No one person’s choices are going to solve the problem of animal testing for cosmetics. But there are options that can help you stop being a part of it.
Cruelty-free products are those in which there is absolutely no animal testing. Vegan products are cruelty-free but also do not contain any animal or animal-derived ingredients.
“Product labeling is very convoluted, and animal products are called different things,” says Mary Gabriel, founder of Rogue Valley Vegans. “Carmine, which is crushed beetles; honey; beeswax; lanolin; collagen; albumen; cholesterol; gelatin — these are all animal-derived.”
The cruelty-free designation can be equally confusing. Many companies test ingredients or use ingredients that have been tested on animals by a third party, but they don’t test the final product on animals so they can say it’s cruelty-free. Even many smaller brands that don’t test on animals are owned by parent companies that do.
The best way to know if a product is truly vegan and/or cruelty-free is to contact the company and ask very specific questions about ingredients and processes. Avoid nonresponsive companies or those that give unclear answers.
“There are some gray areas in cruelty-free products,” says Ki Ki Tong, creator of Qi Qi Naturals, a handcrafted products company in Brookings. “It’s best to talk to the company and make sure their products are not tested on animals before you buy.”
Most any health or beauty product —from blush and eye shadow to the brushes used to apply them — is available in cruelty-free, vegan form. The quality often is better than mainstream cosmetics because companies that craft vegan, cruelty-free products tend to have a “higher consciousness” and will naturally avoid toxic ingredients, Gabriel says.
That’s not to say you don’t have to be vigilant when it comes to choosing even vegan cosmetics.
“If you’re allergic to certain kinds of ingredients, always test a little bit on your skin before using,” Tong advises. “If you are allergic to nuts, you need to avoid any oils that are derived from nuts, like almond oil and macadamia oil.”
But Gabriel adds another warning: “You will have an opening of your heart; going cruelty-free will open your heart to more love and more compassion.”
Aside from a small percentage of “ultra-pure” cosmetics that use no additives, most vegan cosmetics use some natural, food-grade preservatives and have a shelf life similar to their mainstream counterparts. And also like mainstream products, prices on vegan and cruelty-free cosmetics can range wildly.
Janine Lamb, a licensed acupuncturist at Southern Oregon Community Acupuncture, has been a vegetarian for three years and in the last six months has been using exclusively cruelty-free products.
“I decided I love animals so much I didn’t think it was right to kill them and eat them,” Lamb says. “Over the past year I have expanded that to avoiding other things that harm animals, like cosmetics and personal care products.”
Among Lamb’s favorite brands are Bare Escentuals, Tarte, Lush and One Love Organics. Rogue Valley Vegans’ Mary Gabriel also lists Emani Cosmetics, Beauty Without Cruelty, Aromi Beauty and Arbonne.
There is a variety of vegan or cruelty-free products online, but they also are available locally. You can find Zuzu Cosmetics at Natural Grocers in Medford and Posh Organics in Ashland, and Pacific Cosmetics at Paddington Station in Ashland.
Animal testing is the “fastest growing area within the ethical awareness of animals,” according to Gabriel, who started Rogue Valley Vegans as a community for vegans and those interested in a more compassionate and healthy lifestyle.
As consumers become more aware and critical of animal testing, she adds, large companies find more ways around labeling and transparency. But new vegan companies crop up all the time, and activists are hopeful the new companies can go up against conglomerates.
“Whether you eat animals or not, if you wouldn’t pour a caustic substance down your dog or cat’s throat or put it in their eyes until their eyeballs rot out, if you wouldn’t do that to an animal you love, if you wouldn’t cause them incomprehensible suffering — then you shouldn’t support companies that test on animals.”