After all, the product is designed to be used by people, so animal tests are not only cruel, but quite inaccurate.

That is so true, in many ways animals and humans are similar but we are also extremely different. Samantha Crosby, owner of CCF Australia and PETA certified cruelty-free skincare company Ayana Organics, elaborates on this point.

Manufacturers who use animal testing methods do so primarily for legal coverage, in case of a complaint or injury claim. Skin care companies who choose not to participate in animal testing can still get comprehensive insurance and there are approximately 50 non-animal tests for cosmetics, so it is purely a matter of choice. Companies often continue to test on animals because they have always done so, and they are not prepared to deviate from their current methodologies and embrace the new technologies available. Animals and people are biologically very different from one another and species specific tests performed on donated human tissues and cells are reportedly more accurate, more cost effective and more time efficient.

In-vitro (in a test tube) can replace animal testing in many cases.

In-vitro (in a test tube) can replace animal testing in many cases.

Cruelty-free vs Organic vs Vegan

One part of animal testing that confuses me greatly is all the different labelling we see on bottles and packets. Cruelty Free, Organic, Natural, Vegan, Vegetarian … these labels are confusing and I often wonder if they are used partly to trick consumers into buying something they can feel good about. I wanted to get to the bottom of this with the hard facts behind each term. Our experts have done just that for us.

Cruelty Free

A cruelty free product is one where the final product has not been tested on animals and the individual ingredients have also not been tested on animals. It may still contain animal ingredients (such as collagen, casein, lanolin, gelatin) and/or animal bi-products (for example beeswax or honey). A product can be certified crueltly free, without being vegan/vegetarian.

Organic and Natural

A product may contain natural and/or organic ingredients and still have been tested on animals. ‘Natural’ and ‘organic’ simply refer to the origins of the ingredients in the product, not whether or not it has been tested on animals. Depending on the certifying body of the Natural or Organic cosmetics, there may be a stipulation regarding animal testing but it varies.

An organic or natural certification does not mean that a product and its ingredients have not been tested on animals. Suppliers are required to assess safety for natural and organic ingredients just as for synthetic materials, and evidence may be gathered using animal tests.

Vegan and Vegetarian

A vegan product does not contain any animal ingredients (such as collagen, casein, lanolin, gelatin) and any animal bi-products (for example beeswax or honey), and must not be tested on animals. A vegetarian product may contain animal bi-products only (i.e. beeswax or honey), and it may or may not be tested on animals.

Labels can be confusing

Labels can be confusing

Even though we now have a clear understanding of what the above terms actually mean, it doesn’t mean that cosmetic companies will necessarily use them correctly. One thing I am constantly struggling with when writing product reviews is deciphering the animal cruelty policy of each brand. Big companies have many brands and they can each have different policies. While some companies feel that if they aren’t the ones performing or commissioning the animal tests then they can consider themselves cruelty free, but if they sell in a country that does 3rd party testing (i.e. China) they are still taking part in the animal testing. Then there are the varying sentence structures used to confuse us into thinking something is cruelty free or not. Some of the most common statements I see are “against animal testing”, “not tested on animals” and “animal friendly”, but I do wonder how much can we trust a company, their statement and their careful choice of words?

Across the globe there are laws to stop beauty companies making claims about the effectiveness of a product without significant proof, but is there anything that does the same regarding their animal testing policy? Is there anything to hold a company accountable for the claims they make in regards to their animal testing policy? I put the question to our experts.

The Leaping Bunny program was formed precisely to provide a guarantee for consumers in light of the growing range of animal testing claims made by companies. Unfortunately, some companies, recognising the importance of this issue to consumers, take liberties with the language on their packaging. This can be confusing. Deceptive ‘not tested on animals’ claims may be truthful in the literal sense, although may well hide the fact that the ingredients in the product have been animal tested. A company itself may not test; it may not even commission testing on its behalf. However, testing may occur by its ingredient suppliers, and a company may purchase ingredients with a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ philosophy. – Michelle Thew, Cruelty Free International

The Body Shop believes that Cruelty Free International’s Humane Cosmetics Standard, represented by the Leaping Bunny logo and internationally recognised, is the most stringent and internationally recognised against animal testing accreditation. There are other accreditations which brands can also adhere to. There are no specific laws regarding animal testing policies in Australia and therefore there is no accountability apart from self-regulation and consumer power. Those brands who are accredited by CFI can be guaranteed not to test on animals as this is considered one of the most stringent standards in the world and there is regular annual auditing undertaken. – Mark Kindness, The Body Shop Australia

Leaping Bunny logo

Leaping Bunny logo

Within Australia, the primary certifying body for cruelty free cosmetics is Choose Cruelty Free (CCF) Australia. This is an independent not for profit organisation, who provide certification and a logo for companies who have had their products and ingredients verified. PETA also have a certification and logo available globally for companies that have applied and been approved. Other claims such as ‘we do not test on animals’ or ‘not animal tested’ have not been verified by any independent body, and therefore could be misleading. There have been cases of cosmetic companies claiming ‘we do not test on animals’ and it has later been revealed that they have subcontracted another company to do so for them. The CCF website has a comprehensive list of all companies who are certified cruelty free and they also denote vegan companies on this list. If in doubt, email a company and check their stance on animal testing and check their certifications. – Samantha Crosby, Ayana Organics

Choose Cruelty Free logo

Choose Cruelty Free logo

Sadly, many companies claim that they don’t test on animals for the sake of marketing. You’d have to look at the specific wording of that statement. While it may be true of a specific brand of products, if they are owned by a parent company who does commission tests on animals, then the consumer’s money is going to support these tests anyway, despite their best intentions of trying to buy cruelty free. It’s really hard for consumers to know. It’s all about research, and being able to trust your brand. – Ayla Wilton, Lush Cosmetics Australia

PETA Cruelty Free logo

PETA Cruelty Free logo

I hope this feature has answered some of the questions or concerns you may have had about animal testing and cruelty free cosmetics, but if not please ask in the comments section. Tomorrow in Part 2 we will look at the EU ban and what the impact may be for beauty consumers and the beauty industry.

Does animal testing concern you? Was there anything in this article that clarified something you found confusing? Let me know by commenting below!

Guinea Pig Animal Experimentation Lab Equipment Testing Pic

Used and Abused: Sacrificial guinea pigs in a refrigerator.

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