Updated on May 24, 2023

Cruelty-Free vs. Vegan: Understanding the Differences and Why They Matter

This post may contain affiliate links that at no additional cost to you, I may earn a small commission.

Animal ‘Cruelty-Free’ is a term used to describe cosmetics, personal care, and household cleaning products as not tested on animals. 

‘Vegan’ is defined as products that do not contain any animal-derived ingredients or by-products.

Therefore, ‘Cruelty-Free’ does not always mean ‘Vegan.’ And vice versa.

Quick Notes:

  • Cruelty-Free, but not Vegan means it’s not tested on animals, but it contains animal ingredients
  • Vegan but not Cruelty-Free means it doesn’t contain animal ingredients, but it was tested on animals
  • Both Cruelty-Free and Vegan means it wasn’t tested on animals, and it doesn’t contain animal ingredients
  • Neither Cruelty-Free nor Vegan means it’s tested on animals and it contains animal ingredients


It might be easier to understand the difference between Cruelty-Free and Vegan cosmetics if I provided some real-life examples.

Examples of Cruelty-Free cosmetics that are NOT Vegan:

Burt’s Bees is cruelty-free (Leaping Bunny certified) and has been verified as not allowing any of its products or ingredients to be tested on animals. However, most of their products, like their Lip Balms, contain beeswax and lanolin, which are derived from animals. Making their products NOT vegan.

Glossier doesn’t test on animals (Leaping Bunny certified), but some of their products, like the Cloud Paint, contain carmine, which is derived from crushed-up beetles. Collagen is also listed as an ingredient, but the source is not disclosed, so it can possibly be from animal sources. This means Glossier’s Cloud Paint is cruelty-free, but not vegan.

Tatcha is another brand that claims to be cruelty-free while selling some products that contain animal-derived ingredients, including their best-selling Dewy Skin Cream, which contains sericin derived from silkworms.

Examples of Vegan cosmetics that are NOT Cruelty-Free:

NARS is not a cruelty-free brand since they announced their products are for sale in China, and they consented to have their products tested on animals as required by China’s animal testing laws. But that hasn’t stopped NARS from marketing and labeling some of its product offerings as ‘Vegan Formula’, including its best-selling foundation. This is an example of a ‘vegan’ cosmetic product that is NOT cruelty-free.

Algenist has a line of skincare products that are marketed as containing Vegan Collagen. However, Algenist’s animal testing policy states they allow their products to be tested on animals when required by law, regulation, or a governmental authority. Although Algenist offers a collection of vegan skincare made from a plant-based alternative to animal-derived collagen, Algenist is NOT a cruelty-free brand.

Caudalie claims most of its products are vegan except for some containing beeswax or honey. However, Caudalie admits it sells its products in China, where as they put it, “authorities may impose random animal testing.” Caudalie products may be Vegan, but they’re not Cruelty-free.

Maybelline recently launched a vegan makeup line called Green Edition, where they claim none of their formulas from this line contain animal-derived ingredients. But Maybelline is not a cruelty-free brand because they allow their products to be tested on animals when required by law.

Examples of Vegan AND Cruelty-Free Cosmetics:

Biossance, The Ordinary, Milk Makeup, and Merit are all cruelty-free brands where none of their products or ingredients are tested on animals. And all of these brands are 100% vegan, meaning none of their product offerings contain any animal-derived ingredients or by-products. These brands are both Cruelty-Free AND Vegan.

Let’s Dig Deeper:

Now you know the main difference between products labeled as Cruelty-Free and Vegan.

Here are some commonly asked questions I get when I mention something is Cruelty-Free or Vegan. 

But how can something be called cruelty-free but contains animal ingredients?

Because there’s no legal or standard definition for using the term Cruelty-Free, according to the FDA, “The unrestricted use of these phrases by cosmetic companies is possible because there are no legal definitions for these terms.”

The explanation I’ve provided above is how the label ‘Cruelty-Free’ is generally used by companies, manufacturers, and consumers, based on my research in the field for the past 8 years. 

But I understand why some ethical consumers are confused and frustrated when brands call themselves cruelty-free but use animal products.

It seems counterintuitive that these two terms, Cruelty-Free and Vegan, can be mutually exclusive. 

Know that, at the end of the day; companies are using these labels as marketing terms. Without a standard or legal definition of the terms, they can use them in whichever way they like to get you to buy their products.

Cruelty-Free Certifications and Vegan Brands

A common misunderstanding I get from readers is assuming Leaping Bunny-certified brands are vegan. This is not the case. 

Leaping Bunny investigates only the brand’s animal testing policy. It’s thorough and can be a lengthy process. But they don’t look into whether brands use vegan or animal-derived ingredients. As a result, many Leaping Bunny-certified brands are not vegan. 

Vegan ≠ Clean, Sustainable, Ethical Products

Another misconception I hear is Vegan products mean it’s clean, sustainable, or ethically made. This is only sometimes true. 

As an alternative to animal ingredients, companies can choose from various components obtained from plants, minerals, or synthetically. 

The term ‘Vegan’ does not specify the type of non-animal-derived ingredients brands choose to use. It also says nothing about how they were made, grown, extracted, or mined. In addition, other factors like environmental impact, sustainable manufacturing, and ethical working conditions are not factored into the umbrella term for ‘Vegan’ cosmetics.

Vegan Brand vs. a Vegan Product

Some consumers also get mixed up between an entirely vegan brand and one offering some vegan options. 

It also doesn’t help that some brands claim to be 100% vegan but then sell a one-off item that isn’t. 

For example, many household cleaning brands claim their formulas are 100% vegan but sell wool dryer balls. Or haircare brands state they’re 100% vegan but then offer hair brushes made with animal bristles.

Here’s a tip, if you see a brand advertise its products as Vegan, don’t assume all of its products are vegan. It may be that one item that is vegan. 

If you wish only to support entirely vegan and cruelty-free brands, check out this list.

Cruelty-Free Brands and Parent Companies

Another note I ought to mention is the discussion on whether brands that are owned by an animal-tested parent company should still be considered cruelty-free or not.

For example, NYX and Urban Decay are owned by L’Oreal, a parent company that is not cruelty-free. Some cruelty-free consumers may choose to continue to purchase from NYX and Urban Decay as they hope it will convince the parent company, L’Oreal, to stop testing on animals.

Even though NYX and Urban Decay may not test on animals, some ethical consumers may not consider them cruelty-free because of their affiliation with animal-testing L’Oreal. And believe that the money spent on those brands will go into the pockets of L’Oreal, and, therefore, indirectly fund more animal tests administered by L’Oreal.

This is always a touchy subject, and I feel there’s no right or wrong way to go about this. There are many different factors to consider when deciding which ethical brand to support and buy from. I always encourage others to do what feels right to them.


To bring it all together, although there is no legal or standard definition for the terms ‘Cruelty-Free’ and ‘Vegan’ in cosmetics, personal care, and household cleaning products, the two terms are generally used as follows:

‘Cruelty-Free’ = Not tested on Animals.

‘Vegan’ = No animal-derived ingredients or by-products.

It’s possible for a product to be cruelty-free but not vegan or the other way around.

While it’s important to know the differences between the terms, you’ll also want to know the difference between Cruelty-Free Certifications, Parent Company Animal Testing, and other Clean, Sustainable, Ethical marketing claims to make the best informed and ethical choice that fits your values and ethics.

Kindly Share
the Good Vibes

Inspire others to make a positive change by sharing this resource on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Email.

Share /

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on email

What do you think

32 thoughts on “Cruelty-Free vs. Vegan: Understanding the Differences and Why They Matter”

  1. Hi Vicky my concern leans more on toxicity – there are vegan products that rate poorly by the Environmental Working Group because of toxic ingredients. Would you post on that topic please?

  2. Thank you Vicky, people like you make me believe in a future where animals will have rights, every woman and man should live a cruelty-free lifestyle and help end horrific slaughter houses, thanks for your vegan information for product searching, keep sharing and educating people xx

  3. I want to go vegan
    I want to use vegan and cruelty free products but I might not be able to do that because of a money issue as I am still in High school and live with my mom. My family is low income and for hygiene products my mom buys whatever is on sale. What should I do?

    1. Elf, Love Beauty And Planet, Wet N Wild and Palmer’s are some good and cheap cruelty-free options you can suggest to your mom. CVS brand products are cruelty-free, too. Hang in there!

  4. “Some products do not contain any animal ingredients (like beeswax or carmine)”

    Carmine ís an animal, it are squished lice.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *