Whether you’re an animal lover or not, chances are you’ve seen or heard the term cruelty-free pop-up.
Whether it’s on makeup, shampoo or other products showcasing a bunny like these…
or in conversations about ways to improve the quality of animals’ lives, cruelty-free has entered into mainstream conversation.
A quick look from Google Trends shows the term continues to grow in popularity and searches.
But what exactly does cruelty-free mean? Who came up with the definition?
More importantly, what are some steps you can take to save animals by living a cruelty-free life?
Well, that’s exactly what we will cover in this guide.
We are going to go over what cruelty-free means, why it’s important, where the idea came from, and what steps you can take to start living a more cruelty-free, animal-friendly life.
The important thing is, you don’t have to be a full-time animal activist to start participating in the cruelty-free lifestyle. You don’t have to change your entire life to make a difference in the lives of animals.
All you need is compassion for animals and a few minutes to read the following information.
Easy enough right?
Determining What it Means to Be Cruelty-Free
What Does Cruelty-Free Mean in a Nutshell?
If a product is cruelty-free, it simply means no animals were tested on or harmed in any part of the production process for a given product.
For example, most leather products would not be considered cruelty-free since the animal needed to be killed and stripped of its hide to make the product.
However, a faux leather jacket could be considered cruelty-free.
Many cosmetic and make-up products would not be considered cruelty-free due to painful, chemical testing that occurring to animals during the creation of the product.
The term cruelty-free can also apply to things outside of tangible products. For example, people who eat a vegan diet can be considered cruelty-free since it doesn’t involve the consumption of animals or animal byproducts.
Is There a Standard, Accept Definition of What a Cruelty-Free Product Is?
It’s important to note that there is not a single government-sanctioned or agreed upon label of what cruelty-free means.
In fact, cruelty-free can imply different things for different people and there’s debate about what exactly constitutes a 100% cruelty-free product or process, as we’ll get into more.
Since the 1990’s, when the cruelty-free lifestyle began to gain traction, a few organizations focused on establishing a single, comprehensive standard that could easily be recognized at a global level.
One of the most popular standards is Cruelty-Free International’s (formerly BUAV) and Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics’ Leaping Bunny Program.
Leaping Bunny Program contains one of the most popular and accepted guidelines of what it means to have a cruelty-free product and is certifying companies in many major countries across the world.
It’s symbolized by the leaping bunny logo seen here…
and has a full page outlining what the organization considers to qualify as cruelty-free. It also contains a list of partner companies worldwide that abide by their standards.
However, Leaping Bunny isn’t the only organization establishing a mass, agreed-upon definition of what a cruelty-free product is.
Also, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) which operates in the United States has their own cruelty-free guidelines and standards and also works with trusted brands to help consumers make consciousness, animal-friendly decisions by allowing them to use their pink bunny logo shown below on their products:
A third, popular organization based in Australia called Choose Cruelty Free has their own guidelines as well and is recognized by their CCF rabbit logo as shown below. Companies can learn more about their accreditation program and apply here.
These three organizations, Leaping Bunny, PETA, and CCF, are considered to have the most accepted guidelines and most legitimate partnering programs in the animal advocacy industry when it comes to determining if a brand has harmed animals during the making of its products.
Here’s an abbreviated summary of what each policy stands for, but make sure to do your own research and visit each of their sites to learn more about each organization.
Cruelty-Free vs Vegan
It’s important to note that cruelty-free labeled products are not necessarily vegan products.
If a product is labeled vegan it means that it does not contain any animal-derived ingredients including honey, beeswax, lanolin, collagen, albumen, carmine, cholesterol, gelatin, and others.
So, it is possible for a product to be cruelty-free (not tested on animals), but contain some ingredients derived from animals.
A good example would be Burt’s Bees products. They have a very strict no-animal-testing policy and currently show up in the cruelty-free Leaping Bunny database. However, their products contain animal-derived ingredients like honey, milk, beeswax.
Some animal lovers feel it’s OK to use Burt’ Bees and other non-vegan brands, while others feel it would be unethical to buy or consume.
Sustainable Jungle has a full article discussing if there is an ethical gap between cruelty-free and cruelty-free + vegan products here
Similar to the cruelty-free movement’s official bunny logos, you can check if a product is vegan by looking for official Vegan-approved logos. The most popular ones are from Vegan Action and Vegan Society.
Of course, make sure you do your own research, too. Examine what the product is made of on the packaging and what products the company manufactures.
Why Do Companies Test on Animals?
Testing and experimentation on animals go back hundreds of years.
However, testing on animals started to accelerate in 1938 when The United States Food, Drug & Cosmetic Act was signed into law, which compelled companies to begin testing their products for toxicity using animals.
In order to meet FDA guidelines, companies test, hurt, and kill hundreds of thousands of rats, mice, rabbits, dogs, and primates each year.
It’s important to realize testing on animals is not a law or requirement. It’s just a practice to ensure products meet FDA guidelines.
Also, many companies test on animals to be able to sell in China, which still does require animal testing for certain, specialized products.
Animal testing also occurs frequently in the development of drugs and medicine for humans.
However, the problem with animal testing, activists point out, is that the Nation Institutes of Health report that 95 out of 100 drugs that pass animal trials fail in human clinical testing1.
Cruelty-free participants argue that what a drug may do to a certain animal species is a very poor approximation of what it will do to a human and, thus, is completely pointless and unnecessary mistreatment of animals.
A better alternative would focus on advancing science to a point that pre-clinical trials are based solely on what will happen with human biology. This will cut out useless harm and death to animals, while simultaneously making better products more efficiently.
Statistics from the APHIS report the testing that happens to small mammals like guinea pigs, rabbits, and hamsters.2 This does not include the countless mice, fish, or rats that are tested on each year, as they do not have to be documented and are not covered by the Animal Welfare Act.
Where Does the Term Cruelty-Free Come From?
We can credit Lady Dowding (Muriel Dowding), an English animal rights activist, for first using the term cruelty-free3.
She persuaded manufacturers of fake furs to use the term “Beauty without Cruelty” and founded the charity Beauty Without Cruelty in 1959.
Since then, progress has been slowly made to ending animal testing and make products and services more humane.
A few breakthroughs include…
- In 1998 the UK banned all animal testing for cosmetic products and ingredients.
- In 2004 the EU passed a law phasing out the production of animal tested products.
- In June of 2014 China implemented a rule to remove mandatory animal testing for non-special use cosmetics manufactured in China.
- In June of 2016 Australia’s federal government announced its commitment to ban cosmetic animal testing and the sale of newly animal-tested cosmetics by July 2017.
You can find a timeline of advances in ending cosmetic testing of animals here.
Beware of Cruelty-Free Imitators
So, if a product says it’s not tested on animals, it’s cruelty-free and safe to buy right?
Not so fast.
According to the FDA, some companies may apply misleading claims to their finished products to confuse consumers, such as “finished product not tested on animals”, “we don’t support testing on animals” or even stating “cruelty-free” when they are not by previously discussed standards. However, these companies may engage with outside laboratories that perform animal testing or may gather raw materials from contractors that do harm animals.
Also, it’s possible raw materials used to make goods such as makeup may have been tested on animals years ago, but are not “currently” being tested which gives companies the right to slap on the “cruelty-free” label.
Savvy companies may print unofficial bunny logos that may look like these:
That’s not to say brands with unofficial logos always test on animals. They may simply be in the process of applying for official accreditation or are a newer company.
But again, just because the company says it doesn’t test on animals or doesn’t support it doesn’t mean they fit with Leaping Bunny, PETA, or CCA’s cruelty-free standards.
Some corporations are cutting corners and getting away with harming animals while being allowed to claim that they’re not. This makes it hard for an animal-friendly person to accurately shop. So please be aware of unofficial claims and logos.
Finding the Most Cruelty-Free Products
Here are some basic steps to make sure you support a brand that’s up to Leaping Bunny, PETA, or CCF standards.
Step 1. Look for the Official Logos
First, still check the label of the product you’re buying and look for one of the three official logos.
Remember, beware of imitator bunny logos with false claims that the company is cruelty-free.
Step 2. Use Apps Like Cruelty-Cutter
To save time, you can use apps created by Beagle Freedom Project, LeapingBunny, and PETA that quickly scan the product’s UPC and tell you if the brand is in their cruelty-free database or not.
One of the most popular of these apps is called Cruelty-Cutter by Beagle Freedom. Take a look at a demo here:
This app allows you to scan the barcode of a product to see if it’s listed as cruelty-free using the main certified databases.
If it’s not, you can see cruelty-free alternatives to buy and even “Bite Back” or click a button to leave negative feedback on social media about that company.
A few features include:
- Scanner to quickly check product
- “Doggie Dollars” when you take action which you can redeem for discounts on cruelty-free products
- Search by company’s name
- Search by directory and categories ie: shampoo, sunscreen, etc.
- “Bite Back” feature
- Suggestions for cruelty-free products if scan turns up negative
This is one of the easiest and most accurate ways to determine if a determine if a product is really not tested on animals.
Also, you can check out Bunny Free by Peta.org which works in a similar way allowing users to check if a company is cruelty-free using several features including a directory as well.
However, this one doesn’t have a directory by category, like Cruelty-Cutter does.
Also, Leaping Bunny has their own app called Cruelty-Free By Leaping Bunny
This too comes with barcode scanning and a directory of their accredited companies.
This app does not say which brands aren’t cruelty-free, only if they’re currently certified by Leaping Bunny and in their directory or not.
Step 3. Check Cruelty-Free Databases
You can also search PETA and Leaping Bunny databases for yourself on your computer before you go shopping to familiarize yourself with their accredited brands.
Navigate here to find a database of brands certified by LeapingBunny to be 100% cruelty-free.
Simply type in the brand name to see if it’s registered in the directory or browse their list alphabetically below.
PETA also offers a free search tool for their Beauty Without Bunnies program that works in a similar way.
This allows you to search a database of companies that do and that don’t test their products on animals.
To get started, just enter the product or brand keyword into the search bar at the top.
Also, you can click through their databases for a list of companies in alphabetical order that do or don’t test on animals. There will also be extra indicators if the company is fully vegan and if they use the PETA logo.
Step 4. Search Curated Pro-Animal Bloggers
Also, you can search cruelty-free blogger’s lists compiled on their own.
These are smaller bloggers that don’t take donations from other companies so feel free to check them out:
Some of the best self-curated lists include:
Step 5. Do Your Own Research
If you can’t find a certified bunny logo and the company isn’t in the database, it can still be cruelty-free and is just a new company.
There are many cruelty-free companies that aren’t listed in the major databases yet because they are newer, which may call for doing your own investigating.
Contact the Company and Investigate
To start, you can contact the company yourself to learn more.
Before buying, you can visit their website, find their contact information and ask if their products are cruelty-free. Don’t be afraid to dig in and ask where the product comes from, what ingredients are in it and more.
Although Leaping Bunny, PETA, and CCA are doing a fantastic job improving their databases and monitoring major brands for cruelty-free quality assurance, a cruelty-free practicing company you intend to buy from may not be listed in there.
The only way to fully know if a company complies with your accepted definition of cruelty-free is to see it with your own eyes. Check out their location, their labs, the 3rd party manufacturers, and more.
If you’re a major company that supports cruelty-free and looking to partner with another company that claims to follow your guidelines it may make sense to do your own research and investigation.
For the average consumer, this may not be practical of course, so you can either…
1. Use Common Sense.
For example, if it’s a small local company that’s only producing 1-2 products that seem like they would not need to be tested on animals, it may be safe to buy from them.
2. Wait Until Later to Buy.
Simply put the product back and wait until you can buy from a brand that’s already been established as being 100% cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny or other major guidelines you trust.
Adopting a Cruelty-Free Lifestyle
By now, hopefully, you have a better understanding of what cruelty-free means, where it came from, and why you should try to implement the process of buying cruelty-free products into your life.
Unfortunately, despite increasing awareness and cruelty-free education animal testing has gone up.
Last year the USDA published their 2016 records which cited a 6.9% increase in animals used in research as indicated on this graph from Speaking of Research.
That means today is a better time than ever to start practicing living cruelty-free as there are countless animals that need your help.
Now, we’re going to take a look at some of the steps to start being more cruelty-free. As mentioned before, you don’t need to take up animal activism, throw away all your makeup and clothes, stop eating meat, etc. to make a difference.
By starting or adding one of the following steps means you took a step in the direction of helping animals.
It’s better to do a little and work toward doing a lot, then to get overwhelmed and sit on the sidelines doing nothing.
So, let’s take a look now at some steps to get started.
Step 1. Redo Your Wardrobe
Ok, don’t throw all your clothes away, but take a close look at what you’re wearing and consider donating what would be considered products harmful to animals.
Products made of wool, leather, feathers/down, fur, and angora once belonged to an animal and chances are that animal it came from was harmed in the process of its creation.
In fact, did you know the leather industry alone kills over 1 million animals per year?
The following types of clothing are considered to be inhumane:
- Alpaca Fiber
- Fur trim
Granted, some of these materials were obtained in a less harmful way than others.
For example, sheep feel no pain when their fur is sheared to be made into clothing. However, the animal may still lead a painful, fear-filled life confined to a small living space and fed a poor diet in order to save money.
If it came from an animal and you want to be fully cruelty-free, it’s best to avoid it.
- Cork Fabric
- Down Alternatives
- “Manmade materials”
is fine to keep.
Take a look at leather shoes, belts, and other accessories, too. You can always replace these with just as good leather look-a-like alternatives.
Faux leather has come a long way and looks almost identical to real leather now like this faux leather belt and backpack.
Of course, you can sell your more expensive items, but just keep in mind this is continuing the in-humane cycle if it’s just someone else wearing it.
If you’re a fashionista, there’s no need to worry. There are tons of new and upcoming cruelty-free fashion brands including Paul Mitchell, Kat Von D Beautify, NYX, Urban Decay, and others, so treat yourself to a shopping spree for your hard work.
PETA offers a helpful guide to start shopping vegan you can see.
Farm Sanctuary has a list of top vegan fashion brands you can check out, too.
Preparation before you shop.
The first time you go shopping for more humane clothing or any other product whether it’s cosmetic, decor, etc. may be a little frustrating.
You’ll find many major chain brands aren’t cruelty-free and that it’s difficult to find cruelty-free information at all sometimes.
Do a search on PETA’s database to familiarize yourself with cruelty-free brands so you can easily recognize them when shopping or shop online using their brand keyword.
Remember to download the recommend apps and plan for extra time to evaluate each brand you’ve picked out.
Step 2. Check Furniture and Decor
Do you have furniture or decor made from those harmful materials we just went over?
Take a walk around your apartment or house and you might be surprised.
There’s probably at least one chair, decoration, or product that was made from fur or animal skin or from a company that produces other animal-unfriendly products.
Gather up any non-vegan decorations, take them outside, invite your friends over, and have a bonfire and cookout. Or at least start planning on replacing these items over time.
Then, replace those with brands listed in the Leaping Bunny or other approved databases you follow.
One of the best places we’ve found for vegan decor is small mom and pop sellers on Etsy.com
These aren’t big brands and create products in a humane way one at a time.
Check out Etsy vegan decor here.
Step 3. Check Your Cosmetics
This is not just for women to do.
Everything from shampoo, conditioner, make-up, deodorant, etc. may have been tested or harmed animals in some way.
Take a step into your bathroom and start checking out the product information of everything you have.
First, check for the leaping bunny or other trusted bunny logos on the product boxes.
If you don’t see those, double check in the Leaping Bunny or PETA databases for that product brand, if it’s not there and it appears to be a household name, the product is probably not cruelty-free.
Then, start replacing the products you use the most. These are probably things like your soap and shaving cream.
There are tons of cheap and affordable alternatives you can use to replace your non-cruelty-free product.
Check out these lists of cruelty-free, recommended cosmetic products:
Cruelty-Free Vegan Deodorant
Cruelty-Free Foundation Guide
Cruelty-Free Sun Screens
Step 4. Reduce Waste and Recycle
You know recycling helps the planet in many ways, but it also is important for the well being of animals.
Reducing the size of landfills has an enormous benefit to wildlife since it takes up less habitable space and there’s less chance waste from these landfills will make its way into the animals’ habitat.
The EPA estimates more than 100,000 marine mammals die from ingestion or entanglement with floating plastic debris.
Recycle household hazardous waste, including engine oil. The oil waste from a single oil change can impact over 1 million gallons of fresh water that animals use to drink.
A few things easy things you can do include:
Don’t dispose of gum outside – Animals often step in gum which can become matted in their fur or feather causing harm.
Pick up or recycle pop cans – Animals poking around can get cut by sharp edges so make sure to recycle at your next party.
Pop Rings – We’ve all seen the pictures of wildlife and animals with their necks caught in pop rings. Make sure to take 5 seconds and cut the plastic rings after removing the cans.
Buy Less Plastic – Thousands of animals attempt to eat discarded plastic bags and other plastic objects and end up choking or with fatal bowel obstructions.
Next time you’re at the grocery store, opt for reusable paper bags or bring your own shopping bag to load groceries in.
Step 5. Get Involved in Animal Outreach and Support
If you’ve followed the steps outlined so far, get yourself a big pat on the back. You’ve just made a big difference in the lives of countless animals.
However, as anyone who’s tried to go cruelty-free realizes, there’s only so much one person can do by themselves.
The cruelty-free movement has come a long way, but there’s still a lot more that needs to be done.
That’s why for this next step, you should consider doing some outreach. This can be as simple as signing a few petitions to end inhumane practices and animal testing.
Some outreach and animal-friendly practices can include:
1. Donate to or volunteer at your local no-kill shelter
Local, no-kill shelters are places where staff and volunteers work around the clock to save the lives of many animals.
Even a small donation to these places can go a long way to saving another animal’s life. Just do a search for their website and find their Donation or PayPal button. If you can’t find that, just send them an email and ask how you can donate.
Plus, you can even volunteer, whether that’s helping on-site or in a fundraiser or event.
Many shelters are overrun with all kinds of animals that need any help they can get. Any time you can give goes a long way.
2. Only Adopt from Shelters
Major pet chains systematically breed dogs and cats in in-humane conditions solely for the sake of increasing profits.
Meanwhile, millions of cats and dogs in shelters have to be put down due to lack of homes.
You can fix this issue by adopting your next cat, dog, or another animal from a local shelter instead of a big box chain store. You are then saving two lives: the one you adopt and the one who gets to take its place in a safe shelter.
3. Sign cruelty-free petitions and join newsletters
Major animal rights sites like The Humane Society has links to petitions you can sign those help animals.
You can also join their mailing newsletters for updates on how you can help.
Take a look at some of these major petitions from Cruelty-Free International you can sign today.
4. Show Your Support
Let people know you’re cruelty-free in a non-confrontational way. Shop for some cruelty-free or animal support bumper stickers for your car or back windshield.
Purchase hats, tee-shirts, etc. that showcase your support for animals and the cruelty-free movement.
5. Spay / Neuter your Cat and Dog
Over 70,000 puppies and kittens are born into the US every day and many will go without homes their entire lives. Spaying and neutering is the only way to control the overpopulation of homeless animals.
Just one unspayed cat can lead to over 50 more cats and kittens in just a year. So make sure to get your pets spayed or neutered and inform your friends.
6. Become a Foster Parent
If too many animals share a shelter or living space, they can begin to share and spread diseases, many of which can be life-threatening.
Also, many wonderful pets never get adopted because they seem too timid or shy around people who want a cuddly pet.
Fostering a cat or dog can help with both these problems and is very easy to do.
By fostering, you help make space in the shelter while also providing the animal with a nice, safe place to live and learn about family life, socialization skills, manners and more.
This greatly increases the odds the animal will get adopted and will grow up healthy.
Want some more easy ways to help?
The Humane Society has a list of 55 actions to help out animals.
Step 6. Take a Look at Your Diet
I’ve saved this as the final step since, for many people, changing your diet may be the hardest step of all toward living a more cruelty-free, pro-animal lifestyle.
Of course, before making major changes to your diet you should consult your physician or licensed nutritionist, especially if you’re on certain medications.
Many people believe that in order to live a lifestyle that fully supports animals you need to avoid eating meat or products derived from animals all-together.
This includes eating vegetarian, or not eating any meat, and veganism, which includes not eating any products derived from animals like eggs, honey, or dairy.
Are Vegetarian and Vegan Diets Healthy?
The truth is, it depends on which MD you speak to or which blog you read.
There’s no general consensus by the medical community on what constitutes the healthiest diet or if there even is such a thing.
Pros: Vegetarian and Vegan diets usually contain a high amount of nutrient-dense foods including lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and more which in countless studies have been shown to increase health and reduce the risk for certain diseases.
The famous BlueZone studies indicate that those who lived the longest and healthiest ate mostly a plant-based lifestyle4 as indicated by the ven diagram below for three of the “BlueZones”, Loma Linda, Sardina, and Okinawa.
They are also low in saturated fat and cholesterol which can be a benefit depending on the individual and their particular medical condition.
Cons: If you’re not careful, these diets may lead to an insufficient intake of nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamins D and B12, calcium, and more which could negatively impact health.
If you decide to go vegetarian, vegan, or plant-based you should talk about additional supplementation with your doctor to make sure you’re getting vitamins usually found only in meat.
Also, it’s possible to eat incredibly unhealthy things like processed potato chips, sugar-filled cookies, and products with man-made transfat and still be vegetarian.
Just because you’ve given up meat doesn’t mean you’re diet has improved.
In fact, eating an unhealthy vegetarian diet may start to have negatively impacted your energy leading to decreases in your animal advocacy and volunteer work.
Bottom line is, if you decide to go meat-free make sure you’re doing it smartly, getting your essential vitamins and minerals, and consulting with an MD or licensed nutritionist first before plunging in blindly.
What if I’m Not Ready to Go 100% Meatless?
There are some people who make great strides in animal advocacy but believe cutting out meat products or animal-derived products from their diet will lead to poor health and lowered performance in their work.
If you’re not ready to go 100% meat-free yet, simply lowering the amount of meat you consume or avoiding certain meat products and brands can still make a difference compared to what you are currently doing.
Avoid Mass-Produced, Processed Meats
If you do want to continue eating meat, try to avoid meat from mass-produced sources and commercial chain restaurants for both ethical and health reasons.
The beef, chicken, pork, etc. produced from many “big-meat” companies has been shown to come from extremely in-humane practices of systematic slaughter of animals in which the animal was abused most of its life through in-humane living conditions and incorrect diet to save money.
Plus, a lot of this highly processed meat is stuffed with man-made ingredients that appear to mimic meat, but can actually cause harm to the body including cancer5 as shown in the diagram from the World Health Organization.
Try to purchase meat from local or small farms in which the animal was allowed to eat a filling, healthy diet, was allowed to roam free, and was killed with as little suffering as possible if you do have to eat meat.
Whew. That’s was a lot to cover.
If you’re new to living an animal-friendly, more cruelty-free life and feeling a little stressed about all the things you need to do, just relax.
Remember, to make a difference you only need to do one small thing one step at a time. Don’t feel like you need to rush home, throw away all your clothes, decor, cosmetics and food to be a good person.
Just start by picking one small thing you can change today, whether it’s getting rid of leather, changing up your shampoo, picking a cruelty-free brand to buy from, etc. and do that.
Then, the next day pick one more small thing and track your progress.
Over time, a few small changes can lead to a big impact for you and animals.
Over to You – Leave a Comment
So, what steps are you taking to be more animal friend and cruelty-free?
Have you started yet and do you have advice for beginners?
Is there anything we missed or you want to add?
Feel free to add your comment below and start the discussion.
We look forward to saving more lives and ending cruel testing on animals right alongside you.