For a product to be truly cruelty free, there should be no testing on animals at any time during the process of creation. It is important to understand that many products manufactured by companies do not test their finished products on animals and therefore justify themselves as being a cruelty free company. Some companies go as far as to label their products as, "NOT TESTED ON ANIMALS", when in fact the ingredients used to make those products were tested on animals by a third party. This does not make for a true cruelty free product.
One of the best ways to know if a product is cruelty free is to look for the Leaping Bunny logo. The Leaping Bunny standard is clear for both cosmetic and household products. It states:
"The Standard is short for the Corporate Standard of Compassion for Animals, a voluntary pledge that cosmetic, personal care, and/or household product companies make to clear animal testing from all stages of product development. The company's ingredient suppliers make the same pledge and the result is a product guaranteed to be 100 percent free of new animal testing. All Leaping Bunny companies must be open to independent audits, and commitments are renewed on an annual basis."
Please note that a company may have undergone the process of becoming Leaping Bunny certified without sporting the logo on their products. You can view a complete list of companies who are Leaping Bunny certified in the, Compassionate Shopping Guide.
Can a company be cruelty free without being Leaping Bunny certified? Absolutely. However, Leaping Bunny does not guarantee a company is truly cruelty free without certification.
PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) offers their list of companies and brands that are cruelty free at, Caring Consumer Guide.
* It is important to note that although a brand may be Leaping Bunny or PETA certified, some of these certified brands are owned by parent companies that test on animals. (Example: Urban Decay is PETA approved and has the logo on it's finished products. Although Urban Decay does not test on on animals, is owned by parent company L'Oreal which does tests on animals.)
Vegan cosmetics are free of all animal ingredients or animal derived ingredients.
Weather an ingredient was derived from an animals is not always clear. Many companies remove the word, "animal" from their ingredient label in order to avoid putting off consumers and to increase profit margins. Animal ingredients are used not because they are better than vegetable-drived or synthetic ingredients but rather because they are generally cheaper. Today's slaughterhouses must dispose of the byproducts of the slaughter of billions of animals every yearend have found an easy and profitable solution in selling them to food and cosmetic manufacturers. -PETA
For a detailed list of animal ingredients to avoid and their alternatives, please see PETA's, Animal Ingredient List. PETA's Caring Consumer Guide notes which products are vegan and cruelty free.
Vegan products may or may not be tested on animals so again it is best to refer to the guides in order to help make the best choice.