Are Your Beauty Products Cruelty Free? 3 Certifications Against Animal Testing

Learn what Leaping Bunny, Cruelty Free International, and Beauty Without Bunnies stand for.

Cosmetics test on rabbit animal, Scientist or pharmacist do research chemical ingredients test on animal in laboratory, Cruelty free and stop animal abuse concept.
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The problem with cruelty free labels in beauty products is that there isn't an official definition or regulatory body that decides if a brand is worthy of the label. Pretty much any company can slap the words "cruelty free" in its packaging if the final product is not tested on animals, even if testing has been performed by third parties or on ingredients in its supply chain.

How can you know if the products you're using are truly cruelty free? Three certifications dedicated to examining products, practices, and ingredients in beauty products can help you make the right choice.

The Leaping Bunny certification is probably the most recognizable cruelty free cosmetics label in the United States. The signature bounding bunny graphic that's the logo for the certification is found on over 2,100 American products. The equivalent certification for non-U.S. and Canadian companies is Cruelty Free International.

Beauty Without Bunnies is a separate label from the nonprofit People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which covers similar ground with a few key differences.

Leaping Bunny

leaping bunny logo on white background

Courtesy of the Leaping Bunny Program

Leaping Bunny has been around since 1996, when eight animal protection groups came together to form the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics, which runs the Leaping Bunny program.

Today, the animal advocacy groups that form the coalition include the American Anti-Vivisection Society, the Animal Alliance of Canada, Beauty Without Cruelty, The Humane Society of the United States, The National Anti-Vivisection Society, and Rise for Animals.

The Leaping Bunny certification applies to beauty products like cosmetics and skin and personal care, as well as household products like cleaning supplies, fruit and vegetable washes, and home fragrances.

Certification Criteria

According to the Leaping Bunny website, in order to become certified "companies must pledge to end animal testing at all stages of product development in addition to recommitting to the program annually and being open to third-party audits."

The certification criteria are very detailed and laid out in full on the Leaping Bunny website, but in short, companies commit to six main obligations:

  1. Not conduct, commission, or be a party to any animal testing, including ingredients in the product.
  2. Not purchase any third-party ingredients, formulations, or products that have been involved in animal testing.
  3. Have a system in place to monitor ingredients and formulations.
  4. Not allow animal testing on any products in foreign countries.
  5. Submit an application for approval to the organization.
  6. Recommit to the above each year, including submitting the details of their supplier monitoring system and allow for an independent audit to take place if selected.

Importantly, this certification doesn't indicate that the product or ingredients are vegan or animal-free. Vegan products are a separate certification and Leaping Bunny focuses on animal testing only.

There is no cost for a company to become Leaping Bunny Certified. The only optional cost is if a company decides to license the Leaping Bunny Logo for use on packaging and/or in marketing materials.

Key Definitions

According to Leaping Bunny, animal testing is defined as tests in which "whole non-human animals are the test subjects, including without limitation, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and non-human mammals. Animal testing excludes in vitro tests or tests conducted completely with human volunteers."

The Supplier Monitoring System is how a company monitors its third-party manufacturers and suppliers, a process that must occur at least once a year to "ensure that they have not conducted or commissioned animal testing. Suppliers to be monitored must include the original manufacturer of the ingredient."

How to Identify Leaping Bunny Products

Only products that have been through the certification process for Leaping Bunny are allowed to use the logo on their packaging.

Although many Leaping Bunny-certified companies choose to license the logo, this step is optional (and includes a one-time free). Since many certified companies do not license the logo, the best way to know whether a company is certified is by checking the Leaping Bunny Shopping Guide.

Cruelty Free International

This UK-based organization is working to end animal experiments worldwide and has been doing that work for over 100 years. They do this by investigating and exposing the lives of lab animals, and working with leaders to change policies around animal experimentation in science. The organization believes "there is no ethical justification for using animals in experiments."

The other part of their work involves helping non-U.S. and Canadian companies get Leaping Bunny certified, so certification is the same as Leaping Bunny, but approved via Cruelty Free International.

Beauty Without Bunnies

This is the nonprofit animal advocacy organization PETA's certification for cruelty free products. PETA has been running this label since 1987, when it began with a few mail-order companies. They have now verified thousands of manufacturers of "cosmetics, personal care products, household cleaning products, and other common household items," according to the PETA site.

Importantly, there are two labels within PETA's certification:

  1. Global Animal Test-Free: companies/brands have verified that they do not "conduct, commission, pay for, or allow any tests on animals for their ingredients, formulations, or finished products anywhere in the world and that they will never do so in the future."
  2. Global Animal Test-Free and Vegan: This recognizes the same requirements as above and also that the entire product line is free of animal-derived ingredients.

Certification Criteria

To be certified Global Animal Test-Free, a brand has to verify that neither they nor their suppliers allow any tests on animals (per PETA's broad definition). This rule also applies to suppliers, so specifically, that means the companies are "required to have agreements in place with their suppliers guaranteeing that the suppliers will never, from the moment the agreement is signed, conduct, commission, pay for, or allow tests on animals for the ingredients purchased by the company or brand."

According to PETA, ingredients that have been tested on animals in the past can be used since history can't be changed. The certification is for a commitment to a strict ban on animal tests for ingredients and final products going forward from the time they become approved by PETA for the certification.

To be certified Global Animal Test-Free and Vegan, in addition to the above requirements, the company must also "refuse to use any animal-derived ingredients, such as honey, beeswax, or carmine, in its products."

An important difference between this certification and Leaping Bunny is that brands fill out a questionnaire and submit a statement attesting to all of the above that's signed by the company's CEO, but claims are not third-party verified.

Similarly, PETA doesn't require documentation from a brand's suppliers, just agreements with them. There are no regular audits/checks on statements made and there isn't an annual recommitment. This certification really relies on the honesty of the company submitting its details to PETA.

The one-time cost to use the Beauty Without Bunnies logo is $350, but submission of the paperwork to be verified by PETA is free.

What About the Choose Cruelty Free Logo?

This was a fourth certification for cruelty free products, but on June 1, 2021 it merged with Cruelty Free International.