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At first, when we want to shop cruelty-free, it can seem like a daunting task. Where do we go? What do we need to look out for? Can we really trust what’s on the product’s label?

In our marketing driven world, we’ve lost faith in a lot of the promises given to us on products. We pick up the shampoo and it says, “All natural,” we put it down and pick it up again. We cry, “What do you mean?! What does it all mean!?”

I’m here for you, my Green Monster friends. It’s alright. Just put down the shampoo, take a deep breath, and let’s make this a bit easier on ourselves shall we? There are some labels and “seals” that actually still mean something, and they make shopping for cruelty-free cosmetics so much easier. Let this be your go-to guide when it comes to deciphering the label, read on!

The Leaping Bunny

How to Read a Cruelty Free Cosmetics Label

How do companies earn this claim? — Companies must apply through the Leaping Bunny website and pass inspection on multiple forms. These include the Corporate Standard of Compassion for Animals, Application for Approval, Declaration of Raw Material Compliance, and a Declaration of Product Compliance.

What does it mean? — Often considered the highest standard in cruelty-free, companies that show the leaping bunny logo must back up their cruelty-free promise by taking part in on-site audits that assess the validity of each licensee’s claim to a “no animal testing” manufacturing policy. According to Leaping Bunny FAQ’s, “The Logo is also the only international icon that represents the most stringent non-animal testing standard.”

Who monitors it? — The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics aka Leaping Bunny.

The PETA Bunny

How to Read a Cruelty Free Cosmetics Label

How do companies earn this claim? — According to PETA, companies “must complete a short questionnaire and sign a statement of assurance verifying that they do not conduct, commission, or pay for any tests on animals for ingredients, formulations, or finished products and that they pledge not to do so in the future.” Unlike the Leaping Bunny, PETA does not conduct audits of company facilities. Instead, they rely on the fact that companies are putting their integrity on the line and if they went back on their promise, it would be a public relations disaster.

What does it mean? — Companies have pledged to PETA that they will not conduct, commission, or pay for any tests on animals. In addition, for companies that sell an entirely animal-free product line, there is a separate seal that reads, “Cruelty-Free and Vegan.”

Who monitors it? — People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

“Cruelty Free” or “Not Tested on Animals”

How to Read a Cruelty Free Cosmetics Label

How do companies earn this claim? — Companies can use these statements no matter what their actual policies may be. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “the unrestricted use of these phrases by cosmetic companies is possible because there are no legal definitions for these terms.”

What does it mean? –Basically, it doesn’t mean that much. On the one hand, it could mean that the finished product was not tested on animals, but specific ingredients were tested either by the company or a contracted lab. Or, it could refer to the fact that raw materials in the past were tested on animals when first introduced, but they are not currently tested on animals.

Who monitors it? –Absolutely no one. In fact, Greener Choices (a subset of Consumer Reports) calls this type of labeling, “not meaningful” and adds that it is “potentially misleading to consumers.”

Investigating “Cruelty Free” or “Not Tested on Animals” Claims

If you find a product that claims to be “Cruelty Free” or “Not Tested on Animals,” you can always take it one step further by investigating the claim on the company’s website. Generally in the FAQ section, or sometimes on the “About Us” page, concerned companies can elaborate on their company’s animal testing stance. When a company doesn’t have the Leaping Bunny logo or PETA Bunny, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they DO test on animals. It just means you need to dig a little deeper to find out what’s really going on.

For example, take Neutrogena Naturals, whose labels claim “Not Tested on Animals.” Their Q&A section resounds a very convincing, “No, Neutrogena® Naturals products are not tested on animals.” Yet, we need to take a step further to look at Neutrogena’s parent company, Johnson and Johnson and see their “Strategic Framework” in regards to animal testing.

In short, “At Johnson & Johnson, it is our policy is to minimize the use of animals in laboratory research when assessing the safety and efficacy of our products … However, the use of animals in the development of our products is sometimes required to ensure products are safe and effective.” So would I trust them? Probably not right now, but I’ll give them a carrot for trying to improve their policies, and a stick for not doing it fast enough.

In contrast, the company Queen Helene lists “Not Tested on Animals” and, if you visit their website, you can see that they are a member of the Leaping Bunny, but just don’t carry the label on all of their products.

It may take a little digging, but when you’re unsure, you can always turn to the Leaping Bunny or PETA Bunny.

Why is this even an issue?

With the European Union and India banning cosmetics testing, and even China reviewing their policy of cosmetics testing on animals, why is the U.S. lagging behind?

The Leaping Bunny confirms, “Neither the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) nor the US Consumer Product Safety Commission requires animal testing for cosmetics or household products, respectively. There are sufficient existing safety data as well as in vitro alternatives to make animal testing for these products obsolete. While it is true that virtually every ingredient, even water, has been tested on animals in the past, we can help prevent future animal testing.”

In fact, according to the FDA, “Other cosmetic companies may rely on combinations of scientific literature, non-animal testing, raw material safety testing, or controlled human-use testing to substantiate their product safety.”

Absolutely NO ONE, besides individual companies, requires animal testing for cosmetics or household products. Companies have the complete freedom to do the right thing, and now, armed with your new knowledge, you can Support those that are getting it right.

Image source: Deviantart