Learn about what makes a brand ‘cruelty-free’ and how to identify them.
Since the boom of K-pop and K-culture, many people have taken interest in the Korean lifestyle. Inspired by the immaculate-looking K-pop artists, people flock towards getting the latest Korean skincare and cosmetics. In fact, research revealed that South Korea’s beauty market was estimated to be worth US$13 billion in 2017.
Like all major international brands today, Korean companies have also realized the growing need for cruelty-free lines. This is why more and more K-beauty brands are saying no to animal testing. In fact, South Korea has passed a law that forbids animal testing. However, some Kbeauty companies still have products that are being tested on animals.
Worse, some of them even claim the label ‘cruelty-free’ just to attract more customers. For label-conscious ethical consumers, being misled by this isn’t acceptable. That’s why in this article, we’ll go into the ins-and-outs of ‘cruelty-free Korean brands. We’ll discuss what cruelty-free really means and find ways on how to spot them. So, without further ado, let’s start!
What Is Cruelty-Free?
With the consumer trend heading towards making ethical choices, we start to see a lot of skin care and cosmetics companies label their products ‘cruelty-free’. But are they truly ‘cruelty-free’ in the real sense of the word?
The term’s implication is that a product’s manufacturing process didn’t involve animal experimentation. It means that the product and its ingredients weren’t tested on animals. Hence it is animal cruelty-free.
Some animal testing methods include forced chemical exposure and genetic manipulation. They commonly test the products on mice, fish, rabbits, cats, and dogs.
Ideally, all brands claiming to be ‘cruelty-free’ abide by this definition. But in reality, this isn’t the case. Some companies label their products as ‘cruelty-free’ but that may not apply to the whole manufacturing process. The problem lies in the fact that the term doesn’t have a legal definition. The US-FDA itself has admitted that the term is prone to unrestricted and misleading use.
Some manufacturers bypass this by relying on their suppliers to do the dirty work. Some also claim the label just because they aren’t currently testing on animals. Obviously, this doesn’t mean that they didn’t previously test their products on animals.
Additionally, in the pursuit of ethical products, you may have also encountered ‘vegan’ skin care products. You may get confused and think that the terms ‘cruelty-free’ and ‘vegan’ are one and the same. But, they mean completely different things in the cosmetic industry.
As discussed, ‘cruelty-free’ means that the product wasn’t tested on animals. On the other hand, ‘vegan’ means that the product doesn’t contain animal products or by-products. While vegan products don’t contain beeswax and shark liver oil, they can still be tested on animals. Similarly, cruelty-free products may still contain animal by-products in their ingredients.
According to research, more and more millennials are opting for vegan products. In fact, the global vegan cosmetics market size is estimated to reach $20.8 billion by 2025.
The Korean Animal Testing Law
As of 2015, South Korea passed a law banning all companies from engaging in animal testing by the year 2018. But the law only bans animal testing on “endpoints where the use of non-animal alternative tests has been accepted by the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS).”
This means that animal testing may still continue if there are no non-animal testing alternatives. This includes using animals to test for skin irritation and repeated dose toxicity tests.
In fact, Korea’s Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs revealed that over 3,712,380 animals were used for testing in 2019. This is because of the very limited non-animal testing alternatives available in Korea.
Kbeauty in China
As of date, China requires animal testing on cosmetics being imported into the country. This requirement is imposed on special use cosmetics (i.e. whitening creams and sunscreens). Animal testing may also legally occur in foreign-manufactured ordinary use cosmetics (i.e. makeup and fragrances). This may happen when they’re randomly chosen for confirmatory post-market testing.
[note] Last year, Decree No.727 of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China was passed. This law removed the pre-market test requirement on imported ordinary cosmetics. However, confirmatory post-market testing may still occur. [/note]
Some K-beauty brands try to claim the label ‘cruelty-free’ despite selling their products in China. They do this by claiming to only use ingredients that are whitelisted in China or selling products through Hong Kong instead. However, this only exempts them from pre-market animal testing. China may still legally do a post-market test on their products and conduct animal experimentation.
This means that if a K-beauty brand sells their product in Mainland China, they agree to the use of animal testing on their products by the government.
How Do We Identify Cruelty-Free Kbeauty Brands?
Despite the lack of legal consensus on the term, there is a growing number of companies adopting a true ‘cruelty-free’ standard in their processes. One of the catalysts for this change is the growing number of adults preferring ethical cosmetics.
Research showed that 33% of consumers would stop buying products from their favorite brands if they tested on animals.
A good way to spot cruelty-free Korean brands (and brands in general) is to look for certain logos and certifications in their labels. Two of the most popular and reliable cruelty free logos are the PETA’s ‘Global Beauty Without Bunnies’ Program logo and Cruelty Free International’s Leaping Bunny Programme logo.
To be certified with the Global Beauty Without Bunnies logo, a brand must sign PETA’s statement of assurance. Alternatively, they can also release a verification statement. This shall verify that their production processes are cruelty-free and that they will not engage in such in the future.
PETA certifications come in two designations: Global animal test–free and Global animal test–free and vegan. The requirements for the two are the same: cruelty-free processes. But for the latter, there is an additional requirement that they must also be vegan.
To be certified with CFI’s Leaping Bunny Programme logo, a brand must undergo rigorous criteria. CFI claims to be the only program to check for brand conducting, commissioning, or being party to animal testing. Aside from that, they also closely and continuously monitor the brands even after approval.
Take note that not all cruelty-free Korean beauty brands have these logos. To check if the brand is cruelty-free, you can take the following verification steps:
- Visit PETA’s website to see if the brand is listed under “Companies That Do Not Test on Animals.” Do note that this list, extensive as it may be, isn’t exhaustive. This is particularly true for Asian cosmetic companies and Korean brands.
- If the brand isn’t PETA licensed as described above, you may visit the brand’s own website. Check their company-issued statements if they claim to be cruelty-free.
- If the above-mentioned steps aren’t applicable, you may opt to email the company. As a last resort, you may inquire directly from them if their processes are cruelty-free. Be careful though, some companies may not openly admit to not being cruelty-free.
Take note that skincarisma.org’s cruelty-free indicator doesn’t consider if the product is sold in China. To be sure, always try to verify with multiple sources.
List of Cruelty-Free Korean Skincare Brands
Because we value and appreciate your ethical standards in cosmetics, we did the research so you won’t have to. Below is a list of some cruelty-free Korean skincare brands that we currently know of.
These companies have earned the Cruelty-Free status as they do not sell in Mainland China, released statements about their cruelty-free commitment and/or are included in the PETA & Leaping Bunny database.
|PETA Certified||Leaping Bunny certified||100% Vegan|
|I Dew Care||Y||N||N||Y|
|Peach & Lily||Y||N||Y||N|
|Then I Met You||Y||N||Y||N|
*Note: Re:p is the sister brand of Neogen. Neogen is NOT a cruelty-free company.
Favourite Cruelty-Free Korean Skincare Brands
Company Philosophy: The brand commits itself to offer cruelty-free, vegan, and sustainable products. They use recyclable and biodegradable packaging and don’t test their products on animals. Moreover, they donate a portion of their income to charities supporting their cause like the Best Friend Animal Society and Korean Federation For Environmental Movement.
Vegan? YES! All their products are now completely vegan. Previously, they offered a non-vegan product containing filtered snail serum. This product has been discontinued so that they could become a 100% vegan brand.
Key features: Their Centella Line uses varying levels of Centella Asiatica Extract. This extract helps build collagen, calms inflammation, and improves the skin’s tensile strength. They also offer Galacto Niacin 97 Power Essence which contains 92% of Galactomyces Fermented Filtrate. Research showed that this cosmetic ingredient is effective in decreasing pore size, sebum production, and skin dullness.
Company Philosophy: The brand commits itself to offer cruelty-free, reasonably-priced, and high-quality skincare products. By limiting their ad costs, they are able to maintain a reasonable price range. Furthermore, they are dedicated to only using the mildest raw ingredients that won’t irritate even the most sensitive skin.
Vegan? Almost there! All their products are vegan except those containing honey. Previously, they offered non-vegan products containing snail mucin and beeswax. The products containing these two ingredients have now been discontinued. Currently, Dear, Klairs is reformulating their products to find vegan alternatives for honey.
Key features: They have a Blue Line that claims to keep your skin youthful-looking. Their line has various ingredients like Erythritol, Guaiazulene, EGF, and bFGF. These ingredients are recommended for those looking for non-irritating anti-aging skincare products.
Company Philosophy: The brand commits itself to offer cruelty-free, sustainable, and natural skincare products. They have PETA and EU certifications to prove their cruelty-free processes. Moreover, they practice social responsibility by using EarthPact packages. These packages are made from sugarcane fibers and are free from bleaching chemicals.
Vegan? Not entirely. Albeit vegan-friendly, they still offer some products which are non-vegan. For example, their snail bee line includes bee venom and snail secretion which aren’t vegan. However, there are vegan options offered by the brand such as the Benton Tea Tree Cleansing Water and Benton Cacao Moist and Mild line.
Key features: Their Benton Cacao Moist and Mild line uses cacao as its primary ingredient. Research showed that the topical application of cacao extracts significantly prevented photodamage. It also prevented photodamage’s side effects such as wrinkle formation and collagen accumulation. Moreover, cocoa polyphenols have also been proven to improve skin elasticity.
Non-Cruelty-Free Korean Skincare Brands
The following Kbeauty brands have not satisfied non-cruelty-free standards. Some of them test on animals and some of them sell their products in China.
- Make P:rem
- Banila Co.
- Amorepacfic **
Brands under Amore Pacific: The following brands are under the Amorepacific Group. It’s a large South Korean cosmetic conglomerate that owns many famous Kbeauty brands. Some of these include Etude House and Laneige.
Despite claiming to be cruelty-free since 2008, the company still tests on animals when “animal testing is required or bound by local governments or laws”. This means that they still do animal experimentation when they export their products to Mainland China. We’ve listed the Kbeauty brands under Amorepacific for your reference as below
Indeed, the world is still a long way from becoming totally cruelty-free. While we may not be able to change the world immediately, we can still play a part. By opting for products that are cruelty-free and vegan, we can help support the cause.
In time, this can push more and more brands to convert to being cruelty-free and vegan themselves. Our glowing skin no longer needs to come at the expense of animals suffering.
How did you find our ultimate guide to cruelty-free Korean skincare? Did we miss some excellent cruelty-free Korean brands? If you have any comments and suggestions, leave us a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!