What’s the difference between clean and natural beauty, and vegan and cruelty-free beauty?

clean vs. natural beauty and vegan vs. cruelty-free

I’ve always been a bit of a beauty junkie, and it felt inevitable that my conscious consumerism journey would eventually explore the world of clean and natural beauty, as well as vegan and cruelty-free beauty.

Like with most conscious consumer goods, there’s a lot of nuance and depth to these terms that gets obscured through pretty millennial marketing. I’ve written a quick guide to elucidate the murky vagueness around words like “clean,” “natural,” “non-toxic” as they pertain to the beauty industry. Hope this helps!

Read more: Where to shop clean and natural beauty

Clean vs. natural beauty

Clean beauty is also known as non-toxic beauty, and means that the products are made without certain ingredients deemed to be bad for you, either because they can potentially cause health problems or because they are harsh and irritating. The ingredients excluded vary from brand to brand and some brands are much more stringent about which ingredients they exclude. An example list of “dirty” ingredients may include formaldehyde, parabens, dyes, fragrances, and more—but these vary from brand to brand.

I encourage you to figure out what ingredients you personally want to avoid and make your purchases based on your own list of “dirty” ingredients, rather than taking brands at their word!

Natural beauty means that the products are made without synthetic ingredients. Natural does not always mean that the ingredients are organic, so if that’s important to you be sure to look out for “organic” on the label or ingredients list. In many cases, natural beauty products are safer and gentler than products made with synthetic ingredients, but this is not always the case! Be sure to research the ingredients in your products, natural or not.

Natural does not always mean the products are non-toxic or non-irritating, and vice versa.

Vegan vs. cruelty free beauty

Oh, and since many of you (me included) care about the welfare of our furry friends, here’s a note on vegan vs. cruelty-free:

Vegan means that the products are made without any animal byproduct and no ingredients have animal origins.

Cruelty-free means that the products are not tested on animals (as you all probably already know, animal testing is an extremely inhumane and usually inaccurate method of verifying the safety of beauty products). Sometimes, a brand may be “cruelty-free” because the brand itself does not test on animals, but if they sell products in China, their products are tested on animals by outside organizations as required by the Chinese government. Also, many beauty brands are owned by major corporations such as L’Oreal, which do test on animals. If you’d like to be certain that no animals were harmed via animal testing, you can check for the Leaping Bunny certification.

Vegan does not always mean the products were cruelty-free, and vice versa.

Wondering where to shop clean, natural, vegan, and cruelty-free beauty? I’ve started curating a list of conscious beauty brands! Check it out.



2 thoughts on “What’s the difference between clean and natural beauty, and vegan and cruelty-free beauty?”

  • This was such an informative post! I had never even thought that products would undergo external animal testing after being released – so eye-opening. It’s really shocking to me just how few brands qualify as ethical & good for the environment. Thanks so much for sharing!


    • Unfortunately it’s required by the Chinese government so any products sold in China aren’t truly “cruelty-free” in that sense! My list is by no means exhaustive but I am continually adding more as I learn about more brands. Thanks for giving this a read!

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