Living a vegan, animal-product-free lifestyle comes down to more than dietary choices. We try to consider the ethical implications of any purchase and the potential affects production of a product may have on animals and the environment. Of course, this means abstaining from animal ingredients in our products (no lanolin in our hand cream, thank you!), but it also means seeking cruelty-free brands that avoid animal testing at all stages of the production process—by the company itself or by a third party.
Denouncing animal testing, especially when it comes to luxury items like cosmetics, is easy for anyone to do—including those who are skeptical of a plant-based diet. Actually shopping cruelty-free, however, is another matter entirely. In most places, “cruelty-free” isn’t clearly defined by law, leaving consumers and animal advocacy groups to parse through state animal testing policies and reports and cosmetics companies’ promises and labels.
Matters are complicated when companies sell products internationally (meaning we must inform ourselves with animal testing policies of other countries) and when companies that identify themselves a cruelty-free are owned by a larger, parent company is not cruelty-free and/or sells their products in countries that require animal testing.
Moreover, a company’s website isn’t always a reliable source of information when it comes to determining where the company stands on animal testing. Cosmetics companies that state they do not test on animals “expect where required by law” are likely referring to selling products in mainland China where animal testing is required by law. (Fortunately, China is considering alternatives to animal testing that could reduce, if not entirely eliminate, this unfortunate practice.)
Slipping through the cracks
Even when laws are in place to limit or ban animal-tested products in one’s home country, products can still get through the cracks. For example, despite the EU marketing ban on cosmetics tested on animals, a shopper in Britain may run into cosmetics brands sold on the British high street that are also sold in China, including Estée Lauder, Clarins, and Revlon.
Even committed vegans experience frustration trying to sort this all out. Although I’ve been vegan for almost five years now, I still have to stay on my toes—especially when it comes to big cosmetic companies. Just last week, Too Faced Cosmetics, a cult favorite among vegan beauty bloggers in the States, was bought by Estée Lauder.
Although Too Faced’s representatives have announced that the brand will remain cruelty-free and not sell their products in China, Too Faced fans are faced with the choice of whether or not to support a brand whose profits will presumably benefit a parent company (Estée Lauder) that allows animal testing. While many cruelty-free shoppers choose to no longer purchase Too Faced products, others may believe that Estée Lauder’s acquisition of Too Faced will allow Too Faced’s cruelty-free message to reach a larger audience and gain more traction among everyday shoppers—and perhaps Estée Lauder will take note and reconsider their stance on animal testing, a stance espoused by PETA.
Indeed, there is no easy answer even when we’re aware of a brand’s parent company situation. Other situations are less transparent and can leave shoppers feeling like they’re making choices in the dark.
Where things stand in Europe
In March of this year, advocate general Michal Bobek provided the European Court with his legal opinion regarding a judicial review of the marketing ban on cosmetics tested on animals, advising that products whose ingredients have been tested on animals outside of the EU should be able to be sold on the EU market.
PETA UK science policy advisor Julia Baines argues that this advice “flouts the purpose of the cosmetics regulation, which is to ensure the safety of cosmetics products and their ingredients through the use of only humane non-animal methods.” If such products are allowed onto the EU market, Baines explains, consumers may be misled by products labeled “cruelty-free.”
Why We Should Still Care
If all of this makes you feel hopeless, or if the nuances of shopping cruelty-free trigger your apathy, I completely understand because I have felt this way myself. It’s important to keep the larger picture in mind, however.
Animal testing continues to happen on a large scale—and it’s a pretty ugly business. In 2014 alone, 3.87 million scientific tests on animals took place in the UK. Baines highlights just how brutal these tests can be:
Test involving “ ‘moderate pain and distress’ can include, for example, surgical procedures such as craniotomy (removing a portion of the skull), ‘chronic toxicity tests’ as long as they do not result in death, and using ‘metabolic cages’ to restrict an animal’s movement for up to 5 days. Meanwhile, ‘severe’ procedures can include irradiation or chemotherapy with a lethal dose, deliberately breeding animals to have painful genetic disorders and increasingly poisoning animals with toxic substances until they die.”
Adding to this heartbreak is the outdatedness of animal testing. As Baines explains, animal testing is “rarely relevant” to the human body. Our physiology is vastly different from, say, a mouse’s physiology. Not only does the practice perpetuate cruelty, it’s a waste of time and resources in many cases. Simply put, it’s sub-par science.
What you can do
Before shopping, consult PETA’s cruelty-free company database. Familiarize yourself with brands that don’t test on animals, but keep in mind that brands can change hands. If a brand is purchased by another company, try to find out how this will affect their stance on animal testing.
Support independent brands. Progressive brands that seek to minimize the inclusion of synthetic ingredients are likely to abstain from animal testing.
Never beat yourself up. We’ve all probably bought something from a brand and later realized that the brand may not be cruelty-free. The important thing is to move on and continue seeking trustworthy brands.