Going Cruelty Free | What’s the Difference Between Cruelty-Free, Vegan, and Vegetarian Beauty?

Welcome to the latest installment of my Going Cruelty Free series.

Buzzwords are thrown around a lot in the beauty industry. Sometimes they’re useless and inaccurate (nothing is ever going to literally shrink your pores) and sometimes they’re helpful and descriptive  it’s always good to know a brand is certified cruelty free, for example.

By now you’re probably aware that cruelty-free products are not tested on animals. I think it’s natural to assume that the same applies to vegan and vegetarian products, too  but that’s not the case.

All three labels have different definitions, so today I’m going to break them down and clear up any possible confusion, in the hope it will make your shopping experiences easier.

Skin & Tonic products

Cruelty free

Simply put, a cruelty-free product hasn’t been tested on animals. A cruelty-free brand never tests any of their products on animals.

But it goes further than that. As a rule, a cruelty-free brand:

  • Doesn’t test their individual ingredients or finished products on animals
  • Doesn’t hire a third party to carry out animal testing on products or ingredients
  • Doesn’t sell their products in China, where beauty products must be tested on animals before they’re sold. Some brands will state they don’t carry out animal testing or they’re against it, but if they hire a third party or test when it’s required by law, they’re not cruelty free

Lots of cruelty-free brands display the Leaping Bunny logo, which means they’ve been certified by Cruelty Free International. This isn’t compulsory, but it’s a handy symbol to look for when you’re out shopping.

Skin & Tonic peppermint lip balm


Products that don’t contain any animal parts derived from slaughter, such as gelatin (made from animal fat and found in some cream/gel products) and carmine (made from boiled, crushed insects and used as a colour in some lipsticks).

Vegetarian products may still contain animal byproducts like honey, beeswax and lanolin (which comes from wool). Brands may or may not be approved by the Vegetarian Society.

Skin & Tonic Calm Balm


Products that don’t contain any animal parts derived from slaughter or any animal byproducts. Brands may or may not be approved by the Vegan Society.

Bizarrely, a product can be vegetarian or vegan without being cruelty free. This is why non-CF companies like L’Oreal are able to market some of their ranges as vegan, even though they still test on animals. I can’t see why anyone who leads a vegan lifestyle would want to buy from them, but the greenwashing persists.

Skin & Tonic Rose Mist

Other beauty buzzwords you might come across


Clean normally means a product is mostly or entirely natural, and made without synthetic chemicals that have been linked to harmful health problems. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, the implication (by some brands, not all) that synthetic products and ingredients are dirty makes me feel uneasy.

As Viktoria from The Lifestyle Files points out in her post about beauty marketing, nothing is chemical-free because a chemical is any substance made of matter.

Some synthetics are safe, some aren’t; some natural products are safe, some aren’t. And different people need different things. My skin has cleared up a lot since I started using a niacinamide and zinc serum, but my face and body also respond well to a good plant oil.


Organic products are made using ingredients that were grown without chemical fertilisers, pesticides, or genetically modified organisms (GMOs). The use of the label organic is unregulated, so brands can use it even if they’ve only added one organic ingredient.

However, you can look for certification by the Soil Association, which has a strict criteria and requires brands to be transparent about their manufacturing processes.

Gluten free

Products that are free from gluten and therefore suitable for people with celiac disease or a gluten intolerance. Sometimes people who have eczema react badly to products containing hydrolysed wheat protein, so gluten-free beauty is good for them too. Otherwise, we apparently don’t need to worry about it.


Cruelty-free = product and its ingredients have not been tested on animals by anyone at any stage

Vegetarian = no animals were killed for the sake of the product

Vegan = no animals were killed for the sake of the product + no animal byproducts have been used in the ingredients

Going Cruelty Free posts you may have missed:

1. Why Go Cruelty Free?
2. Going Cruelty Free Step By Step
3. Where to Buy Products on the High Street
4. Where to Buy Products Online
5. Advice From People Who’ve Been There