When Beauty is Skin Deep: Cruelty-free and vegan cosmetics and skincare gaining ground in the beauty industry


By: Laura Lum

The current reality of animal testing in the beauty industry

“Where do you usually get your cosmetics and skincare from?”

This is a question I often get from others wanting to find out more about brands that offer skincare and cosmetics free from animal testing and animal by-products. As a conscious consumer, I am selective about the brands that I support and I often struggle to find products that are effective, wallet-friendly and most importantly, free from animal cruelty. Cruelty-Free Kitty is my current beauty bible for now, but I look forward to the day where I am able to step into any shop and not have to stare at the ingredient list intently before making a purchase.

Unfortunately, in the capitalistic world of mass production, it is common to find a slew of animal-derived ingredients in many skincare and cosmetic products.  Many such products are produced in China where animal testing is mandatory by law. International cosmetic and skincare brands are required to adhere to animal testing in government labs before products are released for sale in China. This applies to everything from deodorants to sunblock lotions. The need for animal testing stems from the lack of capabilities and know-how to carry out alternative methods, where people need to be retrained and certified.  Furthermore, 80% of countries still do not have laws against animal testing.  The sheer numbers of animals tested are astonishing. A 2013 estimate by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals found that companies in China tested products on as many as 300,000 animals. These methods result in pain and distress which include internal bleeding, organ damage, blindness, convulsions, and death.

According to a Bloomberg News report, China is set to become the world’s largest market for beauty and skincare products, where beauty knows no borders. That means that companies which do not undergo animal testing will lose a large share of profits that could have been made if they had made headway into China’s massive market. It is no surprise that big cosmetic brands like L’Óreal, Estee Lauder, Shiseido and Proctor & Gamble undergo animal testing, given that they are amongst the top international brands sold in China and around the world.

Apart from animal testing, it is common to find animal by-products hiding in many skincare and cosmetic products where many of them are confused as synthetic materials. One such ingredient is carmine, derived from cochineal beetles. When crushed, they produce an intense red dye commonly found in many lipsticks and blushes. Lanolin is a greasy wax excreted by the sebaceous glands of wool-bearing mammals such as sheep. It is most frequently found in lotions and lipsticks, anything that requires moisturizing.  While some may argue that the process of extraction of certain by-products such as lanolin are not cruel, a majority of the time sheep are slaughtered for consumption and lanolin becomes a by-product of the meat industry.

Cosmetics with a conscience: How major brands are taking action against animal cruelty

Cruelty Free Brands

Interestingly, I started to notice something a little different on shop front advertisements as of late, especially amongst popular skincare and cosmetic shops such as The Body Shop (pictured above). Buzzwords along the lines of “100% vegan”, “cruelty-free”, “100% vegetarian” are seen plastered on their shop fronts.

I cannot help but feel a tinge of skepticism. Are companies really practicing what they preach, or is it just a form of Greenwashing? This piqued my curiosity as I put on my detective cap and scoured through the web to find out more about this phenomenon.

As I searched on popular skincare and cosmetic brands such as The Body Shop, Lush, and those commonly found in Sephora such as Tarte and Kat Von D, I was pleasantly surprised to find that many brands are increasingly adopting new practices and being vocal about their support towards cruelty-free practices through their campaigns and range of products. Even though I was previously aware that some of these brands offered cruelty-free products, what was interesting was how they have positioned themselves not only as a beauty brand but also as active advocates against animal-cruelty.

Natural skincare and beauty brand, Lush is a strong advocate in fighting against animal testing, where they have taken the streets through live demonstrations and innovative campaigns. One of which is a live demonstration of animal testing in Regent Street London, where an artist was subjected to force-feeding, multiple injections and her face being scraped in front of appalled passer-bys.

 Fight Against Animal Testing

The Body Shop also launched a ‘Forever Against Animal Testing’ campaign in a form of a petition in 2017. In partnership with Cruelty Free International, The Body Shop took the campaign to the United Nations requesting an international convention banning animal testing.

Body Shop Ban Animal Testing

Beauty brands have also taken a step forward by releasing vegan product lines on a more frequent basis. For instance, The Body Shop introduced their first vegan product range in 2016, fully sourced from plant-based ingredients such as coconut, olive, and marula oils. Their new vegan product launches include Drops of Youth, a vegan skincare range and body yoghurts, released in late 2017 and 2018 respectively.

Cruelty Free Vegan Yogurts

“Cruelty-free” or “100% vegetarian” refers to products developed without any form of animal testing, but may still have products that contain animal by-products such as lanolin, beeswax, and carmine. On the other hand, “Vegan” would mean that in addition to not having products being tested on animals, the products do not contain any animal-derived ingredients.

Fighting Animal Testing

Kat Von D, a famous makeup and tattoo artist who is also known to be vegan and an animal rights activist also took Kat Von D Beauty to the next level and revamped it into an entirely vegan makeup line in late 2016. She commented that this involved reformulating products that included carmine and made the change only recently given that she was not vegan when she started the makeup line.

Other popular brands including Colourpop and Tarte have followed suit, endorsed by PETA as cruelty-free which means that there is no form of animal testing in all their products. Both brands also offer a wide range of vegan beauty products. Tarte’s newest skincare and makeup range, Rainforest of the Sea released in 2017 is also vegan.

 Tarte Vegan Products

It goes to show that cruelty-free products are no longer limited to niche brands, but are made much more accessible to the masses as the cruelty-free movement sweeps the beauty world. It is easy to claim that the “cruelty-free” or even “vegan” label endorsed by supposedly non-vegan brands is a way of selling out, but I see this in a positive light.

With the widespread visibility of established beauty brands in the market, these brands can leverage on their influence to encourage people from all walks of life, vegan or non-vegan, to celebrate a more compassionate and sustainable lifestyle through being more discerning in their consumption of everyday beauty products. This is a step closer towards changing the beauty industry for the good, inspiring not only consumers, but also creating ripples amongst other players in the beauty industry.

According to Artemis Patrick, Senior VP from Sephora Merchandising, “Natural skin care is growing fast, almost eight times as much as compared to last year in terms of searches,” Patrick reports, adding that popular keywords include “organic,” “paraben-free,” and “vegan” as big brands are becoming more conscious.

International brands are not the only ones taking the cruelty-free world by storm. Local beauty brands such as Handmade Heroes, 13rushes, and COAT have also hopped on the bandwagon pride themselves on plant-based natural ingredients, leaving beauty junkies spoilt for choice when it comes to both cruelty-free and vegan products.  Check out our guide here for what’s available in Singapore.

Handmade Heroes Cruelty Free Cosmetics

All eyes on cruelty-free and vegan beauty

Indeed, the road towards vegan beauty is a two-way street. Consumers have a large part to play in the equation as well. Along with health, safety and environmental concerns, plant-based and mineral-based ingredients are becoming increasingly popular. In the US, the vegan cosmetics market is predicted to exceed USD 3.16 billion by 2025.

It is truly heartening to know that consumers are concerned about how products are being made and where they are sourced from. It is no longer just about looking good but also feeling good about their purchases. A survey from virtual beauty app Perfect365 has found that 36 percent of women prefer to buy from cruelty-free cosmetics brands. The results which came from a survey from 15,000 women who use the app has also revealed that 24 percent of respondents referred to PETA’s website to check which brands and products have gone through animal testing before making a purchase.

It goes to show that beauty brands need to think about moving forward to meet the demands of consumers are they become increasingly conscious. As Helen Duxbury, Senior Account Manager from NPD UK Beauty said, “Customers are adopting a more conscious approach when purchasing products, looking closely at the underlying philosophies and actions of the brands. They not only investigate ingredients and efficacy, they want to know about traceability, and how animal-friendly they are.”

With cruelty-free and vegan beauty on the international radar, mass beauty brands have taken the stage and made their mark on cruelty-free beauty as consumers become increasingly aware and conscious of sustainable and compassionate alternatives. What has been thought of as a niche beauty segment is now seen as mainstream or rather, a necessary measure in the eyes of both consumers and companies alike. After all, who says compassion is not a form of beauty?

Check out our Cruelty-Free Living guide here!