Finding beauty that is cruelty-free isn't a simple as looking for a bunny logo on your skincare - we decode how to tell if your product has been tested on animals once and for all

Any products in this article have been selected editorially however if you buy something we mention, we may earn commission

It’s one of the questions we’re asked most by readers when we review products – “is it cruelty-free?” The answer is pretty much always yes, even when it doesn’t say so on the label or have a bunny on, because EU legislation from 2013 stated that any new beauty products that had been tested on animals could not legally be sold in Europe, even if the testing itself took place outside of the EU. But there are nuances here too, which mean it’s not straightforward. So we put together this explainer.

What does having a bunny logo mean?

A ‘bunny’ logo bestowed by cruelty-free campaigns PETA , Leaping Bunny  and Choose Cruelty-Free  signifies that neither the product nor its ingredient suppliers conduct, commission, or pay for any tests on animals for their ingredients, formulations, or finished products anywhere in the world and won’t do so in the future and that has been accredited by the organisation which provides the logos. The logos are all a bit different though, so we've decoded them.

Leaping Bunny

The bunny leaping in the air surrounded by stars means the product is Leaping Bunny Certified  (unsurprisingly). The Leaping Bunny Program is a US initiative and is recognised in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and throughout much of the European Union. It requires that no new animal testing be used in any phase of product development by the company, its laboratories, or ingredient suppliers. When we say “new animal testing” we’re referring to the fact that ingredients may be included in products that were previously tested on animals, before the ban came into place.

“Many of the traditional ingredients used in cosmetics have been tested on animals before 2009 (when testing in Europe was first banned),” explains formulator and founder of Twelve Beauty  Pedro Catala. “The regulations banned animal testing of new ingredients in 2009, but it does not prohibit including ingredients tested before this date.”

PETA Beauty Without Bunnies

The whiskered bunny face with big heart-shaped ears and the side profile bunny with pink ears both belong to UK-based charity PETA’s  campaign. Products displaying this logo are cruelty-free (as defined above) and produced by companies that have a company-wide global ban on tests on animals. They do not sell in China, for example, which actually requires animal testing.

Choose Cruelty-Free bunny

The black outline of a bunny belongs to Choose Cruelty-Free , an Australian non-profit organisation. For a brand to be accredited by CCF, none of its products and none of its product ingredients have ever been tested on animals by it, by anyone on its behalf, by its suppliers or anyone on their behalf.

Any other bunny logo, cute as it may be, is used by companies to illustrate that their product is cruelty-free by their own definition. It does not mean that they’re accredited by any of the above. The definition may only refer to the finished product, when in fact, most animal testing occurs at the ingredient level, explains Leaping Bunny. “While a company may claim, ‘we do not test on animals’ it could still contract other companies to do the testing. The only way to be 100 per cent certain a company is cruelty-free is to buy from companies that have been certified by one of the above programmes which require that no new animal testing be used in any phase of product development by the company, its laboratories, or ingredient suppliers.”

What if the packaging simply states ‘cruelty-free’

“Although a company may claim to have a cruelty-free policy, without accreditation, there is little assurance for consumers that it doesn't pay for products to be tested on animals in countries such as China in order to access those markets,” explains PETA spokesperson Jennifer White. To check if it is cruelty-free, consult PETA’s cruelty-free index .

Having said that, some brands may choose not to include the bunny logo on their products for aesthetic reasons. One such example is US skincare and makeup brand Freck Beauty. “Even though Freck Beauty  is so proud to be Leaping Bunny certified, we chose not to add the bunny logo to put packaging purely for design purposes,” explains founder Remi Brixton. “Freck Beauty’s signature packaging is very much based on chic modern typography and cruelty-free is therefore written in block text in line with this. The Leaping Bunny certification is stated on our website instead.”

Some brands go the other direction and include all the different bunnies on their packaging, case in point vegan haircare brand Maria Nila, who has both the Leaping Bunny and PETA rabbit on their bottles. Maria Nila  wanted to have as many logos as possible on their packaging in order to communicate to the consumer just how committed they are to their environmental mission.

Another reason a brand might choose not to include the logos on their packaging is cost. While it’s free to become certified by the Leaping Bunny Program, which includes being listed in all versions of their shopping guide, there is a fee to use the logo on the packaging. The same goes for PETA accreditation.

For access to the Choose Cruelty-Free logo, there’s an admin fee off $100AUSD to become accredited and an annual licensing fee to use the logo.

The time it takes to fill in forms and complete the accreditation may also be a hurdle for brands in having access to the logos.

If animal testing has been EU-banned since 2005, why do we need the bunny?

Surely all beauty sold in the UK is cruelty-free? Sadly not. The EU law only refers to the finished product, not the individual ingredients.

“Unfortunately, it's not safe for consumers to assume that a product is cruelty-free simply because it's sold in the EU,” PETA spokesperson Jennifer White told us. “Products from companies such as Benefit, Caudalie, Clarins, Clinique, Dior, Estée Lauder, Gucci, and Revlon are readily available in UK stores but are also for sale in China, where tests on animals for cosmetics are still compulsory. So long as those animal tests aren't being used to demonstrate product safety for EU regulatory requirements, the products can be sold in the UK and the EU. For this reason, PETA urges consumers shopping for cosmetics and personal care products to refer to the PETA US list  of companies that have pledged never to test on animals anywhere in the world.”

My product doesn’t say cruelty-free – does that mean it was tested on animals?

You might notice no mention of cruelty-free on your products, but don’t always assume that means they’re mistreating rabbits in the lab.

“Animal testing for cosmetics has been banned in Europe since 2009, and every European brand is cruelty-free,” says Marie Drago, founder of Gallinée , who do not have the bunny logo on their products. “We chose to focus our communication on what is really different about Gallinée, and cruelty-free is a given so the logos aren’t on our packaging. Lots of brands display their claims when sometimes they don’t need too, just to be extra-sure.”

" Gallinée  is not sold in China, because we don't want to test on animals ever and it is required there. That being said, a lot of brands are using something called trans-border, with the products being shipped to Chinese customers but leaving from Hong Kong; this allows them to reach the Chinese market without having to compromise on ethics."

What’s the best way to ensure no animals have been harmed?

As well as looking for accredited logos, consulting databases is key.

Choose Cruelty-Free database

PETA's Cruelty-Free company index

Leaping Bunny Approved brand list

There’s one last confusing hurdle to get around…

If my makeup or skincare is cruelty-free does that mean it’s vegan? No, cruelty-free makeup is not always vegan. “The term ‘cruelty-free’ only refers to animal testing, so an item may be cruelty-free (not be tested on animals), but ironically contain animal ingredients and thus not be vegan,” explains. Matt Turner, media and PR officer for The Vegan Society .

OK, so does vegan mean cruelty-free?

Yes. Vegan beauty products both contain no animal ingredients and also haven’t been tested on animals and are therefore cruelty-free.

“A vegan beauty product is by definition cruelty-free because vegans don’t use items that have been tested on animals,” Matt continues.

“The term ‘vegan’ isn't legally protected when it comes to labelling cosmetics and body care products, which is why we created the Vegan Trademark,” says Matt. “All vegan products registered with the Vegan Trademark cannot involve or have involved, testing of any sort on animals. This includes the development and/or manufacture of the product, and where applicable its ingredients.”

It also means that it has not been animal-tested elsewhere for sale in China.

To avoid confusion, the Vegan Society encourages vegan product manufacturers to apply for the Vegan Trademark with a sunflower ‘V’ or clearly label their products.