Cruelty-free vs. Vegan

It took me a while to fully understand the difference between cruelty-free and vegan, I was using them interchangeably as I thought they meant the same thing. I’m hoping this post will clarify the main differences between the two and help you to make conscientious choices that are right for you. So simply put,

“cruelty-free” = no animal testing

“vegan” = no animal ingredients and by-products

Can something be called cruelty-free AND vegan

YES, this means that the product was not tested on animals AND it does not contain any animal ingredients and by-products.

Brands that are cruelty-free AND vegan include OCC (Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics), Pacifica, Emani, and Beauty Without Cruelty.

Can something be cruelty-free but NOT vegan?

YES, this means that the product was not tested on animals BUT it does contain animal ingredients.

An example of products that are cruelty-free but NOT vegan are products from Burt’s Bees*. They have a no strict animal testing policy and is certified cruelty-free by both Leaping Bunny and PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies Program however most of their products contain animal-derived ingredients like milk, lanolin, honey, royal jelly, and carmine.

*it should be noted that Burt’s Bees parent company is not cruelty-free and is on PETA’s list of companies that do test on animals

Now this leaves us with the last option,

Can something be vegan but NOT cruelty-free?

YES – in some cases.

Some products do not contain any animal ingredients (like beeswax or carmine), making them essentially “vegan-friendly” however the ingredients or finished product may have been tested on animals.

An example is conventional toothpastes which now uses plant-derived glycerin instead of animal (fat) sources and therefore are essentially vegan however the product or ingredients may have been tested on animals.

“Accidentally Vegan” products also fall under vegan but not cruelty-free.

NO – in other cases.

This goes back to what you define as “vegan

Since there aren’t any standard definitions for the term “vegan”, some may consider a product to be 100% vegan when:

a) it does not contain any animal products

or some may call a product vegan when:

b) it does not contain any animal products AND it does not exploit animals in the development or manufacturing process, in this case.. we are talking about animal testing

So in the case that you classify the term ‘vegan’ with the second instance, then it’s important that you do a bit of research to find out what a company means when they call their products ‘vegan’.

If you’re thinking, ain’t nobody got time for dat!, then you’ll be happy to hear that there are three logos you can find on product packaging to ensure the product was not tested on animals and does not contain animal ingredients/by-products.

Three logos you can find on product packaging that verifies that the product is both cruelty-free and vegan

Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t be! There’s no need to become a stress case over all the various labels and what they mean. Do not feel pressured to switch all of your products to both cruelty-free and vegan overnight, but instead familiarize yourself with what these labels truly mean and find a happy medium that fits your own beliefs and values. We’re always evolving and learning new things, so when you feel it’s time to do better—then do better!

Understand the difference between 'cruelty-free' and 'vegan'

Vicky Ly

I'm Vicky! I've been a vegan for 4 years and want to do my small part in making the world a kinder place. When I'm not on my laptop creating or designing, I enjoy running, vegan chocolate chip cookies + ice cream, and the occasional Simpsons marathon.

  • Heather De
    March 14, 2017

    Vicky, great blog. My questions is. What if you have a massage gel and the typical animal products are synthetic and the finished good is not tested on animals but you know that some raw materials were tested in animals. Are they still vegan products? Please let me know ASAP!! thank you

  • Jordan
    June 3, 2016

    Hi! So I am transitioning to vegan (slowly but surely) and I am getting confused not by the terminology but by the researchers behind it.

    On crueltyfreekitty,com the bunny ear logo you’re showing is called Peta, but that means it is uncertified (therefore we don’t no as consumers if what they are reporting is true and no one is calling them on it) but here on this site you are saying these products are surely BOTH cruelty free and vegan. My question is, which one is it? I don’t want to invest in these brands if there’s still a lot of uncertainty but then again it could simply be a common point of confusion.

    Pls help lol

      • Jordan
        June 4, 2016

        Ok thank you SO SO much this makes a lot more sense.

        I think much if my confusion was that all of the resources I’ve seen say “vegan” or “cruelty-free” with 300% confidence so I write down the product and then find somewhere else that it may not be true! All in all i think I will stick with the logos you’ve provided and try to make due with checking ingredients. Love your blog! Thanks for being awesome ?

  • May 13, 2016

    By definition, the use of animal products cannot be cruelty-free. So, non-vegan but cruelty-free is an oxymoron =)

    As for vegan but not cruelty-free, well, I’m with you in your approach of veganism (as well as the official definition!) That said, I’ve met vegans who were pro-animal testing, agreed with culling or would eat non-vegan when dinning out with friends, so go figure.
    I wonder, at times, if I’m myself a vegan, considering the aberrations some vegans say and do. Maybe I prefer to see me as an individual who does all that’s possible to stop animal suffering, regardless tags and particular definitions.


  • Mandy
    May 5, 2016

    It’s great to see such a clear explination of the terms. I went cruelty free about 7 years ago and was frustrated by the clouded mess of terms. Things got even more messy with vegan products.
    I just want to point out you’re missing one bunny logo which is authentic and more relable than PETA or Leaping Bunny. Choose Cruelty Free is an Australian company which has a list called Prefered Products List. It’s missed by a lot of bloggers because they don’t see the logo much or assume it is another marketing trick. I hate that many Aussie and New Zealand consumers are told to avoid it when CCF are stricter than Leaping Bunny (eg CCF don’t list The Body Shop due to L’Oreal owning it). Please update your post to include the CCF Bunny.

  • Jerilyn
    April 13, 2016

    Hi Vicky,
    You mention above that there are no standard definition of what Vegan means, but there is a clear definition given by Donald Watson of the Vegan Society and has been clearly stated since 1944: “Veganism is a way of living that seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing and any other purpose.” ? Looking forward to referencing this site (how did I JUST hear about it??), along with my other apps & sites to ensure I only use TRULY Vegan products. Thanks.

  • Noelle
    April 7, 2016

    As someone who loves makeup and hair and is just beginning their journey as a vegan I just wanted to thank you for this awesome website. Until I entered this website I couldn’t find a anything that had all the resources I wanted or needed to educate myself. So thank you thank you thank you!

  • July 12, 2015

    Hi Vicky,

    Loved this post – I recently found out this was the case when scrutinising Burt’s Bees’ cruelty-free status, as they clearly aren’t vegan, and their parent company tests on animals. You can find out more here: http://www.curiouslyconscious.com/2015/05/is-burts-bees-really-cruelty-free.html

    I’m now trying to only buy natural, cruelty-free, and vegan products, although I’m not against the use of certain materials such as beeswax, and honey.

    Besma (Curiously Conscious)

  • Joesy
    April 22, 2015

    No coverfx is not fully vegan I’ve emailed them about this myself. You should do the same. Like two or three products aren’t vegan while most others are.

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