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Shopping for beauty can be confusing. With a seemingly infinite number of brands on the market, new launches flying onto our Instagram feeds every single day. A thousand conflicting opinions about what works and what doesn’t makes an informed consumer decision increasingly harder. And that’s without even considering brand ethos and environmental impact. But in recent years, there’s been an upsurge in the amount of clout given to a brands that test on animals. Going cruelty-free has never been easier. As more (and often unexpected) companies make the decision to stop animal-testing their products, here’s a rundown of the cream of the cruelty-free crop. We’ve covered makeup, skincare, and even fragrance. So now, there’s really no excuse.
Let’s start with skin. One true heavyweight is The Ordinary, which offers items priced between $5 and $15 to tackle literally any skin concern. Their Lactic Acid 5%, Hyaluronic Acid + B5, and Niacinamide & Zinc are my top three for adding glow, boosting hydration, and fighting acne, respectively. But, truth be told, I’ve never really been disappointed with any of The Ordinary products. Particularly after factoring in their remarkably fair pricing strategy.
Another cruelty-free brand that’s diminutive in terms of price is Pixi. The brand came to fame with its cult-classic Glow Tonic, which is still one of the best bargain acid toners. But a product of theirs that has impressed me, even more, is their Retinol Tonic. I find this to give me everything I want from retinol (i.e. a smoother, glowier, more poreless complexion) but nothing I don’t (i.e. skin peeling off in sheets). I can use this every day with no issue and always wake up feeling #flawless.
Honourable Mention – Skyn Iceland
A brand that I don’t believe gets enough attention is Skyn Iceland. Their products are all very good, and of course, all cruelty-free. I’ve tried a bunch from the range. But my ultimate top picks are the Fresh Start Mask and the Hydro Cool Firming Eye Gels. The mask is a really unique one in terms of the clay options out there. As it utilises two different sachets to exfoliate and deep cleanse at the same time. The Eye Gels, while less wacky and out-there, could be credited with starting the under-eye patch trend. They also effectively offer hydration and that all-important cooling sensation.
The Body Shop
The Body Shop was a pioneer in bringing cruelty-free products to the mass market—and I still reckon a ton of their stuff is hard to beat. But if I was pushed, I’d say their very best skin care product is the Tea Tree Anti-Blemish Serum. I’ve never met such an effective spot treatment that doesn’t have the inevitable downside of leaving skin dried out and irritated. But this seems to both treat inflamed acne and add hydration and glow to the rest of the complexion. Truly magical stuff.
Once you’ve got a skincare routine taken care of, it’s time for the fun stuff to begin. And in terms of fun stuff, there’s one brand (in my mind) that reigns supreme: Glossier. Sure, I’m a sucker for good branding—but I’ve tried a lot of makeup. The Lash Slick Mascara, Generation G Lipsticks, Boy Brow, Haloscope, and Cloud Paints are all absolute workhorses in my makeup bag.
Another cruelty-free brand that reliably gets the job done for me is Milk Makeup. Again, I love a whole host of their fun and funky range. But for the good of this article, there are some standouts. The Sunshine Skin Tint is the ideal sheeny summertime base, the Eye Pigments are the longest-lasting eyeshadows I’ve ever tried. The Holographic Sticks make for a surprisingly subtle iridescent-toned highlight.
If you’re feeling a little more bougie (and more power to you if you are), then the cruelty-free brand to go for has to be Hourglass. It’s a pricier experience across the board, but that price is reflected in the luxurious feel of the products. Their Ambient Lighting Powders were what first called attention to the brand, as they offered a glowier way to set makeup. Their No.28 Lip Treatment Oils are also total stunners. Offering the look of gloss with the feel of the most hydrating balm out there. And I can’t not mention their Scattered Light Eyeshadows, which give the look of a glossy eye without any of the inconvenience. Top tip: it and can be smeared on using fingers while in the back of an Uber.
Some more specific product (rather than brand) standouts also exist in the cruelty-free category. One thing I tell pretty much any makeup-wearer out there to buy is the Smashbox 24-Hour Photo Finish Shadow Primer. It’s a boring purchase, to be sure, but once you have it, you’ll never want to be without it. It basically makes any eyeshadow you put over the top look immediately incredible, and last without creasing until the end of time (or, at least, end of the day).
I also highly, highly recommend the Bareminerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Gel Cream. This isn’t just good for a cruelty-free base—it’s good for a base in general. It also has a nice bonus SPF.
My final cruelty-free recommendation is one you may not have considered before. Weirdly enough, many perfumes out there are tested on animals—but fragrances by Le Labo aren’t. Their perfumes are pricey, but I truly believe you get what you pay for here. My favorite is Santal 33 because I’m a basic bitch—but Rose 31 is a great option if you don’t want to smell like literally everyone else. And guess what? Their candles are also cruelty-free if you want your home to smell as nice as you do.
Annie Walton Doyle is a writer based in Manchester, UK. She typically writes about beauty and other "personal aesthetics," with a healthy dose of both social commentary and stupidity. When not touching makeup, she enjoys pubs, knitting, nature, and mysteries. Find her on Instagram @anniewaltondoyle.