The Evolution to Vegan Skincare and Cruelty-Free Cosmetics
Since we first appeared, humans have relied on animals for many things—food, clothing, shelter, medicine, companionship—you name it. This relationship has been an essential part of our survival for millennia. Eventually, modern industrialized society pushed the relationship to widespread animal testing of newly developed chemicals and potentially toxic substances.
Thanks to advances in science and human ingenuity, animal testing is no longer the only option to create superior and safe beauty products. Various scientific methods such as cell culture, in-vitro testing, and utilizing skin replicas allow us to develop effective, safe products without using any mice, rabbits or other small or big animals. Practical alternatives to animal testing and animal-derived ingredients have given rise to cruelty-free choices that support the vegan lifestyle.
A brief history of animal testing for cosmetics
Throughout history, animals have been the proverbial “guinea pigs” used to evaluate the effects of various medical procedures and chemicals on living beings. The ancient Greeks recorded such experiments starting around 300 BCE. In the United States, widespread industrialized animal testing as we know it effectively began with the passage of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (FFDCA) of 1938.
This landmark law gave the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) power to enforce product safety regulations. It was the result of growing public concern over cases that included women suffering severe eye damage and blindness from eyelash coloring products made with toxic, untested ingredients.
A few years after the law passed, an FDA toxicologist devised the Draize irritancy test, which quickly became the go-to standard for testing cosmetics on the skin and eyes of animals. The Draize test remains the “gold standard” in cosmetics testing.
Today, it’s estimated that anywhere between 100,000 to 500,000 animals are still used each year for cosmetics testing.
What does it mean for skincare products to be cruelty-free?
Originating in the 1950s, the term “cruelty-free” still serves as a powerful rallying cry to generate awareness about animal testing. However, it is not a legal designation and can be defined differently. For instance, a company could claim to perform no animal testing and yet use ingredients that have been tested on animals by a third party.
The Leaping Bunny Program, which partners with The Humane Society’s #BeCrueltyFree campaign, provides voluntary certifications to companies based on a pledge of no new animal-testing in any stage of product development, including its ingredient suppliers and manufacturers. PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies program asks brands to verify that they and their suppliers do not conduct, pay for, or allow any tests on animals for their ingredients, formulations, or finished products for their animal test-free designation; and additionally, that their entire product line is free of animal-derived ingredients to be designated as both animal test-free and vegan. Thousands of companies have obtained various cruelty-free certifications, although a company can be cruelty-free and vegan in action without obtaining and paying for such certifications.
Why choose vegan skincare products?
The term “vegan” is generally understood to describe a food or product that is not derived from animals in any way. This includes animal by-products, like milk or honey. It’s important to note that cruelty-free products are not necessarily vegan, and that some products that claim to be vegan may in some way involve testing on animals.
Like cruelty-free, vegan is a values-based philosophy, not a legally regulated designation. It defines the choices we make as individuals and businesses to avoid the consumption of animals or animal by-products for a variety of reasons including compassion, personal health, religion, and environmental sustainability.
The good news is that using vegan beauty and skincare products is really a win-win situation. They are better for animals and the environment while still providing us with high quality, effective cosmetics.
Natural substances like plants, tea tree oil, herbs, and many others have been shown to deliver consistent benefits like smoother, softer skin. They also bring their own subtle, pleasing scents.
Other ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid, are created naturally in the human body. A vegan hyaluronic acid alternative is made from fermented plant material with identical chemistry to offer the same anti-aging moisture-retaining properties.
Squalane is another plant-based alternative to animal-derived squalene that provides excellent moisturizing benefits. Squalene is naturally produced by our bodies, but the amount declines as we age. LightWater uses a sugarcane-based squalane in our Fresh Daily Duo moisturizers.
Industry response & trends
Since the early 2000s, at least 42 countries and eight US states have passed partial or total bans on animal testing or on the sale of products tested on animals. The EU banned it in 2004, and other countries, like China, have stopped mandating animal testing, which has led to a significant decrease in the practice.
There has been a lot of progress. Much more effective and cruelty-free methods have been developed. For instance, in vitro experiments on reconstituted human skin cells have shown to be up to 86% accurate. Sophisticated computer modeling has also proven to be a highly effective way to predict skin sensitivity and toxicity in humans. Yet many global cosmetics brands continue to engage in animal testing or to use ingredients that have been tested on animals. It is likely to continue as long as there are countries that require it for products to enter their markets.
So, what can a compassionate cosmetics consumer do to help?
Until global legal and commercial forces catch up with public sentiment, the best way to avoid supporting animal testing or animal-derived cosmetics is to buy and use products that reliably claim to be cruelty-free and vegan. Most cosmetics companies will proudly state their position on one or both these issues.
LightWater’s stance is that we will always put human health first, and we also care about animal welfare, so we do not engage in testing on animals because there are effective alternative methods available. We leverage existing data and computer modeling to follow the scientific method and protocol, without ever testing on animals or asking others to test on animals on our behalf. Thanks to advances in science and the broader availability of raw materials, we are pleased to be 100% vegan, utilizing only plant-derived materials to avoid the use of animal by-products. While maintaining a vegan product line is more costly, we believe it is a worthwhile practice as in the long-term vegan is more environmentally friendly and sustainable. We are happy to be promoting human skin health, while doing our part to not harm animals or the environment.
Simply put, skincare brands that claim to be both “cruelty-free” and “vegan” are saying their products are neither tested on nor taken from animals or animal by-products. If you’d like to reduce the consumption of animals and their by-products, it’s a good idea to seek out products made with only fresh, pure, and vegan ingredients.