What is cruelty-free make up?

Over the past few months, cruelty-free make up and beauty products has become far more prevalent on social media. On Youtube alone there are over 86,000 pages of people discussing it as a topic, and given recommendations of the best brands use from both a quality and ethically friendly angle.

For me, I started to become aware of cruelty free make up recently,  when I was searching for a dupe of NARS’ lipstick ‘Ingrid’. As a student I objected to spending that much money on a lipstick! I had VK’s to buy! From this, I stumbled across Obsessive Compulsive Cosmetics. Their lip tar ‘Anita‘ is a fantastic dupe for NARS’ ‘Ingrid’ in terms of colour and intensity (full review will be posted next week). But primarily I was impressed from learning that OCC is a completely cruelty-free and completely vegan cosmetics company. I didn’t really understand how rare that was in a make up brand until that point.

Those of you who are avid NARS fans may be confused at this stage. NARS has always claimed to be a cruelty-free company (although not vegan), and according to their website, they still are. The issue comes from how you define an item, especially a beauty item, to be cruelty free.

There are several things to consider:

  1. Has the product (completed or otherwise) been tested on an animal?
  2. Has any previous version of the product been tested on an animal?
  3. Have any of the ingredients ever been tested on animals from that brand?
  4. Does that brand test on animals allow testing on animals, even if that specific product wasn’t?
  5. Do their parent company (or umbrella company) condone testing on animals?
  6. Does that brand or parent company test on animals when required by law?

And here lies the problem. It is simply really tricky to figure out if a brand is actually cruelty free. So in the case of NARS, they do not test any of their products, nor any of their ingredients on animals. HOWEVER their parent company Shiseido sells their products in China, and China has a law which prohibits any product hitting the shelves without first tested on animals. Therefore Shiseido is not a cruelty-free company.

This obviously makes things complicated, and ultimately it is down to you as a consumer to decide whether this association stops NARS from being truly cruelty-free. Personally, I try not to buy products from brands with ethically compromised parent companies, as I believe that these companies will ultimately follow the dollar. If cruelty-free make up becomes popular in the beauty community, these companies will quickly adapt in order to keep their customers. Just look at how quickly these companies produced dupes for the beauty blender. People were buying these products from their rivals, and if they didn’t catch up, they’d lose out.

However, you may decide to continue supporting these individual brands, despite the actions of their parent companies. You may have a point; the parent company could realise that these individual brands are the most successful, and adjust their own policies to try and replicate their success.

Another issue to consider is how make up and other beauty products tend to be individualistic purchases. Whilst there are some cult purchases, typically what may work for your best friend might not work for you. It takes experimentation to figure out what you like in a product, and once you find that perfect foundation consistency, you tend not to deviate away from it. When talking to my friends about cruelty-free make up, this was their biggest concern. They are all students and young adults and they simply don’t have the money to play around with unknown brands, especially if those brands are only available online. This is yet another reason to spread the word when you discover a quality cruelty-free makeup product. You can show them to your friends, get them hooked, and as these brands grow in popularity, they will become more accessible and thus encourage more people to try and buy cruelty-free make up.

Despite sterotype, you do not have to be a vegetarian or a vegan to buy cruelty-free make up. And controversially, you don’t have to be boycott everything that uses animal testing as a rule. There is a difference between understanding why we currently require animal testing for medical research purposes, vs. the systematic abuse of animals so we can put paint on our faces. Make up and other beauty products are a luxury. There are hundreds of thousands of people who do not have the access, nor the need for make up. And because it is a luxury, the beauty and fashion sector is a multi-billion dollar industry. It just seems unnecessary for so many cosmetic companies to depend on animal testing in this day and age, on such a frivolous product.

If you are now staring at your make up collection with a mixture of confusion and guilt, it is okay to continue to use the stuff you already have. If you really want to throw it all away, feel free, but if you don’t want to waste it all, that is also okay to use them up prior buying from a cruelty-free brand.


If you would like more information:

Exposure to quality, cruelty-free brands:

Information about which companies to avoid:

More information about trying to buy cruelty-free:


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