Vegan And Cruelty-Free Skincare: Are They The Same?

By Anett Rannamets. Updated: May 2023.
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Vegan and cruelty-free often go hand in hand. However, these terms do not mean the same. Although ‘cruelty-free’ always applies to vegan skincare, cruelty-free skincare can sometimes be non-vegan.

Since the avoidance of cruelty is one of the main pillars of veganism, it may seem somewhat illogical that cruelty-free skincare is not always vegan. In this article, we’ll explain it in more detail.

Cruelty-Free VS Vegan Skincare: What Is The Difference? 

Although vegan means cruelty-free by definition, cruelty-free is not necessarily vegan. So the answer to the question, of which is better, vegan or cruelty-free skincare, is definitely the first as it covers them both.

A vegan skincare product does not contain ingredients of animal origin. This means that none of its ingredients are derived from animals or their by-products. The most common animal-derived ingredients in skincare are beeswax, collagen, glycerin, and lanolin.

In addition, certified vegan skincare is never tested on animals. Meaning it is always cruelty-free. Unfortunately, some brands use the vegan term on their products as a marketing trick. This means that a product that carries a non-certified vegan label may contain ingredients that have been tested on animals. In theory, though, the vegan lifestyle does not support any exploitation of animals. So the vegan term should immediately involve the cruelty-free aspect. Therefore, it is important to identify official labels.

Cruelty-free, however, only states that the product is not tested on animals. Meaning it has never been applied to the skin of an animal or ingested by an animal in order to test whether it is safe for human skin and health. Unfortunately, this means that you may find skincare products marked with a cruelty-free sticker (even a certified one) that contain animal components. Therefore, cruelty-free products are not always vegan. However, this does not mean that cruelty-free products cannot be vegan.

Vegan Skincare Cruelty-Free Skincare Vegetarian Skincare

As people are getting more conscious about animal welfare, a lot of people are switching to animal-friendly choices. This often leads to cruelty-free products. However, as vegan products are animal-free as well as cruelty-free, they most likely have a greater impact on animal welfare.

So, when looking for animal-friendly skincare products, look for products with a certified vegan label. This way, you do not have to check the whole list of ingredients and you can be sure it has not been tested on animals.

However, when living in a country where animal-testings are legal, be careful with unofficial vegan labels. Since the term ‘vegan’ is not protected by law, it is possible to come across vegan-washing. Therefore, you cannot always be sure vegan products have not been tested on animals.

Is Animal Testing Necessary?

Animal experiments might seem like the easiest way to prove the safety and effect of products on humans. However, animal testing is not necessary. This practice is cruel and its results are often inaccurate.

Animal experiments are mainly used in three areas. Scientific research, testing of new products, and studies. At schools, animal experiments are used to prepare doctors, nurses, and veterinarians. In product testing, animal tests are used to find out the safety, effect, and quality of the product.

Many people mistakenly believe that if a product is not tested on an animal, it can be dangerous for humans. But that is actually not true. A lot of tests are based on the assumption that an animal reacts like a human which can be misleading.

Animals react differently to many substances. To know whether they react similarly to humans, the same experiment should be done on humans as well. Therefore, these tests are often not reliable as well as not necessary.

Unfortunately, today’s experiments on animals are done for legal rather than scientific reasons. Animal experiments are based on the principles of research ethics, which were drawn up more than 50 years ago. Science has developed in the meantime, but a lot of laws have stayed the same.

Many people are worried that banning animal testing would mean experiments on humans. But in fact, they are already happening. In addition to animals, drugs are also tested on humans. However, humans, unlike animals, have a free choice to participate in these experiments.

Luckily, there are other alternatives to animal or human experiments. For example, such as in vitro experiments. As well as experiments organized by computer simulations, in which no living organism has to participate.

In vitro experiments represent the cultivation of various cells, tissues, and organs in artificial conditions for conducting experiments. Scientists have developed sophisticated programs that can accurately predict the effects of certain substances on the human body.

Animal testings are already illegal in the European Union, India, Israel, New Zealand, Turkey, and the UK. In the US, skin care products do not require animal testing. However, this practice has not been called illegal.

How To Recognize A Cruelty-Free Skincare Product?

The number of skincare products we have on the market can make people overwhelmed. But, to find cruelty-free products, there are a few simple tricks to keep in mind.

  • Read labels carefully. The terms ‘cruelty-free’ or ‘not tested on animals’ may refer only to the product not being tested on animals. However, its ingredients still might be. Therefore it is good to be familiar with certified cruelty-free labels. Such as PETA Beauty Without Bunnies, Choose Cruelty-Free (CCF), Leaping Bunny, and Cruelty-Free International.
  • Remember that products with a certified vegan label are always cruelty-free. The most popular ones are Certified vegan (, The Vegan Society Mark, and the V-Label.
  • Be aware of fake cruelty-free and vegan labels. The use of non-certified marks on the label is not controlled by any standard or organization. So, practically anyone can label their products as they want.
  • Do some research and seek cruelty-free and vegan businesses before purchasing.

FAQ About Vegan And Cruelty-Free Skincare

Is vegan the same as cruelty-free?

No. Vegan skincare does not contain ingredients of animal origin. In addition, vegan skincare is not tested on animals. Therefore, it is cruelty-free. However, cruelty-free only implies that the product is not tested on animals. Meaning, a cruelty-free product may still contain animal-based ingredients.

Can you be vegan but not cruelty-free?

No. The vegan lifestyle does not support any exploitation of animals. So the vegan term immediately involves the cruelty-free aspect.

Is vegan skincare cruelty-free?

Yes, vegan skincare is cruelty-free by definition.

Is cruelty-free skincare vegan?

No, not always. Cruelty-free only states that the product is not tested on animals. Unfortunately, this means that you may find skincare products marked with cruelty-free stickers that contain animal components.


Vegan skincare does not contain any animal by-products or animal ingredients. In addition, skin care with certified vegan labels is not tested on animals. Nor does it include ingredients experimented on animals. Therefore, vegan is cruelty-free.

However, cruelty-free implies that the product or its ingredients have not been tested on animals. This means that cruelty-free skincare may still contain non-vegan ingredients. These might be honey, beeswax, lanolin, collagen, or others.

Animal testing is an outdated practice that is no longer needed. Advances in technology help us perform much more accurate experiments without harming animals. However, there are many brands that still practice it. Some countries even require it.

In order to find 100% cruelty-free skincare products, we recommend searching for ethical vegan skincare brands. It is also good to do some research on what the certified vegan and cruelty-free signs look like.

Anett is a passionate journalist, writer, and magazine editor with almost 7 years of experience. Through engaging articles, she brings kinder and more environmentally-friendly choices closer to everybody.