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Your “Cruelty Free” Makeup Isn’t Cruelty Free

(Photo above by Raphael Lovaski via Unsplash)

The cruelty free makeup movement is one that’s become more popular in recent years. Maybe you only buy cruelty free products because you don’t support animal testing and don’t want to financially benefit any company that does. This is an admirable goal. But what “cruelty free” actually means can be more complicated than it seems. There are many reasons for this, and I explore two of the most prevalent ones below.

Product Labels

There are no federal regulations or standards for labeling a product cruelty free. Each individual company can decide for itself what that means when it labels its products as such. In many cases, a product itself may not be tested on animals, but its parent company manufactures other products that do. For example, the skincare brand Simple says that it does not test its products on animals. But Unilever, the company that owns Simple, owns many other brands that are not cruelty free, including Pond’s.

Brands that claim they are cruelty free may sell their products in mainland China. China used to mandate all cosmetic products to be animal tested before sale. In 2019, the government approved other testing methods. However, it did not ban all animal testing. Instead, it is one of many potential ways to assess product safety and effectiveness. So, if a brand sells in China, you cannot be sure whether or not it tests on animals. Oftentimes, a third party conducts these animal tests and the producing brand may not approve of it or even know when it happens.

Some brands ensure their products are PETA or Leaping Bunny certified. Many consumers look specifically for the Leaping Bunny logo to check whether products are cruelty free. But Leaping Bunny is just another independent company. To receive Leaping Bunny certification, a company must apply and fulfill the standards, which require the company to make sure no animal testing is done at any step of production, work with no foreign governments that require animal testing on cosmetics, and create a monitoring system of the  production line to maintain integrity. As part of the application process, the company must agree to pay the Leaping Bunny logo fee. This is what the customers will see on each individual bottle or item. A company may meet all the standards of a Leaping Bunny certification but not want or be able to pay for the logo. Cosmetics can still be cruelty free without one of these private certifications.


Mica is an ingredient often used in makeup to add shine or sparkle. It’s basically impossible to find any foundation, highlighter, or bronzer without mica in it. Additionally, it can also be found in more unexpected places like lipstick, tinted sunscreen, and non-makeup eye creams. When you wear makeup, mica is inescapable.

Mica is a natural mineral that must be mined to be extracted and used in cosmetics. The problem is that more than 25 percent of the world’s supply is mined with child labor. Children are desirable workers because they are small and can fit in narrow mine shafts, and their small hands can sort through fine pieces of the mineral. Inhaling dust from these mines can cause infection and lifelong lung damage. And frequent mine collapses leave many permanently injured or dead.

In India, one of the primary exporters of mica, around 90 percent of the mines are illegal. There is no government or watchdog supervision of these mines, and child labor is rampant. In Madagascar, children make up more than half of the mica-mining labor force. Most of the miners in Madagascar make less than $1.90 a day. In India, they make around 36 cents per day. This is barely enough to pay for one meal.

Even if a company claims its mica is “ethically sourced,” it can be almost impossible to ensure that is the case because most of the mines are illegal. Usually, this requires companies  to thoroughly examine their supply chains, which they may not want or be able to do.

Some companies have become members of the Responsible Mica Initiative, an organization with the goal of creating “a responsible and sustainable mica supply chain in India free of child labor.” While this sounds promising, the initiative is only targeting areas in India, though countries like Madagascar produce a significant amount of the world’s mica as well. Members of RMI commit to following the initiative’s mission, working to  improve business practices, and sharing “some supply chain mapping” to RMI yearly. But, the website notes that “membership is not a guarantee of compliance with RMI programs or standards.” So, just because a certain brand or company is a member, there is no assurance that the mica in their products is ethically sourced. Some notable beauty members of RMI are Burt’s Bees and Sephora Collection.

If you want to avoid buying products with mica, check the ingredients list. Sometimes, mica can also be listed as potassium aluminium silicate or CI 77019. Even if you do manage to only buy mica-free products there are virtually no brands that completely forego the ingredient. (Lush is the only major brand to do this.) So even if a beauty brand is “cruelty free,” it most likely is supporting, directly or indirectly, child labor and unsafe working conditions. And what’s the point of protecting animals when you don’t prioritize and protect human lives first?

  • Question of

    Do you shop cruelty free?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I want to/I’m trying to
  • Question of

    Do you shop mica free?

    • Yes
    • No
    • I will now!
  • Question of

    Are there any truly cruelty free brands?

    • Yes, of course!
    • Not really
    • It’s possible but I haven’t found any yet


Written by Abby Sacks

Student at the University of Virginia studying Psychology and Media Studies. When not writing or hanging out with my cat, can be found watching too much bad TV and being too old for TikTok but enjoying it anyway.

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