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What is Cruelty Free Skincare?

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Many of us have stipulations when it comes to what skin care products we buy and which skin care brands we support. This might be down to cost - we might have an upper (or a lower) limit when it comes to choosing which products we use on our skin. 

Some of us might be completely brand (or even product) loyal and stick to the same brand (or product) throughout our entire lives. Others might choose their skin care and makeup based on certain ingredients, promises or social media influencers. 

More and more of us, though, are choosing skin care products based on ethics. This might mean supporting small batch brands using locally sourced ingredients. Or those using eco friendly ingredients or packaging (or both). 

But by far the biggest ethically based purchase is one that avoids the use of animal testing. Cruelty free brands and products are so normal now, that to see ‘cruelty free’ on skin care packaging is pretty standard. 

But what does it mean? What’s the ‘leaping bunny’ all about? If a brand doesn't display the leaping bunny, does it automatically mean that they’re to be demonised? 

Here’s the facts on what cruelty free means in terms of skin care products.

What does ‘cruelty free’ mean?

Cruelty free means that an ingredient or a product hasn’t been tested on animals for it’s safety and efficacy on human skin. 

Anything claiming to be cruelty free has reached the shelves without the use of ingredients that have been ‘newly’ (more on that later) tested on animals. If you’d like to understand more on what these tests might involve, and their consequences,PETA has an article that makes difficult reading, but is very informative. 

But the way this applies to products is very much dependent on where the products are made, and where they’re being sold...

What is the law on animal testing? 

In the UK, and the EU, it has been illegal to sell skin care products or makeup that have been, or contain ingredients that have been tested on animalssince March 2013

It’s now a general consensus that there are already more than enough ingredients and product formulations that exist, that have already been tested for their safety. And this is a consensus that we wholeheartedly agree with. 

(No one really understands what it means for the UK to have left the EU (anyone remember Brexit?!). Also, agreements still haven’t been properly drawn up and agreed upon on food and trade deals, let alone animal testing on cosmetics and skin care products. For this reason, for the purposes of this article, we’ll assume we’re still under the same regulations, regarding what it means to be cruelty free, as the rest of the EU.)

There’s simply no need for any more animal suffering in the name of beauty and skin care. At the same time as the EU regulations,Israel and Indiaalso brought in the same rules. But that isn’t the case in other parts of the world. 

In China, all products intended for use on human skin, have to be tested on animals, by law. This means that any product being sold in China must be tested on animals before it can be sold, regardless of where it was made. 

For this reason, many EU or UK based brands chose not to sell their products in China. (We’re one such brand.) It’s also the reason why some people actively chose not to buy from skin brands that do sell their wares in China. We won’t go into any brand bashing, but a quick Google search will highlight brands to avoid if you’d rather avoid such brands selling in China. 

Things get more complicated if we look at the US. In America,animal testing is not required by law, but it is still carried out and isn’t banned. 

What is the Leaping Bunny Standard?

Taken directly from theLeaping Bunny website, the Leaping Bunny Standard is, “Short for the Corporate Standard of Compassion for Animals. This is a voluntary pledge that cosmetic, personal care, and/or household product companies make to clear animal testing from all stages of product development”. 

It also covers the manufacturer of individual ingredients that will be used in skin care products. This means that if a product bears the leaping bunny logo, it's guaranteed to be “100% free of new animal testing”. (Again, more on ‘new’ later.) 

Brands are audited and the leaping bunny accreditation renewed each year so that we as consumers know that products are still guaranteed to contain nothing that’s been tested on animals. 

Cruelty free vs vegan friendly

Vegans, those on a plant based diet and anyone wishing to use skin care products that are not only cruelty free, but contain no animal derived products, beware. The leaping bunny logo doesn’t necessarily mean you’re ok to use a product. 

Because there is a major difference between cruelty free and vegan friendly. Cruelty free, as we’ve discussed here, means that ingredients and / or products haven’t been tested on animals. However, this doesn’t always mean that a product is suitable for vegans. 

A cruelty free product can still legally contain animal derived ingredients. These include lanolin (an oil derived from sheep's wool), tallow (rendered animal fat sometimes used in oily make up such as lipstick) and shellac (used in gel nail polishes and derived from female lac beetles who use it to cocoon their eggs). 

As long as these animal derived products haven’t been newly tested on animals, a product can still claim that it’s cruelty free. 

Products vs ingredients: Part 1

You'll notice that we’ve been careful to distinguish between ‘ingredients’ and ‘products’ so far in the article. Because there’s a difference. But before we go any further… 

A quick interlude: what does ‘newly tested’ mean? 

What we, and respected bodies such as the RSPCA and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), mean by cruelty free ingredients, is that there are no ‘newly tested’ ingredients in a product that have been tested on animals. 

This means that a product contains no ingredients that have been tested on animals since the relevant ban came into practice. According to the Leaping Bunny Standard, “virtually every ingredient has been tested on animals in the past”. Even water. 

This is a sad legacy of the history of skin care ingredients that have, in the past, been tested on animals for their safety. Whether or not you agree with animal testing, in the past, it was considered necessary to test new ingredients and formulations on animals to see if these new and novel (yep, even water) ideas were suitable for human skin. 

We now need to accept that standard ingredients may no longer be tested on animals for their suitability for human skin, but we can assume that a great deal of them have been in the past. 

There is of course the argument that animal skin is different to human skin, and how do you even begin to choose the animal? Do you base it on the size and reproductive nature of the animal? Presumably small and able to reproduce quickly was some kind of ‘bonus’. Or do you base it on the similarity of an animal to humans.

Plus, obviously as we all know here at Sönd, all human skin is beautifully different. Be that in colour, texture, age, gender or it’s tenacity and tendency to be annoyingly contrary. So what’s the point anyway? 

Products vs ingredients: Part 2

So, back to the question of ingredients vs products. 

A product, that is, a whole, completed product that me or you could buy today and apply to our skin tonight, can claim to be cruelty free. But in some cases, all that means is that the finished product that we’re wearing on our skin, hasn’t been tested on animals. 

But that doesn’t mean that some of the ingredients haven’t been tested on animals in recent times (after the regulations came into force). 

The guys at the Leaping Bunny Standard tell us that “the majority of animal testing occurs at the ingredient level”. So even though aproduct might not be tested on animals, theingredients might have been. 

Unfortunately, there are unscrupulous companies that use the evocative words “cruelty free” or “not tested on animals” to describe their products. Yet knowingly, they’ve used ingredients that have been. This is totally legal. 

As an aside, another way some skin care brands stretch the truth, is by claiming, “we don’t test on animals”. But they employ companies that do by contracting out certain elements of their supply chain.

So, what’s the answer?

How to know your skin care products genuinely are cruelty free

As with anything, finding cruelty free products may take a little investigating. Here at Sönd, we’re cruelty free. None of our ingredients or final products have been newly tested on animals.

But we’ve never taken the steps to apply for the Leaping Bunny Standard because we only manufacture and sell within the EU where it’s illegal to use animal testing. So that means that not having the leaping bunny on packaging absolutely does not mean that a brand is unethical or bad. 

We’re a small brand making a big difference to stressed out skin across the country and we most definitely do not use or endorse animal testing. Just effective and kind products, in all senses of the word. So go on,give us a try


Hannah de Gruchy BSc(Hons)

About Author

Hannah de Gruchy is a freelancer writer who specialises in health and wellness. She has a keen interest in the biology of skin and loves using her words to help separate the real science of skincare from the pseudoscience of some skincare brands. Hannah has a degree in Human Biology and many years’ experience working in laboratories around London. Using this experience, Hannah enjoys turning complex science into interesting, engaging and easy to digest pieces to read. In her spare time, Hannah runs, practices yoga and loves cooking plant based foods.

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