Updated: Jul 28
Going cruelty free is a process, but this guide to gradually ditch-and-switch your cosmetics, accessories, and household products can help make it easy.
The FDA regulates many commonly used items, such as food and cosmetics, using different guidelines and testing processes. This post focuses on how to ditch common households products, clothing, and accessories that were tested on animals or are made of animals in any way, including by-products (Note: I am not including medications in this particular list). As of now, cosmetics are not required to be FDA approved in order to go on the market, unless color additives are used. Therefore, it is important to do your own research and become knowledgeable about a company and their products before purchasing them.
Cruelty Free vs. Vegan, & Other Buzzwords
First, let's address the confusing mess of buzzwords that companies have been using to market their products. Organic. Sustainable. Cruelty Free. Vegan. Sure, it all sounds nice, but what does it all mean? Let's break it down.
In order for an item to be certified cruelty free, the product and its ingredients must not have been tested on animals, nor is it tested on animals in countries where it is required by law. The focus is on animal testing and not whether animal products are used in the ingredients or manufacturing process.
The gold standard cruelty free certifying agency is Leaping Bunny, so look for the leaping bunny logo when you go shopping for new products.
In order for an item to be certified vegan, the product and its ingredients must not have been tested on animals and it must not contain any animal products or by-products, or have used animal products in the manufacturing process.
There are varying certifying agencies for vegan products and their logos are generally some form of a "V." The product is also often labeled vegan right on the front.
NOTE: Cruelty free products are not necessarily vegan. Learn more by reading Vegan vs. Cruelty Free - What's the Difference?
Some of these terms are not regulated well or are used interchangeably. Certifying agencies are emerging to help clear things up, but never be afraid to question the validity of uncertified products using these labels and do some more research.
Organic: The FDA does not have a definition for what is considered organic. The USDA has regulations and standards for organic products as it applies to agriculture. If cosmetics or personal care items are made of these agricultural products which meet their organic processing standards, then they may be certified organic.
Clean: Generally these products are considered nontoxic and made without harsh chemicals, and are safe for people and the environment. Various agencies are popping up to offer certification, such as EWG.
Sustainable: Similar to "clean," sustainable products are generally made with safe and eco-friendly ingredients, or ingredients that were sustainably sourced. The packaging may also be sustainable in that it reduces land waste or is recyclable.
Natural: Again, natural products are made with safe, eco-friendly ingredients. The Natural Products Association offers a certification that also requires the products to be sustainable and not to have been tested on animals.
Plant Based: You may see products labeled as being "plant-based" which generally means a portion of the ingredients were derived from plants
Decide what you're willing to live with.
I myself am vegan which makes it easier for me to look for strictly vegan certified products. I personally have the belief that a product is not truly cruelty free if it is still made of animal parts. Some prefer to focus on not contributing to animal testing. No matter your approach, my steps aim to cover going both cruelty AND vegan. The overall goal is to minimize the exploitation of animals as much as humanly possible.
Going Cruelty Free in 3 Steps
One of the first steps to switching to a cruelty free lifestyle is to start going through things you own or use often, and determine what is not cruelty free and vegan. You might be surprised!
Start with clothing and accessories, move towards personal products, and then tackle household products. You may want to keep your phone, laptop, or pen and paper handy for items you aren't sure of so you can do some sleuthing.
You can also check for a cruelty free or vegan logo from a certifying agency on the packaging, though I'd say it's best to go the extra step and look into some of the companies and what their policies are.
1. SORT IT
Here's a list of things to start going through. Sort out the items that are not cruelty free and vegan from the ones that are.
Clothes & Accessories
Pull out anything made of fur, wool, angora, leather, suede, animal skins like croc or alligator, etc. Check the tags because there are some convincing synthetic alternatives to suede, fur, and leather out there and these are ok.
If there is no certified cruelty free and vegan logo on it, chances are it has been tested on animals. Keep an eye out for major manufacturers who are known to test on animals.
Hair care (shampoos, conditioners, treatments, styling products, dyes)
Skin care (lotions, lip balms, body washes)
Makeup (lipstick, eyeshadow, foundation, mascara, liners, blush, etc.)
Shaving gels and creams
This can get a little tricky since the focus for cruelty free and vegan products tends to be on cosmetics and personal care. There are also many chemicals in cleaners that likely were tested on animals. Again, keep an eye out for major manufacturers known to test.
Glues & adhesives
Download my free cheat sheet on parent companies and their brands that test on animals here:
2. PRIORITIZE IT
Once your items are separated, further sort through them by identifying things that are unopened, things that are opened, and whether these items are necessities or if you could go without them for now.
If anything is unopened and you're willing to go without, consider donating to a homeless or domestic violence shelter. If that is not a possibility, you could always give them to friends or family or your local thrift shop if they accept those particular items.
For anything that is opened, prioritize it. You can either use it up, then replace it with a cruelty free brand, or dispose of it - consider upcycling the packaging by repurposing it, otherwise always recycle when possible.
3. REPLACE IT
Do what is within your means. Do not break the bank to replace everything all at once, unless you can swing it and absolutely want to. For example, when I made the switch I had some makeup that was cruelty free, but not vegan. I decided to use it up first before replacing it with a fully vegan product. Other products I had that were old or almost gone, I just tossed.