What Does it Mean if A Product is Cruelty Free?

There’s lots of talk around from consumers, retailers and manufacturers about products being “cruelty free”. Quite simply, “cruelty free’ refers to cosmetics or other products that are developed and produced using methods that do not involve testing on animals.

Cruelty free is not a new, trendy concept either. In fact, it’s been around for around 75 years since the introduction of the three R’s in the book Principles of Humane Experimental Technique written by Charles Hume, Rex L Burch and William Russell. The “three R’s they presented in their book were technique to reduce the use of animals in testing and the related suffering by

  1. Replacement (eliminate animal testing altogether)
  2. Reduction (use fewer animals in testing using statistical analysis)
  3. Refinement (make whatever tests are needed less painful)

Product testing with guinea pigs, mice, rats and rabbits are often painful and cause the suffering and death of millions of these animals every year. Depending on the type of testing, the animals may be forced to eat or inhale the product or have an ingredient rubbed onto their skin, eyes or ears every day for an extended period of time to see if they have an allergic reaction. After the testing is completed, the animals may then be killed and examined to observe the effects the ingredient has had on its internal organs. Pregnant animals are also used for these tests, and after much suffering, are killed along with their fetuses. When testing products for potential carcinogens, the animal is force-fed an ingredient over two years, monitored for cancer, and then killed.

In the animal rights movement, cruelty-free is a label of distinction for products or activities that do not harm or kill animals. Today, there’s most certainly a bigger shift overall where many companies have jumped on the bandwagon and are promoting their products as cruelty-free, but there are still a plethora that are lagging behind on this trend and continue the practice of ingredient and/or product testing on animals.

Where the products are being sold can also be a factor—many companies are now looking to sell their cosmetic products in China, and they still require animal testing on these products so companies wishing to expand their reach into China will continue to face a challenge in reaching “cruelty free” benchmark.

In the U.S., animal testing isn’t mandatory, but it’s also not yet been banned. Cosmetics don’t need approvals from the Food and Drug Administration nor does federal law require cosmetic products to be tested on animals to determine their safety. The FDA advises instead that cosmetics manufacturers “employ whatever testing is appropriate and effective for substantiating the safety of their products.”

There seems to be an ever-increasing demand for products that are not tested on animals and you can now find a wide range of cruelty-free items in the marketplace such as candles, clothing, cosmetics, household cleaners, personal-care products and shoes.  Some products are now labeled with phrasing such as “not tested on animals”, “we do not conduct animal testing”, “never tested on animals”, “against animal testing” or “cruelty-free”. Since there is no clear legal definition as to what these terms actually mean the phrases are often confusing and could be misleading to the consumer.

When a product is labeled as “Cruelty-Free” or has a bunny on it, that means it has not been tested on animals. However, an important distinction to be aware of is that designation as “cruelty-free”, “not tested on animals,” or even the image of a bunny on a label may only refer to the finished product, when in fact, most animal testing occurs at the ingredient level.

If you want to check out whether your favorite products make the cut as cruelty free, many of their websites have an FAQ section where you can search whether they promote their products as such. There are also a handful of organizations such as PETA and Leaping Bunny  that are trying to make it easier to identify and shop for animal-friendly products by offering downloadable shopping guides, online lists and links to recommended companies and their specific products.

Our Hustle Butter products are all certified vegan and cruelty free.


About the author: Yaffa Baslaw (@yadeinu) is a Freelance Writer with over a decade of experience copywriting and blogging compelling content. She has written for more than 20 companies in the fields of healthcare, skincare, and retail.