“Cruelty-free” simply means that a product and its ingredients weren’t tested on animals.
The term cruelty-free was used for the first time in 1959 by Lady Dowding who convinced manufacturers of fake furs to use the label Beauty Without Cruelty and went on to found the charity Beauty Without Cruelty in 1959. The term was popularised in the US in the 1970s by Marcia Pearson who founded the group Fashion With Compassion.
What does animal testing mean?
Animals such as rabbits, rats, mice, and guinea pigs are sometimes forced to eat or inhale substances, or have a cosmetic ingredient rubbed onto their shaved skin, eyes or ears every day for 28 or 90 days to see if they have an allergic reaction. Then they are killed and cut open to examine the effects the ingredient has on internal organs. These tests are also done with pregnant animals who, after much suffering, are killed along with the fetus.
What are the alternatives?
When a product claims to be cruelty-free, the product is usually tested on Reconstructed human epidermis, human skin donated from cosmetic surgery to replace the rabbit Draize skin test. These tests not only reduce animal testing, but are more precise and accurate at protecting humans from toxic substances. Another cruelty-free option is using ingredients that have already been established as safe, such as the 20,000 ingredients in the European Union database.
The import and sale of cosmetics containing ingredients tested on animals is banned In the EU. So yes, if you live in the EU and have bought a product only because they told you “but hey, this one is cruelty-free”, you’ve been fooled. Any brand that manufactures or sells in the European Union must be cruelty-free.
China still requires animal testing if a company wants to sell its cosmetics in the Chinese market.
What people won’t tell you:
Animal testing isn’t mandatory in the U.S., but it’s not banned, either. Cosmetics don’t need premarket approval from the Food and Drug Administration, and the federal law doesn’t require cosmetic products to be tested on animals to determine their safety. Instead, the FDA advises cosmetics manufacturers to “employ whatever testing is appropriate and effective for substantiating the safety of their products.”