The Difference Between Cruelty-Free, Vegan, and Clean

01.02.2023 — The Frenshe Editors

If you are a big consumer of beauty and wellness, you’ve probably heard the labels cruelty-free, vegan, and clean being used to talk about cosmetics, especially in recent years. Look through our archives and you’ll probably see them mentioned often, but what do they actually mean, how are they different, and how are they regulated?

While they are often used interchangeably by companies and consumers alike, these terms don’t actually mean the same thing. It can be confusing to navigate, especially if you are new to this sphere, but we’ve done our best to break it down for you below:

What does “cruelty-free” mean?

The label “cruelty-free” refers to products and ingredients that were not tested on animals. Animal testing is not required anywhere except for China, though only products sold in physical stores are subject to this law, not online retailers. 


Stay All Day Matte Lip$22

Stila is cruelty-free and clean.

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If you’re worried about safety, know that cruelty-free products still go through extensive testing. This includes human testing (done with human volunteers, or donated tissue from surgery, biopsies, or transplants), the use of lab-grown tissue, and computer simulations. 

That said, when introducing something new to your routine, it is always important to patch test first to ensure it is a good fit for you, especially if you have sensitive skin. 

What is the difference between “cruelty-free” and “vegan”?

The label “vegan” refers to products that do not contain animal ingredients, whether or not they can be sourced without hurting the animal. 

It is important to note that veganism is not just a diet, it is a lifestyle–one that involves ensuring no harm is done to animals, as well as the non-consumption of animal byproducts in any and all aspects of life, not just limited to food. 


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Living Proof is vegan and cruelty-free.

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As such, it is possible for something to be vegan and cruelty-free, as well as cruelty-free but not vegan. However, any product that claims to be vegan while being tested on animals is counter-intuitive on top of straight-up lying to you. Be extra mindful of companies doing that!

What about “clean” products?

“Clean beauty” refers to a movement within the beauty industry focused on sustainable, healthy, non-toxic products–but these are broad terms, and there is no one official definition for what “clean” really means. This does not mean companies using this label are lying to you, however.

What you need to know about clean beauty: 


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Saint Jane is clean and cruelty-free.

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If you’re feeling overwhelmed and not sure where to start, we have a list of ingredients to avoid when looking for cleaner options for your next skincare and makeup haul. Also, take your time making the swap! 

Remember that the most sustainable option is the one you already own, and slowly phasing out your old products will ensure you can figure out more easily if something new isn’t agreeing with your skin.

How do I know if something is truly cruelty-free, vegan, or non-toxic?

It is important to note that, at present, there is no real regulation regarding the use of these terms, so brands can and often do lie about it. So, how can you make sure you’re supporting companies that share the same values as you?

We’ve compiled a list of resources you can use below, and highly recommend familiarizing yourself with these programs’ logos so you are not fooled by fake labels when shopping. That said, many of these certifications require payment, something not everyone (especially smaller brands just starting out) is able to do. 


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Kora Organics is clean, vegan, and cruelty-free.

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If you’re not sure about a brand or company, and can’t find a reliable source, you can investigate for yourself with the Cruelty-Free 5 (this list does not include questions regarding vegan or clean status). 

For cruelty-free:

For vegan: 

For clean:

Other big retailers such as Target, Sephora and Ulta are also making strides towards catering to customers looking for clean, cruelty-free products, so look for their clean beauty aisle next time you’re shopping.

  • Luiza Bargo is a Brazilian writer and graphic designer based in Texas. She loves discussing harm reduction in the beauty and wellness industry, sustainable fashion, and all things nerdy. Follow her on Instagram (@luizabargo) to keep up with her work.

The Frenshe Editors