The Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Mystery: What’s With All the Labels?

December 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Beauty Products, Blog, Front Page, Slideshow, Take Action, Vegan

PETA's cruelty free logo assures consumers that a product and its ingredients were not tested on animals. Photo: Courtesy PETA

Like a lot of people, the thought of applying cosmetics that were once slathered into rabbits‘ eyes or forced down rats‘ throats makes me want to make a mad dash for the makeup remover. But navigating the sea of cosmetics and decoding their labels to figure out which were and which were not tested on animals can seem tougher than getting “Call Me Maybe” out of your head. So I looked into some of the most common labels found on cosmetics, and here’s what I found:

PETA LogosPETA crueltyfree and vegan logos

To help consumers identify products that are manufactured without harming animals, PETA introduced its bunny-and-heart logo. Companies that want to use this logo must refrain from conducting, commissioning, or paying for any tests on animals for their products, formulations, or ingredients and must also buy from suppliers that don’t test those ingredients on animals.

And those über compassionate companies whose products meet the standards of being both cruelty-free and free of any animal products can proudly display PETA’s “Cruelty-Free and Vegan” logo.

The Leaping Bunny

The Leaping Bunny logo is offered by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics, a group of animal protection organizations that combined efforts in 1996 to set standards for cruelty-free companies. (PETA was involved in the original coalition but later left to offer its own logo.) In order to license the logo, companies, their laboratories, and their suppliers can’t conduct any animal testing and can’t pay an outside party to test for them.

“This Finished Product Not Tested on Animals”

I have always been baffled by the phrase “This Finished Product Not Tested on Animals.” Is it cruelty-free? Were the ingredients tested on animals? Confused, I usually just avoided those products. And no wonder it was confusing: The phrase actually can mean different things.

It may mean that some of the ingredients or formulations were tested on animals, or as in the case of Bath & Body Works, the company may use the phrase because it also sells products in the same packaging in the U.K., where labeling laws are different from in the U.S., but the products are nevertheless completely cruelty-free.

Other Logos

Then there are the myriad other “cruelty-free” logos and phrases that the cosmetics companies themselves design and slap onto their own products. If shoppers think they look suspect, it’s because they may be. The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t regulate these types of labels, so companies can claim virtually anything they wish. While some of the companies may truly be cruelty-free, many likely test at least ingredients on animals.

So, aside from the Leaping Bunny and PETA logos, how can a conscientious consumer tell what’s cruelty-free and what isn’t?

PETA’s Caring Consumer database contains lists of companies that test on animals and those that don’t, and it’s easily searchable by company name or product type. Shoppers can download printer-friendly “Do Test” and “Don’t Test” lists or request a free wallet-size Cruelty-Free Shopping Guide to make shopping for new products as easy as giving a carrot to a bunny — a bunny who’s thankful not to be in a laboratory.

Michelle Kretzer

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

About the Author: Michelle Kretzer learned about factory farming while pursuing a degree in Journalism at the University of Kentucky. She immediately stopped eating meat and dedicated herself to the cause of animal rights. When she is not writing for the PETA Foundation, Michelle enjoys traveling, collecting Beatles memorabilia, and finding great cruelty-free shoes and bags.

About PETA: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, with more than 3 million members and supporters, is the largest animal rights organization in the world. PETA focuses its attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the most intensely for the longest periods of time: on factory farms, in laboratories, in the clothing trade, and in the entertainment industry.

W3LL People – “Hippie Tested, Diva Approved”

W3LL PEOPLE Cosmetics

The W3LL PEOPLE line of cosmetics provide "100% natural luxury" and "No pesky parabens, chemicals, preservatives or bad mojo allowed." Photo: Courtesy W3LL PEOOPLE

There’s a lot to love about W3LL PEOPLE cosmetic products — and not just because they have a smart marketer telling us so. (Who could resist a line like, “Hippie Tested, Diva Approved”?) In our house, every skin- or haircare product gets scrutinized to make sure we’re not using  toxic chemicals. With W3LL, that’s not a problem. Here’s what their site says about the ingredients:

We’re not sure who decided it was a good idea to pack skincare full
of artificial preservatives, fillers and other “scientific” chemicals, but as it turns out they’re not so good for your skin, or the planet.

W3LL is driven to create a fresh, safe focus on skincare by providing products with proven, medical-grade nutrients that actually work, and don’t increase the mounting toxic load each one of us faces every day.

So no, our products don’t have a nuclear half-life. But when you think about it, would you really want them to? W3LL is a truly beautiful choice by offering small batch products chock full of live, active natural ingredients every bit as effective as their evil counterparts – while leaving as gentle a footprint on the planet as possible. Now that’s beautiful.

The company philosophy is beautiful, and so are its products.

Toxin Free

I tried four free samples that the company’s PR rep sent me. According to the packaging, they’re “100% Toxin Free.” Each product that I tried also carries this message on the label: “W3LL  PEOPLE is carbon neutral. This package label made from corn. Not tested on animals or robots.” Gotta love their environmental attitude — and their sense of humor. (See what I mean about their marketing?)

The company’s blog also announced in September, “[O]ur cosmetic line is now on the Breast Cancer Action’s “Think Before you Pink” list of Paraben-free and Phthalate-free cosmetics.” The post goes on to state that the company’s mission is to provide “all-natural cosmetics that are free of all potentially carcinogenic ingredients.”

Also on their website, I read this scary bit of information:

Major loop-holes in US federal law allow the $35 billion cosmetics industry to put virtually unlimited amounts of chemicals into personal care products with no required testing, no monitoring of health effects, and inadequate labeling requirements.

When I received the samples, I went straight to Environmental Working Group’s Skin Deep Cosmetics Safety Database. Only two W3LL products have been reviewed on the site so far, and they did very well indeed. The Nudist (lip gloss, see below) had a very low hazard rating of 1 out of 10. The Universalist (blush, see below) also did quite well with a hazard rating of 2 out of 10. So far, so good — very, very good, in fact. Unfortunately, there was no rating for the Narcissist, which happens to be my favorite.

W3LL PEOPLE Universalist

The product description calls the Universalist “supernatural multi-stick for eyes, cheeks & lips.” The Universalist stick gives skin an iridescent glow. I found it a bit too much glitz for my modest lifestyle, but it would be perfect for someone who likes to go out on the town. Small dabs of this on the eyelids give a pretty shimmer for an evening out.

I recently read on another blog that women “of a certain age” (read: with wrinkles) should avoid iridescent eye shadow, as it just accentuates what we’d prefer to minimize. But for younger women, this would be a fun product to wear.

Contains: Antioxiding pomegranate, antimicrobial beeswax, revitalizing reishi mushrooms

Price: $33.00

W3LL PEOPLE Narcissist

Narcissist (great name, by the way — makeup is all about pampering ourselves) is called “supernatural foundation,” and it’s my absolute favorite. Although I found it a bit difficult to spread on my face compared to foundation with more liquid content, it’s superior to other foundations in every other way.

I’m impressed by how natural my skin looks with W3LL PEOPLE Narcissist. I like a very natural look, but that’s been hard to find in a foundation that would actually cover the shiny rollerblading scar on the bridge of my nose. This does the trick better than most, and without looking thick and gunky.

Despite the natural look, the amazing thing is that it lasts a long time. I’ve always found that foundation quickly soaks into my skin. With other foundations, by midday, I have to reapply. This foundation is the only one I’ve used (though I obviously haven’t tried everything) that has true staying power.

My skin feels great! There’s no stickiness. My face feels smooth and soft and supple, almost as if I had no makeup on at all.

I always use moisturizer, especially before applying foundation. But I had to be particularly careful to apply the Narcissist stick before the moisturizer was absorbed. Without very fresh moisturizer, it was just too difficult to spread the Narcissist on my skin. Of course, patting it on is better for the skin than rubbing the foundation in, which stretches the tissue. But I’m impatient with the entire makeup routine and tend to be more hasty than I should. Perhaps you have more discipline and won’t encounter the same problem. Also, if you have more oily skin than I do, you might find it easier to apply as well.

When I called the Austin store today to check pricing, I was tickled to actually speak with Shirley Pinkson, the “makeup guru” of the founding trio. Shirley told me that she is “particularly proud” of the Narcissist, having worked three years to get just the right formula. And they nailed it!

Contains: Antioxidizing resveratrol, nouishing vitamine e, rejuvenating bayberry

Price: $38.00


I tried two samples of this “supernatural lip shine”: #1 and #6. The #1 is kind of a pinkish-peachy color. The #6 is mauve, almost light brown. Neither shade applies thickly, and the color is very light — hence the name “Nudist,” I gather. I haven’t seen the full spectrum of lip colors, so don’t know how the others compare.

Lipstick tends to dry my lips, and, used alone, the Nudist lip shine sticks are no exception. My solution was to apply organic lip balm first, then add the Nudist lip shine on top. That helped keep my lips moist under the lip shine.

Contains: Antioxidizing pomegranate, antimicrobial beeswax, nourishing green tea

Price: $23.00

But How to Apply?

All of these cosmetics come in stick form within plastic tubes. The directions I received in an email were to run my finger across the end of the stick and use my finger to apply the makeup to my face. Note that there were no directions on the products themselves, which is an unfortunate oversight.

Even if the manufacturers and marketers think the directions should be self-evident, we don’t all think alike. I probably would have applied the stick directly to my face, if I hadn’t been told to do otherwise.

And what about a makeup brush? Is that a good idea? Or, is it important to have the warmth of your finger softening the makeup before applying? Trial and error seems to be the only way to know.

But, truthfully, that’s a small concern, and it wouldn’t stop me from buying this product.

Medicine, Marketing, and Artistry

W3LL PEOPLE is the brainchild of a powerful threesome: Shirley Pinkson, makeup artist; Renee Snyder, M.D.; and James Walker, whose brilliant marketing enticed me from the beginning. Their hearts are in the right place, and their work is stellar.

You can purchase W3LL PEOPLE products in their Austin, Texas, store; or at Fred Segal, Planet Blue, or Woodley and Bunny (NYC). Or as W3LL’s website says, “W3LL PEOPLE happily fulfills phone orders, and the occasional dream.”

The Small Print

DISCLOSURE: Blue Planet Green Living received free product samples W3LL PEOPLE Universalist, Narcissist, and Nudist.

Blue Planet Green Living’s review policy is to only review those products we feel merit an overall positive review. If we do not like a product, we do not review it. We are not influenced by any complimentary samples and provide our honest opinions.


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Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)