Cruelty-free makeup brands: How to look beautiful without guilt

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Many makeup brands market themselves as being cruelty free or that they don’t test on animals. However, is that 100 percent accurate?

Cruelty free cosmetic, lipstick, brush, blush, perfume on pink and blue background, flat lay.
Photo credit: Adobe Stock.

How to define a cruelty-free makeup brand

You probably know that the federal government regulates when and if an organic label appears on food. It is the U.S. Department of Agriculture that keeps tabs on edible products like Costco store brands that are labeled as organic.

However, it’s not so simple with so-called cruelty-free or not-tested-on-animals makeup. Same thing with makeup with an organic label.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is responsible for regulating cosmetics among other products, such as if plant-based beverages can be called milk, “The unrestricted use of these phrases by cosmetic companies is possible because there are no legal definitions for these terms.”

Even so, 10 states in America have stepped up to prevent the sale of cosmetics that are tested on animals.

For instance, New York recently passed the Humane Cosmetics Act. The Humane Society of the United States reported that this kind of act prevents companies that want to sell their cosmetics in a certain state from testing ingredients on animals.

Identifying cruelty-free cosmetics

You don’t have to read case law to figure out if a makeup brand fits your ethical values. Instead, there are some simpler ways to go about this.

For instance, you can do what Mandy Applegate of Splash of Taste does. “I always use cruelty-free cosmetics [as] there’s nothing more sickening than animals suffering so that we can look good,” she said. “They are easy to spot. You just look for the bunny symbol on the package.”

That bunny symbol is actually a leaping bunny and it comes courtesy of Cruelty Free International, a British organization. It started as a women’s rights organization. Now, it also certifies household and cleaning products that aren’t tested on animals.

Leaping Bunny logo from Cruelty Free International.
Photo credit: Cruelty Free International.

No animal testing

You can also buy brands that have pledged never to test on animals. For Applegate, The Body Shop fits the bill.

“I usually opt for The Body Shop as none of their products are tested on animals,” she added, “and I can be 100 percent sure they are safe to use.”

PETA International also certifies certain brands as cruelty free. This is part of the PETA Global Beauty Without Bunnies program.

This was the stamp of approval that led Kristen Wood of Schisandra & Bergamot to become a devout Tarte Cosmetics customer.

“All of their makeup products are cruelty-free, vegan, and PETA-certified,” she said. “They ensure the ingredients used in their products are not tested on animals, even those ingredients purchased from third-party suppliers.”

In fact, this last part about third-party suppliers is something the FDA highlights.

“Some companies may apply such claims solely to their finished cosmetic products. However, these companies may rely on raw material suppliers or contract laboratories to perform any animal testing necessary to substantiate product or ingredient safety.”

Food and Drug Administration

That is, they suggest skepticism when you see the cruelty-free labels on makeup. You want to look for something that backs up the claim, such as the PETA or Cruelty Free International endorsement.

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List of makeup brands

The following is an alphabetical list of cruelty-free makeup brands, in addition to The Body Shop and Tarte mentioned earlier. This list includes affordable, drugstore varieties as well as some higher-end products that you might purchase in a department store or specialty retailers like Sephora or Ulta.

You can find Ulta inside Target at some locations.

Finally, even some celebrity brands qualify because they don’t test on animals. An InStyle article highlighted more than a dozen celebrity beauty and skincare brands that it calls “clean” because they are cruelty free, vegan or using 100 percent recycled packaging. This includes some hair products, too.

Using recommendations from both Cruelty Free International and PETA, you can feel confident that the cosmetics companies listed here can help animal lovers look beautiful without feeling guilty about using their products.

Anastasia Beverly Hills

You can buy Anastasia Beverly Hill products at Nordstrom. Also, some Nordstrom Spa locations offer Anastasia eyebrow services as well.


Similar to The Body Shop, with an all-natural bent, Aveda was one of the first brands to market cruelty-free cosmetics.


Bareminerals was the first company to elevate the notion of powder makeup foundation versus liquid foundation.

Charlotte Tilbury Beauty

Charlotte Tilbury makeup.
Charlotte Tilbury Beauty. Photo credit: Nordstrom.

Charlotte Tilbury Beauty is the brainchild and eponymous brand of Tilbury, a former fashion and editorial makeup artist.

ELF Cosmetics

Gen Z loves ELF Cosmetics for two reasons. One, the brand’s ethical stance. And, two, you can buy ELF at Target, one of Gen Z’s favorite retailers, Fast Company reported.

KVD Beauty

Formerly known as Kat von D makeup, KVD Beauty is a favorite makeup brand among Peloton instructors because of its lasting power through sweat.

NYX Professional Makeup

Despite the word “professional” in its name, NYX is an affordable drugstore brand.

Rare Beauty by Selena Gomez

Rare Beauty brand makeup by Selena Gomez.
Rare Beauty makeup. Photo credit: Rare Beauty.

The “Only Murders in the Building” actress and singer launched Rare Beauty in 2019. At first Sephora sold it exclusively. Now it’s available at Amazon and Kohl’s, too.

Rimmel London

One of the more affordable brands that doesn’t test on animals, you may find Rimmel London cosmetics in the supermarket beauty aisle.


Many women didn’t even know there was such a thing as a makeup primer until Smashbox introduced its Photo Finish Foundation Primer. Now tons of other cosmetics companies offer similar products, albeit not all certified cruelty free.

Leah Ingram is a former beauty reporter for Allure Magazine and the author of 15 books, including “Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier and Healthier for Less.” She shares shopping advice for getting the most value for your time and money at

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