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.

Desert Essence Organics Hand Wash – “Clear Skin, Clear Conscience”

Desert Essence Organics Hand Wash is a nontoxic, biodegradable and cruelty-free product. Photo: Courtesy Desert Essence

“Where can I get this?” my 90-year-old mother-in-law asked. She was washing her hands with the complimentary sample of Desert Essence Organics Hand Wash I had received from the company. “I like this soap!” she said.

I smiled. “Yeah, I like it too, Lucille.”

“Really, where can I get some?” more forceful this time. She wanted me to know that she really meant it.

That’s high praise from Lucille. For several months, Joe and I have been helping care for his mom part of every week since she broke her wrist in October. We’ve assisted her with countless hand washings, shampoos, and showers. This was the first time she had applauded a product that we had used in her care. And, boy, did she say it with enthusiasm!

She nudged me to leave the bottle with her — and I will. But first, I needed to use it for a while so I could write a review.

Joe and I hosted a small gathering last week, and I placed the bottle of Desert Essence Organics Hand Wash in our guest bathroom. “What do you think of the liquid soap?” I asked our friend Bruce. It’s not the kind of question most guests get asked after using their host’s bathroom. But our friends are beginning to expect that they’ll be part of the product review team when they visit us.

“Well, it cleans,” he said, laughing. “And it smells good.”

Okay, it’s not exactly the same level of enthusiasm that Lucille showed. But at least he was positive about it, if not particularly effusive.

Healthy Ingredients

What I learned while interviewing Mark Cunningham of Bayes Cleaners for yesterday’s post holds true of Desert Essence Organics Hand Wash, too. This hand wash does not contain either sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) or sodium lauryl ether sulfate (SLES). Like the Bayes hand wash, it contains sodium coco sulfate (SCS). SLS and SLES are the chemicals responsible for irritating people’s skin. SCS makes it feel smooth and comfy, with no dryness afterward.

There are a lot of other things to like about Desert Essence Organics Hand Wash, too. The first six ingredients of the Vanilla Chai Hand Wash are all certified organic. These include (without the scientific names) organic green tea leaf extract, organic sweet almond seed extract, organic clove flower extract, organic comfrrey leaf extract, organic vanilla extract, and organic grapefruit fruit extract. The next ingredient is water, followed by SCS from coconut. Among the remaining ingredients are organic shea butter and organic jojoba seed oil.

At the risk of sounding like a television infomercial, I want to say, “But wait! There’s more!” The product is also 100 percent vegan, as well as wheat- and gluten-free.

There’s also less: NO “parabens, sodium lauryl/laureth sulfates, phthalates, artificial colors, silicones, EDTA, glycol, or petroleum based ingredients.”

The hand wash is “Cruelty Free and Biodegradable: No animal testing of raw materials or finished product. No Phosphates.”

All of this is good for people, animals, and the environment. As the label says, “Clear skin, clear conscience.” Works for me — but I’ll have to buy my own. This one goes to Lucille.

The Small Print

DISCLOSURE: Blue Planet Green Living received a free product sample of Desert Essence Organics Hand Wash.

Blue Planet Green Living is a Shop to Earn/Shop to Earth member. Desert Essence products are featured on Shop to Earth. If you purchase Desert Essence products through Blue Planet Green Living’s Shop to Earth link, we will receive a 15 percent cash reimbursement from Shop to Earth.

Blue Planet Green Living has an affiliate relationship with If you purchase any products through Amazon by clicking on our affiliate link, Blue Planet Green Living will receive financial compensation from Amazon.

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 samples or potential reimbursement from Shop to Earn/Shop to Earth and provide our honest opinions.

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)