“I don’t know what true cruelty-free means,” said Emily Buchanan, an American living abroad. Like many of us, she wants to use products that don’t test on animals and are healthier for her and the environment.
Real cruelty-free moisturizers, including their ingredient suppliers, do not test on animals or contain animal-derived ingredients.
But there is no regulation on using the term cruelty-free. Thus, it is essential not to take a company’s word and research the entire chain through trusted sources such as PETA.
As I took a deep dive into Emily’s question, I discovered that cruelty-free isn’t as easily defined as I assumed.
So, what is the best cruelty-free moisturizer, and how do you find the right one for your skin type?
How To Identify Cruelty-Free Moisturizers
“I always chose cruelty-free products,” said Karin Schimke, a freelancer currently living in Berlin, Germany.
But a few years ago, she met a makeup artist at a photoshoot who taught her that many products were not as totally cruelty-free as the label claimed.
“Companies can say the front-end work is cruelty-free,” Karin explained, “they don’t care about selling to countries that don’t have a cruelty-free policy.”
The FDA admits the term is open to abuse, as they don’t regulate its use. “Some companies,” the FDA states, “may apply such claims solely to their finished cosmetic products.”
To identify cruelty-free moisturizers, the entire process must be considered.
4 Common Cruelty-Free Loopholes
According to Cruelty-Free Kitty, which runs an online database of cruelty-free products, there are four common loopholes to watch out for when buying skincare and cosmetic products:
1. Check if the company’s parent company does testing on animals
2. Find out if any of the ingredients are from suppliers who use animal-testing
3. See if the product is sold in countries that require animal testing
4. Ensure the company isn’t outsourcing animal-based testing to a third party (a common maneuver when selling products to a country that requires it)
Cruelty-Free Certification, Databases, And Labels
Not everyone has time to do a deep dive into every moisturizer’s credentials. Many places provide lists of cruelty-safe skincare and cosmetic products.
But not all of them investigate the entire supply chain, overlooking third parties or parent companies.
I’ve put together some sources that thoroughly vet brands.
Many of these will provide a database, downloadable list, or an app to help you navigate the confusing world of the best cruelty-free products. You might even see their stamp of approval on a product.
Can A Brand Sell In China And Still Be Cruelty-Free?
China used to mandate that all skincare and cosmetics be animal tested. Thus, any company selling in China was doing tests on animals in some manner.
But in 2014, China’s policies began to loosen, according to the Humane Society International, which ran a two-year “Be Cruelty-Free China” campaign.
However, while it was a big step in the right direction, many products, including imports, were still required to undergo third-party testing.
The #BeCrueltyFree campaign continued, led by Kitty Block, the CEO of Humane Society International. PETA and other animal-rights organizations also pushed for further change.
Thankfully in 2021, China loosened the requirements again. Imported ordinary cosmetics, Humane Society International announced, “Such as shampoo, blusher, mascara, and perfume may no longer have to be tested on animals.”
Not every brand selling in China performs animal-based testing.
However, China still insists that “special cosmetics” undergo tests on animals. According to PETA, these special products include the following:
- Hair dye
- Hair-loss products
To help clear up the confusion, the Humane Society International is helping companies validate they are cruelty-free through the Animal-Free Safety Assessment Collaboration.
PETA, CCF, Leaping Bunny, and Cruelty-Free Kitty also keep a sharp eye on brands selling in China to ensure they are cruelty-free.
Best Cruelty-Free Moisturizer Brands
No time to dig through databases?
Not a problem. I’ve put together a list of the best cruelty-free moisturizer brands to check out.
Whether you have dry skin, oily skin, or sensitive skin, this list of cruelty-free and vegan moisturizers will have something to suit you.
Lush has been a supplier of some of the best cruelty-free vegan products since it began in 1995, using plant-derived ingredients in its cosmetics and skin care products.
But they don’t stop there. They have policies for many ethical issues, besides cruelty-free beauty, including the following:
- Anti-slavery and human trafficking
- Global gender bias
- Anti-social media
- And much more
However, they don’t consider themselves an ethical company. “This should not be regarded as ‘ethical,’” their website states, “but as normal business-as-usual.”
3 Fantastic Lush Moisturizers
“I love purchasing from Lush cosmetics,” said Tara Peakes, a former beauty consultant in San Francisco. “I find most of their products have removed all the garbage that would otherwise bother my sensitive skin.”
Tara’s not alone in her adoration. Here are three fantastic cruelty-free moisturizer products in the $30-$60 range.
Celestial ($33), for dry skin, combination, and sensitive skin: made from soothing ingredients such as almond oil, cocoa butter, and vanilla water, it smells divine and doesn’t cause breakouts or red marks from irritation.
Enzymion Self-Preserving ($49) for oily skin: combines hydrating aloe vera and cocoa butter with lemon juice. The latter gently exfoliates and brightens the skin, leaving a fresh look that isn’t greasy.
Skin’s Shangri-La Self-Preserving ($60) for aging skin: unlike many creams made for mature skin, this one feels light and fresh. But the vitamin-rich formula is soothing and hydrating, using wheatgrass juice, wheat germ oil, and cocoa butter.
Mad Hippie was founded in 2009 by Dana and Sam Steward, who were frustrated at the lack of chemical-free skincare and cosmetic products, especially when it came to preventing and repairing sun damage.
As a person with Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome myself, sun care is paramount, and it has been an expensive process of trial and error to find safe brands that don’t make my face look like I put on clown makeup.
Thus, it’s refreshing to find companies like Mad Hippie that not only make excellent products that work, are cruelty-free, and care about the details. For example, they even use soy ink on their boxes.
Two Mad Hippie Cruelty-Free Moisturizer Products You Must Try
Mad Hippie tries to keep their prices reasonable, which is something I truly appreciate. Individually, their skincare products remain under $40.
Face Cream ($26,99) for sensitive skin and reduce fine lines: this moisturizer doesn’t mess around with fancy names. Instead, it lets its ingredients do the talking.
Packed with anti-aging peptide and niacinamide, it reduces fine lines while being gentle and light and keeping your sensitive skin hydrated. Bliss.
Triple C Night Cream ($32.99) for dry skin and aging skin: it is a fragrant, thick cream where a little dab packs a huge punch.
It isn’t recommended for oily skin or sensitive skin types or those struggling with acne-prone skin. Instead, it’s best for those looking for deep hydration and night while tackling fine lines.
Biossance was launched in 2016, founded by Caroline Hadfield and her team after discovering a “skin-identical hydrating molecule” from a non-animal derived ingredients source.
Before then, according to their website, the “closest thing to our skin’s own moisturizing oils was a substance found in shark livers.”
But Biossance uses squalene, made from sustainable fermented sugarcane. Committed to being cruelty-free, they estimate that their discovery is saving 2 million sharks per year.
In addition, they are committed to:
- Only using natural rainfall to water sugarcane
- Using sugarcane pulp as a fuel source and packaging
- Making their factories energy and water efficient
- Ensuring at least half their scientists are women
The Best Biossance Moisturizer
“Biossance is my current favorite,” said Madeleine Deliee, a teacher in the DC metro area.
Biossance is easy to adore, aside from the price. All their products are excellent, but one moisturizer stands high above the rest, no matter your own skin tone or type.
Squalane + Omega Repair Cream ($78), all skin types: a wonder cream. The lipids in the formula leave skin looking healthy, soft, and moisturized without weighing it down or leaving users shiny.
Youth To The People
Youth to the People is a California-based company founded by cousins Greg Gonzalez and Joe Cloyes in 2015.
The vegan, cruelty-free company is committed to making sustainable choices, such as using glass instead of plastic for their packaging.
Youth to the People sources their ingredients as locally as possible. In addition, they care about what happens to their product after you finish it.
As they state on their website, their products “won’t cause harm to our oceans once rinsed off your face.”
2 Youth To The People Moisturizers I Love
Like Lush, Youth to the People is a mid-priced brand that delivers.
Adaptogen Deep Moisturizer Cream ($58) for dry skin and sensitive skin: was introduced to me by Tara. “[I have] dry skin that is sensitive and experiences occasional rosacea,” she explained.
But this fragrance-free facial moisturizer is gentle while still ultra-hydrating, thanks to ingredients such as squalane, fermented reishi mushroom, jojoba, and shea butter.
In addition, ashwagandha, an apoptogenic root, helps reduce the signs of fatigue.
Superfood Air-Whip Moisture Cream ($48) for combination skin: it is a gel that glides onto the skin.
But it’s lightweight, easily absorbed, and works as a substitute for primer.
The air-whip balances the oily/dry factor by using ingredients such as kale and green tea to nourish and hyaluronic acid to help you retain moisture and avoid dry skin, all while providing a healthy, fresh look.
Benefits Of Cruelty-Free Moisturizers
The benefits of cruelty-free face moisturizers and cosmetics go beyond supporting companies that don’t participate in animal testing and encouraging industry change.
There are often health benefits too.
Health Benefits Of Using Cruelty-Free Vegan Moisturizer
Humans put many chemicals on their bodies, especially those that identify as women. In 2016, Bionsen, a UK-based natural deodorant company, polled 2,016 women.
They found the average woman spreads 515 synthetic chemicals over the course of a day.
Products like perfume, moisturizer, foundation, deodorant, and hand sanitizer can all add up to a bigger problem, especially for acne-prone skin or those with sensitive skin.
As Faithful to Nature, the first Certified B Corp in Africa, put it, “The cumulative effect can impact your health by disrupting hormones and possibly triggering serious illness like cancer.”
While sites such as EWG provide a database to look up ingredients, it is time-consuming to research every substance.
But because many cruelty-free brands, such as Youth to the People, are already tossing those potentially harmful chemicals out of their recipes, it saves consumers like you and me a lot of time.
The positive side is that these products are more likely to be:
- Made with natural ingredients
- Use fewer or no synthetic chemicals (Paraben free)
- Reduced risk of irritation and allergies
- Less likely to pollute the earth you live on, eating, drinking, and breathing
Sourcing cruelty-free moisturizer isn’t as easy as taking the company’s word for it.
Thankfully, trusted organizations, such as PETA, make it easy to find out if your beloved brand is cruelty-free. But if that’s too much, pick one of the favorites listed here. Enjoy.