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Cruelty-free vs. Vegan

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It took me a while to fully understand the difference between cruelty-free vs 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 terms and help you to make conscientious choices that are right for you.

What’s the difference between cruelty-free vs vegan? Short Answer: “Cruelty-Free” generally implies the product was not tested on animals and “Vegan” generally implies the products does not contain any animal-derived ingredients. That means a product can be vegan but not cruelty-free and vice versa. Let me explain this in with some diagrams:

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

For further reading on what each of these logos and other “cruelty-free” and “vegan” logos and claims mean, check out this post here that explains it all!

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'

47 Responses
  • 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

    • Vicky Ly
      June 3, 2016

      Hey Jordan! Glad to hear you’re starting to transition to buying vegan products! =)

      PETA’s bunny logo is actually an official cruelty-free and vegan certification. But their cruelty-free standards and how they approve brands is like you said, questionable.

      In this article, I tried my best to simplify the terms “cruelty-free” and “vegan” to show the main difference between the two as most people were using them interchangeably. However, what qualifies as being truly ‘cruelty-free’ or ‘vegan’ is actually very complex.

      I totally understand your struggle and confusion because both terms do not have a standard definition and so ‘cruelty-free’ can mean something different to each of us.

      Some people choose NOT to follow or trust PETA’s bunny logo because they don’t feel that PETA is doing as great of a job with verifying each brand as to whether or not they test on animals throughout the supply chain.

      Here are some further readings that sort of go into detail about their standards and other CF/V logos:


      But keep in mind, it’s not just PETA’s bunny logo that some people don’t trust. In fact, there are some of us that don’t trust the other cruelty-free or vegan logos (like Leaping Bunny or Vegan Society).. just because we all have different standards as what should be labelled as cruelty-free/vegan. And there’s nothing wrong with that!

      I unfortunately have no authority or right to say what you should do or which certifications/logos you should trust because what I, myself, would consider cruelty-free/vegan is very different than what someone else would.

      But it seems as though you’re already doubting PETA’s list so I would definitely trust your instincts =) and maybe just use their list as a starter’s guide but at the same time, check to see if a brand is on another cruelty-free list like Leaping Bunny or CrueltyFreeKitty.com!

      • 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 ?

  • Ado
    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.

    • Vicky Ly
      May 5, 2016

      Hey Mandy! Glad you enjoyed my post!

      Yes! You’re absolutely right about how many people (myself included) don’t mention CCF as often as we should! They’re an amazing organization and I try to support them as much as possible but like you said, in the US and Canada.. we don’t see CCF logo too often on the products that are sold here.

      But, the good news is that I have referenced CCF in a series of other blog posts so they’re definitely not forgotten in my books! You can find them here:

      1. https://ethicalelephant.com/cruelty-free-bunny-logos
      2. https://ethicalelephant.com/cruelty-free-vegan-labels-logos
      3. https://ethicalelephant.com/cruelty-free-loopholes

      And although CCF does limit certain brands from becoming certified cruelty-free if they use animal ingredients in their products.. I can’t confirm with certainty that the products/brands they certify are all 100% Vegan… I believe they allow some brands to use beeswax or honey and therefore making them not vegan.

      So that’s why the 3 Cruelty-Free & Vegan logos that I mention in THIS article.. I make it clear for when consumers see these 3 logos.. they can know with certainty (on some level) that the products are vegan and cruelty-free.

      Hope that clears things up!

  • 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.

    • Vicky Ly
      April 14, 2016

      Hey Hey Jerilyn! =)
      Yes, I totally love that definition of veganism. It rightfully sums up this complex lifestyle of doing the best we can without harming animals!

      However, that particular definition of veganism is not an industry standard and is relative because “as far as possible and practicable” can be interpreted differently from person to person or company to company. What I would consider possible and practical is very different from someone who may be living elsewhere in the world under different circumstances.

      Some people may consider products to be “vegan” when it’s not tested on animals or contain animal ingredients. But what about products that have been manufactured with animal by-products that isn’t necessarily IN the final product? An example of this is white sugar being filtered by animal bone char. The sugar itself doesn’t contain animal ingredients but it was processed using a by-product of animals.

      So some people would define sugar to be “vegan” whereas others would only use and buy sugar that explicitly say it wasn’t processed with bone char. This goes back to how we all have different definitions of what it means to be “vegan” and if we can’t get it straight, it’s hard for the industry and companies to have one solid concrete definition for the label.

      It can be a little confusing but I encourage people to not get over-consumed by these little details when exploring and transitioning to a vegan lifestyle. I think it’s important to just try and do the best you can each and every day! And to do exactly what you’re doing of researching different resources and when it’s time to do better, then do better! =)

  • 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!

    • Vicky Ly
      April 7, 2016

      Aww, it makes me so so so happy to know that my cruelty-free and vegan resources are helping you on your journey, Noelle! If you ever have any questions, feel free to ask and I’ll try to answer them for ya! =)

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