Cruelty-Free Made Easy: One Woman’s Five Steps To A More Ethical Makeup Bag


Not many people are aware that 80% of the world still allows cosmetics to be tested on animals – but once you find out, it’s hard to ignore this fact. Over the past year, I have been transitioning my makeup to cruelty-free, and I can excitedly say the whole thing has been a fascinating and rewarding experience.

It wasn’t until I was nineteen years old and found myself surrounded by vegans and vegetarians at university that I really began to think about the beauty products I used. My new friends knew far more about the food they were putting into their bodies and the chemicals they were exposing their skin to than me. They made me realise how little attention I was paying not only to the things I was putting onto and into my body, but also where my money was going, which companies were benefiting from my custom and how ethical I was being with my choices.

My eyes were opened to the world of animal testing through just a small amount of research and I realised how cruel it was to be putting animals through so much pain for something as trivial as cosmetics. Suddenly, the makeup I used to feel dolled up and pretty acquired an ugly aftertaste.

I decided to make a change, and that change felt great.

That being said, the transition ended up much more difficult than had I thought it would be, especially in the beginning. When I Googled the brands I was interested in, many seemed to answer the cruelty-free question with long-winded and non-specific responses. I was flooded with online resources and contradictory advice from my vegetarian and vegan friends, and initially found the whole thing rather overwhelming. I was drawn in by the beautiful brands that lacked the ethical edge I was looking for and was fooled by some of the carefully chosen language that suggested a truth that just wasn’t there. I know that these experiences are ones I share with lots of people making the transition and that it’s a massive factor in putting people off from making the change when it really doesn’t have to be – so I thought I’d share my own struggles and how I overcame them.

Research your makeup bag.

The first reaction many people have when they find out what happens to animals in labs for lipstick is what I call “the throw-out and freak-out”. They think that they have to get rid of everything they own and spend copious amounts of money on cruelty-free alternatives. This isn’t efficient, it isn’t realistic and it’s not going to teach you much. What you want to do is much simpler: just empty out the contents of your makeup bag onto the floor and go through everything one by one, separating cruel from cruelty-free (we’ll get to how you can tell the difference soon.) By carrying out this step, it’s likely that you discover that you already own some cruelty-free brands and that’s always uplifting in the process. Rest in the knowledge that it’s not going to be as hard as you thought. Once you have everything separated, one question that might pop into your head is what to do with all that “cruel” makeup. If it’s new or only lightly used, it doesn’t need to go to waste – donate it to charity Give and Makeup, which focuses on using your unwanted products to help women who have been through violence.


Learn what cruelty-free actually means.

There are a couple of complications when it comes to being able to tell whether a brand is cruelty-free due to company claims that aren’t always as transparent as they seem.

One complication comes down to the fact that in most places the term “cruelty-free” isn’t defined by law. Lots of companies will claim to be cruelty-free by using the statement “we do not test on animals unless required by law.” This might sound good, but it comes down to that lack of transparency I mentioned earlier. China is a significant market for many brands, but in order to sell in this territory, animal testing is indeed required by law. Therefore, brands that sell their lines in China are not in fact cruelty-free.

It’s also good to bear in mind the loophole of parent companies. Some companies that claim to be cruelty-free are owned by larger parent companies that do partake in animal testing – many vegans choose to support the cruelty-free company anyway, as that sends a powerful message to the parent company. But being informed is important, and it’s important to know what exactly you’re looking for when you shop.  There is a number of certifications  that will let you know if a brand is cruelty-free for certain – learn more about PETA’s  amazing resource Beauty Without Bunnies, where you can easily search your favourite brand to see if it tests on animals and if it’s vegan, and who its parent company is. Another tool we swear by is the Cruelty Free International Leaping Bunny, the app you can download to your phone to look for cruelty-free brands and products. Based in Australia? Check the Choose Cruelty-Free website for a list of brands that carry their rabbit certification.


Use up all your remaining “cruel” products guilt-free.

Just like when you give up non-vegan clothing, your initial reaction might be to chuck it all away. I can’t blame you for thinking that way, but throwing out products that you’ve spent a lot of money on and buying all new isn’t a luxury that most of us can afford. Plus, it’s wasteful and potentially damaging to the environment to toss out heaps of makeup that can still be used. If you cannot donate your stuff (see above), then use up your existing products without guilt, reminding yourself that this way you’re reducing waste. Or if you really can’t face it and are in desperate need of a shopping trip, maybe give your old make-up away to somebody who won’t mind using it up.


Explore the world of cruelty-free beauty.

This is the part that actually means you can go shopping!  Subscription boxes are a great place to find a whole host of amazing brands without having to do a massive amount of research. We recommend sampling the “creme de la cruelty-free” at Petit Vour, a luxurious monthly subscription box of compassionate beauty, or exploring the world of natural beauty at LoveLula, a marketplace that offers a monthly subscription box. If you’re UK-based like me, Superdrug is a godsend. Its own brand is completely cruelty-free and vegan, and makeup from brands like Barry M and E.L.F is easily found at most branches.


Be forgiving of your mistakes and willing to learn.

Perhaps the most important step is being able to remain teachable. Be open-minded to learn that your favourite brand that claims to be cruelty-free has actually found a loophole and be willing to make the change. As I mentioned, though fun and rewarding, the transition can often be more complicated than it seems, and if you’re going to make a real difference you have to be willing to stay on top of the news when it comes to cruelty-free beauty. Here at Vilda, we’re always happy to help (and to offer an excuse to go shopping!).


For more on vegan beauty, follow Vilda on Pinterest


Photos by Joanna Kosinska and Kris Atomic via Unsplash

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Leigh-Ann Hewer

Leigh-Ann Hewer is a writer working towards a Creative Writing Degree at Bath Spa University. Originally from Wales, she enjoys travelling across the UK to visit friends and family.

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