Thursday, September 21, 2023

The World’s Biggest Beauty Brand Claims It Doesn’t Test On Animals, But Is L’Oréal Actually Cruelty-Free?


Is L’Oréal cruelty-free? Due to China’s animal testing laws, the claims are questionable.

For decades, L’Oréal has been locked in battle with animal rights organizations over its cosmetic animal testing status. The former, which is the world’s biggest cosmetics company, claims it has not tested the safety of its products on animals since 1989. But nonprofits like PETA, Cruelty Free International (CFI), and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), claim that, to this day, L’Oréal still actively chooses to engage with the practice.

So, what is the true story? Is L’Oréal really cruelty-free?

How trustworthy is the beauty giant’s claim to cruelty-free status? Its rivals make similar claims; are Lancôme and Estée Lauder still testing, too? But first, it’s important to understand the current laws on cosmetic animal testing in different places, before bringing closer attention to one country in particular: China.

Cosmetic animal testing laws

Animal testing is a contentious and controversial issue. Every year, millions of animals are subject to painful, invasive, and often times fatal tests for various industries. Monkeys, rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, mice, dogs, and cats are just a few examples of the species used in experimentation around the world.

Many animal rights advocates and scientists claim that all animal tests should be a thing of the past. But as of yet, no country has banned them completely. Switzerland was given a referendum and an opportunity to become the first to do so in June 2022 but ultimately voted against a ban.

L'Oréal green science
Courtesy L’Oréal

That said, many countries have passed bans on animal testing for cosmetic purposes only. According to HSUS, a total of 42 countries, including all in the European Union (E.U.), Norway, Australia, the U.K., and Taiwan, have passed laws to limit or outright ban cosmetic animal testing. Some states in the U.S. and Brazil also have cosmetic animal testing bans.

Some of these laws, however, are far from perfect. In the E.U. for example, worker safety regulations require some chemicals to be tested on animals, whether they are used in cosmetics or not. This has led many animal rights organizations, like CFI (which helps to manage the globally-recognized Leaping Bunny cruelty-free certification program), to campaign for a tightening of the laws around animal testing.

But ban or no ban, in most countries around the world, cosmetic brands have the option to clear their entire supply chain of companies that test ingredients on animals and declare themselves cruelty-free. And, in turn, receive a credible certification. 

However, this is only if they do not sell products in stores in China, where the laws around animal testing are different.

China and animal testing

Up until last year, China had strict pre-market testing laws for all cosmetic products sold in the country. This meant that all imported cosmetics had to be tested on animals before they could be sold in the country.

In 2021, China made a positive step for animal welfare when it removed this requirement. But only for non “special-use” products like skincare, hair, or makeup items. Anything else, like hair dye, sunscreen, or deodorant, is considered special use, and therefore still subject to animal tests.

Estée Lauder
Courtesy Estée Lauder

The country’s laws also allow for post-market animal testing to take place at any time. This could happen if a consumer made a complaint against a product, for example. While not all cosmetic products will definitely be post-market-tested, and not all of the tests involve animals, as long as they are on the shelves, they are vulnerable to animal testing potentially taking place. 

However, this is only the case for products sold in physical stores. If a brand sells online to customers in China, it is not vulnerable to animal testing and can still be considered cruelty-free.

So, is L’Oréal cruelty-free?

China’s laws are the reason that many animal rights groups do not consider L’Oréal to be cruelty-free. The brand is not eligible for major certifications, like Leaping Bunny, because it continues to sell products in stores in China, leaving the door open for animal testing.

While L’Oréal may continue to claim otherwise, its own animal testing policy reveals the truth. It reads: “Today, L’Oréal no longer tests its ingredients on animals and no longer tolerates any exception to this rule.” It then states: “Certain health authorities may nevertheless decide to conduct animal tests themselves for certain cosmetic products, as it is still the case in China.”

L'Oréal's New €150 Million Circular Innovation Fund Aims to Close the Loop for Luxury Beauty
L’Oréal Global Ambassador H.E.R. | Courtesy

L’Oréal says it has no choice over animal testing, but it does. Much like the hundreds of international beauty brands that choose not to sell in China’s physical stores, it could opt out of the market until animal testing is banned.

But the beauty giant is far from alone. Many of L’Oréal’s biggest rivals, like Lancôme, Revlon, and Estée Lauder, also continue to sell their products in stores in China, and for that reason, they are not considered cruelty-free.

Will cruelty-free brands ever be able to sell in China?

For certified cruelty-free brands that have held off entering the Chinese market for animal testing reasons (read: not L’Oréal), change could be on the horizon.

For years, Leaping Bunny has been working with authorities in China to try and figure out a way for its own brands to sell in the country without losing their cruelty-free status. 

L'Oreal Elive
Courtesy L’Oréal

Now, a new China Qualification Program has been announced. The program will help Leaping Bunny-certified companies to enter China without compromising their cruelty-free status. Burt’s Bees has already successfully completed the program’s requirements and has launched into the marketplace without animal testing.

It’s important to note it is still not straightforward to sell in China, and Leaping Bunny brands must meet extensive criteria to begin the process. But it is an important step.

“While the process to enter China remains a complicated one, it is exciting to see this market evolve to include cruelty-free companies,” Leaping Bunny notes. 

“The Leaping Bunny China Qualification Program will provide assurance to compassionate consumers everywhere that products certified by us are free of new animal testing and produced by companies committed to cruelty-free products.”


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