Animal testing-free cosmetics

A guideline in the jungle of standards and labels

Vegan, 98% materials of plant origin, not tested on animals, natural cosmetics, organic ingredients ... the claims, advertisements and labels seem to be as many and versatile as the cosmetic products on the market. But which cosmetics are really cruelty-free? Doctors Against Animal Experiments shed light on what to look out for when buying cosmetic products. 

Since 2013 the EU Cosmetics Directive prohibit the testing of cosmetic ingredients and products on animals and the import of such products into the EU (1). However, this only affects the substances that are used exclusively for cosmetics – which comprise only about 10% of all cosmetic ingredients.

cosmetics pixabay silviarita2

The problem is that even natural plant oils such as jojoba oil, which has been used for skincare for hundreds of years, are not used only in cosmetics but also in other industries and therefore automatically fall into another category, permitting animal testing. The same applies to, for example, sun protection substances, used in sunscreens as well as in plastic packaging. In sunscreen, they prevent sunburn, in plastic packaging they prevent the coloured plastic from fading. (2) 

Besides, this Directive only applies to cosmetics approved for the EU market. A worldwide ban on animal testing in cosmetics is unfortunately not yet in sight. In some countries, animal testing is still common or even mandatory for all cosmetics.

China is usually given as an example in this context. The Chinese authorities do not trust animal test results from abroad and Chinese authorities test imported products on animals "as a precaution principle". However, there is some progress: the country has recently eased its requirements concerning personal care products (without a special function), which are manufactured in China for the Chinese market. Facial cream, for example, do not need to be tested on animals, but sunscreens (“functional cosmetics”) does. China is a lucrative market for cosmetics, so selling products there is extremely attractive for many companies and groups.

However, some companies neither perform nor accept animal testing - and thus voluntarily abstain from the Chinese market for the benefit of animal welfare. Often these are natural cosmetics companies or small manufacturers that work independently of multinational corporations. Very often, their policy comprises high ethical standards for environment, nature, and moral responsibility for humans and animals.

How do you recognize these companies and their products? 

Standards and labels

Since it is not possible to fully rely on self-statements by manufacturers without an independent scrutiny, we generally recommend using official standards.

However, many companies "invent" their own symbols that look like labels, which they then print on the packaging of their products, hoping to gain consumers’ confidence. Although whatever is being advertised may well be true, it is definitely not controlled! These labels are often designed to give the consumer the impression that they are an official label.

Since there are various cosmetic standards in Germany, we have listed the most common ones in a table (in German only (PDF)).

cosmetics overview

We recommend using cosmetics with the highest standard, in this case: the greener the better.

The table is limited to the most well-known labels, therefore, it does not completely represent all existing labels. 

You should keep in mind that small manufacturers or companies that have just been founded often do not have the needed financial recourses to get a certificate. Certification costs money because independent experts control the respective company and / or the products and the ingredients. This ensures that the required criteria are met before the label can be put on the products.

hcs dtbIn the past, we only recommended the Leaping Bunny (Humane Cosmetics Standard (HCS)) and the "Rabbit with a protective hand" from the German Animal Protection Association (Deutscher Tierschutzbund), because these two labels require a fixed cut-off date, after which the certified products and their ingredients are no longer tested on animals. Since the EU Cosmetics Directive has been in force for many years, this is no longer necessary. 

Please note: "vegan" does not automatically mean "cruelty-free"! This only means that the product does not contain any ingredients of animal origin (animal collagen, honey, milk proteins, shellac, carmine, etc.). If you want to avoid using animal substances, look for one of the vegan labels. 

cosmetics pixabay silviarita

Conclusion: There are many products and brands today that ensure that neither the ingredients nor the products are tested on animals in the EU or outside. You can support these companies by purchasing their products.

Author: Julia Radzwill, biologist
Translation: Dr. Dilyana Filipova, PhD
11 August 2020


Further Information

Animal and non-animal tests for cosmetics >>

The long road to the sales ban on animal testing for cosmetics >>


(1) EU-Kommission. Durchführungsbeschluss der Kommission vom 25. November 2013 über Leitlinien zu Anhang I der Verordnung (EG) Nr. 1223/2009 des Europäischen Parlaments und des Rates über kosmetische Mittel. 26.11.2013 https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/DE/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32013D0674&from=EN (retrieved10.04.2020)

(2) Wikipedia. Kunststoff. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kunststoff (retrieved 10.04.2020)