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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
  • Raquel
    January 22, 2018

    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?

  • Amanda
    October 12, 2017

    Hi, I have a question concerning glycerin. A lot of companies say glycerin that are cruelty free and don’t particularly say if the glycerin is animal derived or vegetable derived. Now, I know cruelty free means that the products are not tested on animals, but does that also mean no products that include materials that killed an animal (aka glycerin?) I’m trying to go vegan, but glycerin is messing me up with my research.

    • Vicky Ly
      October 13, 2017

      Hi Amanda,
      I know it can be a little bit confusing but usually when companies say that their products are “Cruelty-free” it ONLY means that they don’t test on animals. If you want to avoid products that contain animal-derived glycerin or any other animal ingredients, then you’ll want to find products that say they are “vegan”.

      I know it doesn’t make sense how a product can be called “cruelty-free” even though it contains animal-derived ingredients because it’s impossible to obtain these ingredients without cruelty to animals but unfortunately that’s not how the beauty industry uses or defines the term “cruelty-free”

      In a perfect world, I would definitely redefine the label “cruelty-free” to mean no animal testing AND no animal ingredients.. but for now, you’ll want to make sure you’re buying products that say they’re “vegan”! =)

      Hope that clears things up for you, Amanda!

  • Jazz
    September 26, 2017

    If 60% of the world’s child labor is in agriculture, then can something be vegan if it was harvested by children’s hands? How do you know? Can you truly be a vegan knowing your food was harvested by almost-slave workers? Or is that okay because they are not animals?

  • 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

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