In August last year I made the decision to switch my blog and YouTube channel over to cruelty free beauty. In all honesty this was long overdue – I have been vegetarian for most of my life and I switched to vegan almost a year ago, so why wasn’t my choice to live a more compassionate lifestyle reflecting in my makeup bag too? I rifled through my heaving Ikea Alex unit and pulled out everything that had been tested on animals. As the products littered my rug (about a third of my collection) I glanced over at my dog Maddie who was watching me intently and felt sick with guilt that it had taken me this long. Any lingering doubts quickly left my mind, and whilst the dog was probably just hoping for a treat or wondering why I was looking wistfully at a Bobbi Brown palette, to me it felt like a sign I was doing the right thing.
Had I been a regular makeup consumer I wouldn’t have been so hasty in ruthlessly getting rid of my cosmetics, I would have used them up and just not repurchased them, after all the money was already spent and the damage already done. I’m not however a ‘normal’ makeup lover, I blog about it and I have so much that even after filling four big boxes of animal tested items my drawers were still bucking under the weight of lipsticks. I’m still using up foundations and items that couldn’t be sanitised, but they won’t be going on my blog or my channel unless it’s in the form of an “Empties” video where I will make their cruelty free status (or lack thereof) clear. I didn’t see any point in having all this stuff going bad in my drawers and having to remind myself not to wear it in a video – someone else could make use of them, so off they went to family, friends and a local women’s refuge.
Although I announced that my channel would be cruelty free at the end of a video and on Instagram, I didn’t make a huge fanfare about it nor did I make a big announcement post on this website, mostly because I was still knee-deep in research and wanted to make sure I knew what I was doing. If a brand changed their stance and I had unknowingly used something that wasn’t cruelty free I was worried that others would read the post and make the same mistake. I was diligently reading lots of cruelty free blogs and quickly realising that everyone had their own criteria when it came to determining the status of brands. Where did I stand?
I am not an expert, and there are people who have been doing this far longer than I have, and who know far more than I do. I cannot emphasise enough how much I recommend people do some of their own research and decide where they stand on the issue. For me this applies across many things in life, we are all better off when we check things out for ourselves and form our own conclusions based on what we know. Having said that, I do think it’s time I have some sort of statement on my website so that readers know the status of products I feature and my opinion on certain divisive issues in the cruelty free community, so here it is…
I do not feature brands or products that have been tested on animals and I have three main points when it comes to determining what I consider cruelty free. Firstly have the finished products or any of their ingredients been tested on animals by the brand? Secondly have the finished products or any of their ingredients been tested on behalf of the brand by a third party? (This one is important as a lot of brands claim they don’t test but get around it by paying other people to do so) Thirdly does the brand sell their products in a foreign market such as China that requires animal testing by law? If the answer to any of those questions is yes, I don’t want to feature the item and I don’t want to take money from the company for a sponsored feature or collaboration. I use trusted resources and email brands myself to get answers for these questions so to the best of my knowledge anything I present as cruelty free meets this criteria.
It’s important to note that many companies claiming to be cruelty free fall at the China hurdle. China requires that any brand with a physical retail presence (so that’s their own store, or being physically sold in stores like Sephora) must allow their products to be tested on animals. The government carries out the testing, but the brands fund it. There are exceptions, for example Hong Kong, which is technically part of China but has many of it’s own laws and a difference in animal testing stance is one of them. A brand can retail in Hong Kong and still be cruelty free.
Many brands that were once cruelty free have started to sell in the Chinese market which means they now pay for animal testing. It’s a real shame, but they won’t be getting my money or support. A lot of companies manage to skirt this issue by setting up production in China – I am not an expert on this but I believe that currently the animal testing law only applies to imported brands, so if you have a plant in China which manufactures the products, these can be sold there without having to be tested. I often see that people are suspicious of cosmetics ‘made in China’ as they assume they will have been tested as default. Whilst they may or may not be tested on animals depending on the company’s stance, seeing ‘made in China’ doesn’t automatically mean it isn’t cruelty free, although I have yet to see a big western brand manufacture their products in China to circumvent the animal testing laws. Pretty much all the western brands I know of retailing in China are paying for testing.
China is a huge market, I can understand the potential profit is so enticing to a brand, but I personally cannot support established companies who were doing just fine financially going into a market and turning their back on their previous values. Urban Decay famously announced they would sell in China and received huge backlash from consumers. As a result, they listened and decided not to go ahead with plans to retail there, but for some people the fact that they even considered it was enough to stop shopping with them, and many still boycott the brand as a result. This is where we all have to decide where to draw the line.
Whilst some abandoned Urban Decay for considering China, I applaud the fact that they listened to their customers, after all, why do we sign petitions and make noise on social media if, when a brand changes their mind and does what we ask we still aren’t happy? I understand that for some people their trust in the brand was shaken, but I think it takes a lot to admit you were wrong and apologise to your customers. If Urban Decay decided to do right by their customers, whatever the reason, I will continue to purchase from them. That’s where I personally draw the line in that case.
There are other blurred lines, which I am often asked about in the comments of my videos. Many brands with strong ethical values have been purchased by larger corporations – “parent companies” who also own other businesses. If the other brands under the parent company have questionable moral codes, the ethical company is accused of selling out, making a deal with the devil and going back on everything they once held dear. For me this isn’t as black and white as it may seem, it isn’t always that simple.
The Body Shop is probably the most famous example of an ethical brand “selling out” – in 2006 they were purchased by L’Oréal who were perhaps the antithesis of everything Anita Roddick built her business on, yet the deal wasn’t as clear cut a decision as people might think. This article gives a great insight when it comes to their reasons for agreeing the sale and this one shares some of the ways The Body Shop was able to share fair trade suppliers with L’Oréal to improve their ingredient selection for their other brands such as Garnier and Kiehls. The buyers from The Body Shop were able to act as a go between for the small fair trade co-ops and L’Oréal, who now source many things more ethically than they once did. They learned from The Body Shop for the better and both parties benefited.
Whilst two brands might make for strange bedfellows, there are often benefits to a brand having a parent company – funding to keep a flailing business afloat, money for counters in major beauty halls, access to create and expand the product line, or in The Body Shop’s case being able to share ethical knowledge with a juggernaut and influence their future business operations. I’m not saying having a parent company with differing ethical values is necessarily a good thing, or the ideal option, but I do think it’s important to see that there is often a more nuanced relationship where both parties can benefit. It doesn’t mean we should automatically abandon a brand, but rather ask questions, find out more information and then make a decision as to whether or not we want to support them.
I use Urban Decay, The Body Shop and NYX (owned by L’Oréal), Tarte (owned by Kose), Nars and Bare Minerals (owned by Shiseido) and Liz Earle (owned by Avon) – it is important to note that all of these companies still retain their cruelty free status, they still don’t test on animals and their stance on the issue has not changed since they were bought out. If Urban Decay sold to L’Oréal and decided to then go into the Chinese market they would be testing and I would therefore not support them, but they don’t test and I still use their products. They retain their Leaping Bunny accreditation as a cruelty free brand.
Many people have issues with parent companies since a portion of the profit will be going to said corporation, and we might not like everything they do. I totally understand this viewpoint and really respect the people who decide to buy not only cruelty free, but also go further and only purchase from independent brands. I do however often see people comment that a brand cannot be cruelty free if it’s owned by a parent company, which simply isn’t true. Many of the brands I listed have the Leaping Bunny certification which means they are in fact certified cruelty free by the most respected body the community uses. Whether or not you want to support a brand or you consider it cruelty free based on your own set of criteria is another thing, so it’s important to know the difference.
This is a hot topic in the cruelty free community and there are arguments for and against buying from brands with parent companies, but for me the positives outweighed the negatives. There are two main reasons I am happy to continue using these brands and the first one is that it shows how easy going cruelty free can be. I get messages and emails all the time from people wanting to go cruelty free, and on my food channel wanting to go vegan, but worrying that it will be overwhelming, costly, too difficult, or that their life will have to change drastically. Whether we like it or not people don’t want to be seen as different or difficult, and we don’t like change, but I want to show people that small changes and minor choices can still have a positive impact, that it doesn’t need to be so hard.
The debate within the cruelty free community is mirrored within veganism, so I think it’s apt to make a comparison with my thoughts on this too. A food item is considered vegan if it doesn’t contain animal products, but many people also choose not to eat at restaurants that serve meat, spending their money only at vegan or vegetarian establishments which share their ethical concerns. Whilst I love to do this too, I also gladly purchase vegan options at mainstream supermarkets and restaurants. I am of the opinion that more vegetarian and vegan options is a good thing, so I will gladly eat Nandos vegan options despite it being predominantly a chicken restaurant, or celebrate a new vegan product at Tesco despite them selling meat.
Business is about supply and demand, so when we lobby for vegan options it’s also important that people buy them, otherwise why would the brand go to the trouble? For some vegans eating at Nandos is out of the question, but I want to show that there’s a demand for plant based options, and since I started eating there with my family their menu has gone from 1 veggie option to several veggie and vegan mains and lots of sides. Did you know Nandos garlic bread is even vegan? If more people buy these things, it sends a message to the brand to supply more, and evolve, so whilst I admire and respect others for only supporting small businesses, it isn’t the only way to do things. There is room for both schools of thought.
A huge goal for me is normalising a vegan and cruelty free lifestyle. Whilst you might not want to support McDonalds on the regular, if you can get a vegan burger when you’re stuck in traffic on the motorway that’s great. If a 15 year old goes shopping then to Nandos every Saturday with their friends and they don’t have to stick out like a sore thumb and bring a packed lunch, that’s a good thing. If a luxury beauty-loving woman wants to go cruelty free but feels like she’s going to have to only buy makeup at Whole Foods, I am all for her buying from Leaping Bunny certified brands at the beauty hall, even if they have a parent company. Lets face it, without said parent company they likely couldn’t afford to retail in luxury spaces in the first place.
The way I feel about food is the way I feel about cosmetics. If a food is vegan I will buy it, even if it’s from a supermarket that also sells meat. If a makeup item is not tested on animals I will use it, even if it has a parent company who own brands that test. I want to show a demand for these products alongside smaller brands, in hopes of encouraging more ethical production in the future. I do however encourage people to do their own research, draw their own lines and come to their own conclusions. Whilst there are many resources online and copied and pasted email chains to be offered as proof of a brand’s status, you might want to email a company yourself to get the word right from the horses mouth.
So there we have it, a longer than anticipated essay of sorts on animal testing, parent companies and where I stand. I hope this encourages you to ask questions, decide where your lines are, and make informed and ethical purchases.
Points to consider:
- Despite EU legislation banning animal testing, if a company physically retails in China they are required by law to test their products on animals and cannot be cruelty free. This means that some of your favourite companies are still conducting animal testing.
- As a broad rule of thumb, if a brand is on the Sephora China website, animals are likely suffering. There may potentially be exceptions (for items manufactured in China) but this raises red flags and means you need to look into the brand if you don’t want to support testing.
- A company can physically retail in Hong Kong and keep their cruelty free status intact.
- There are several certifications that brands can have to prove their cruelty free status. Leaping Bunny and BUAV/Cruelty Free International are two of them, so you may see their bunny logo on products. PETA also have their own list, although I haven’t found this to be totally accurate so proceed with caution there. If you see the BUAV or Leaping Bunny logo a product is definitely cruelty free, and they have very stringent guidelines for brands to adhere to.
- Not every cruelty free company is registered with Leaping Bunny or BUAV, either because they haven’t found the time or they think it will cost too much money (it’s actually free, but they do have to open their records and processing plants.) Other brands may not realise the importance of these schemes. Some of these brands are KIKO Milano and Becca. Both are cruelty free but are not registered with Leaping Bunny. Some people choose not to purchase from them for this reason, others are satisfied if the brand will answer their questions in an email, again it’s down to where you personally draw the line.
- A company can be owned by a parent company who is not fully cruelty free yet still keep their own cruelty free status intact and remain Leaping Bunny certified.
- Some brands are deceptive and use a bunny that isn’t the leaping bunny to make you think their products are cruelty free. Don’t be fooled, sometimes these logos mean nothing. Check out the real bunny here and if you aren’t sure, do your own research.
- Some brands state that they do not test finished products, ingredients or use third party testers but they may agree carry out animal testing if required by law. This can be a grey area, for example the brand might not actually retail anywhere that requires animal testing, but if they did they would theoretically comply. A lot of people find this unacceptable since the brand would consider it, however I usually go off whether or not they are actually retailing anywhere that requires testing. Stila is an example of this. Before they retailed in China in my eyes they were cruelty free even though they stated that they were open to retailing there. When they began selling (a quick search on Sephora China brings up some products) I no longer considered them cruelty free. I’m beginning to sound like a parrot now but again it’s important to decide what you are comfortable with.
- If you live in the UK, all of Superdrug’s own brand products are Leaping Bunny certified, and many are vegan, this will be listed on the back of the item. If the idea of trying to find cruelty free toothpaste, shower gel, skincare, deodorant, shaving foam and hairspray on top of your makeup choices seems overwhelming, head to Superdrug and fill your basket! Easy.
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