Cruelty Free in Korean Beauty

cruelty free korean beauty and cosmetic brands english
I came across news recently that the Korean government had passed a Bill that details phasing out the use of animal testing in companies by 2018, and a ban effective immediate thereafter. This actually happened in January of 2016 – so I’m really slow picking this up – but it hadn’t really hit my radar until I went looking for updated information on the list of Korean brands that are cruelty free.

Which in itself is a bit of a quagmire. So I thought I’d sift through all of that to share which brands are classed as cruelty free officially. I’ve tried to be as thorough as possible so fair warning, this is in depth.

When I say quagmire, what I’m addressing here is the confusion surrounding China’s laws and Asian brands that sell in China. That’s a separate post entirely, but it does tend to mean a lot of the cruelty free blogs blanket all Asian brands as brands that test on animals, mostly because the information on which brands are cruelty free is often in Korean.

And not a lot of these cruelty free blogs read Korean. Or reach out to the brand representatives in Korean… which often means they don’t get responses. Which leads to wild misrepresentations, mass generalisations, and a whole load of uniformed bandwagoning. 

Seriously, you’re 10 times more likely to get a response to brands if you email them in their native language. 

Many Korean brands don’t actually sell in China. That right there is one of the reasons that the majority of tourists you’ll see in Myeongdong are Chinese, and the products that they’re after are Korean cosmetics. The Korean websites may have a Chinese language option, but that does not mean they have stores in mainland china. Beauty tourism is one of South Korea’s biggest industries, and they’ll be damned if they don’t capitalise on informing potential beauty tourists of exactly what they’re selling. A lot of the lads and lasses that work in the shops in very touristy areas also speak Mandarin to a very high degree of fluency so they can effectively interact with customers.  If you’ve been to mainland China you’ll also know that there are stores that do a very good impression of being Korean brands, but aren’t actually. 

There is an incredibly handy website by a Korean company called Kara that lists the Korean brands (and international brands with stores in Korea) that are cruelty free. It’s regularly updated – last done on the 1st July 2016 – the only downside is that it’s entirely in Korean. And that often means that it’s overlooked. Kara is also the body companies register with to declare their cruelty free status, but at the moment it is not mandatory to do so. Hopefully the bill that’s been passed will help that.

For those that don’t read Korean, the sections that the brands are in are divided into four categories, as Kara uses 3 criterion to determine whether Korean brands are cruelty free or not.


– doesn’t test on animals

– doesn’t use animal products (animal products include lard in soaps)

– doesn’t export to china


– ticks all 3 boxes (3 star rating)

– ticks doesn’t test on animals / doesn’t export to china (2 star rating)

– ticks doesn’t test on animals / doesn’t use animal products (2 star rating)

– ticks doesn’t test on animals (1 star rating)

there are also colour indicators to show readers what type of products the brands sell:

– pink : makeup/cosmetic brand

– green : ‘daily supplies’ / life items brand (e.g shampoo, detergent, condoms) 

– brown : pet industry brand 

The brands in the lists below are all makeup/cosmetic brands. There’s only one pet brand on the list (John Paul Pet), and three that fall into the daily supplies list (malgeunara, evecondoms, and withmy – all are also 3 stars)

Korean brands / international brands sold in Korea that are rated 3 stars:


aida cosmetic





– coslys


neogen (international brand, developed by Koreans)

re:p (international brand, developed by Koreans)



sugastripease (a hair removal brand, and hair removal only)


I don’t have any recommendations in this list as these are brands I haven’t tried myself before. 

Korean brands / international brands sold in Korea that are rated 2 stars (no animal testing / no export to China):

beauty recipe



dr. bronner’s





lush (international brand)

nablus soap (international brand)




skin watchers

I’ve tried some of these! Lush is obviously a fab international brand, as it uses ‘animal products’ (lard) in it’s soap it doesn’t have the 3 star rating, but rest assured that Korea recognises it’s cruelty free status. 

Klairs is a brand that I love – it’s fab for sensitive skin, so I’d really recommend it’s products if you suffer. 

Beyond is another brand I’ve tried before, their aqua cream is incredibly refreshing, and my hair really liked their shampoo and conditioners. 

Korean brands / international brands sold in Korea that are rated 2 stars (no animal testing / no animal products used):

may island

Not tried anything from this brand before.

Korean brands / international brands sold in Korea that are rated 1 star (no animal testing):


amore pacific

annick goutal

aritaum (sometimes romanised as ariddaum)

dr. jart


etude house

odyssey (men’s brand)

– teen clear (can buy at aritaum. not sure if it’s a standalone brand – it’s on amore pacific’s brand list, but the website redirects to aritaum)

I’ve used a number of these brands before and would highly recommend Laneige, Hera, and Sulwhasoo as very good high end Korean brands.

Innisfree is a brilliant brand for clay-based products, as well as natural skincare. They’re also looking to be reclassified to two star as they’ve phased out a lot of their lines that included animal products and replaced them with synthesised versions. Yay Innisfree!
Etude House is always a favourite due to the packaging – the quality of their nail varnishes is also fab.
Amore Pacific is a brand as well as a collective (including: Hera, Sulwhasoo, Lirikos, Hyosia, Verite, Laneige, IOPE, mamonde, Hanyul, Primera, Lolita lempicka, Odyssey, Mirepa, innisfree, etude house, and eSpoir), and most under the label are considered to be cruelty free.

There are also a few brands that have chosen not to register with the Kara cruelty free list (it is only optional), but maintain that they do not test products on animals:

it’s skin

cruelty free korean cosmetic brands

why can brands be sold in China, but also be considered cruelty free / free from animal testing, or claim it?

It’s common knowledge that China has dicey animal testing laws. Although these are slowly changing to keep up with the cruelty free movement, they aren’t exactly up to speed with Korea’s bill passing. Though it’s important to mention that this is in mainland China – Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan have different laws, and Hong Kong especially doesn’t have anything asking for mandatory animal testing, though as I’ve said earlier that’s another post for another day.

So why are Korean brands that are cruelty free selling in China? Well, massive market. Also, loopholes.

The largest loophole is that there is nothing in the legal requirements about selling via e-commerce, as long as they’re not shipping in bulk. So individual orders from a Korean brand are fab, legal, and not required by Chinese law to be tested on animals. Similarly, brands can ship to Hong Kong, where they’re then distributed through resellers without the requirement of testing products on animals. Finally, even though if they have a storefront the brand is more likely to be testing on animals (sadly), brands can have their products exported to China for filling and packaging, where they’re then considered ‘domestic’ and are not required to be tested on animals. So this could explain why companies such as Innisfree have cruelty free labels but stores in China.

Also, interestingly, there’s a “whitelist” (source, source) of ingredients that allow the product to be sold without animal testing, as there are only so many results you get testing the same set of ingredients over and over again, and they already have a history of safe use.  Which also means that if the brands use these whitelisted ingredients, there is no need to test the products on animals as they’ve already been tested. Which could explain brands that have storefronts in mainland China.

There’s 3rd option, which does call some morals into question of the brands that say they don’t test on animals but do sell in China. Some of these brands (such as Missha) have products formulated for the Korean market, and other products that are formulated for their stores in China. In Missha’s case, they have said in correspondence with cruelty free bloggers and outreach teams that they are against animal testing and that their Korean lines are not tested on animals, but for their Chinese products, due to Chinese regulations it could be assumed there is animal testing conducted. So for the Korean branch, they consider themselves cruelty free, but the Chinese and Korean branches combined would not, as there is reason to speculate there is animal testing for the Chinese lines. Loopholes do come into play again here though, as if the Chinese lines are manufactured in China, they’re considered domestic and don’t require animal testing. Many of these brands are making an effort to be more transparent with their correspondence and their labelling, though it’s still a bit of a grey area.

Hopefully this has cleared up things a little bit. If you’re not comfortable shopping Korean brands because they’re not on the leaping bunny list, then I completely understand, but also note that leaping bunny is a primarily Western organisation, as are many of the blogs that champion cruelty free products. I’ll also reiterate that a lot of these websites simply ask if the products are sold in China as a be-all-and-end-all for whether or not they’re actually cruelty free, but it isn’t quite as clear cut as that.

If I’ve got anything glaringly wrong, please correct me in the comments! If you have any questions or want things clarified further (because this post got loooong) drop ’em below and I’ll answer them as best I can~

places to keep an eye on if this interests you!
– here, obviously ^-^
cruelty free & vegan subreddit on the asian beauty forum
a list of brands sold via peachandlily that are cruelty free
buying cruelty free via koreadepart

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7 responses to “Cruelty Free in Korean Beauty”

  1. tobeyoutiful Colli says:

    This list is reaaally intersting!We should def keep more an eye on cruelty free brands!!xoxo, Collimy beautyblog – tobeyoutiful

  2. Sophie R says:

    This was such an interesting post, I've never really looked into cruelty free brands specifically but this opened my eyes xxSophie's Spot

  3. Cashmere Mouse says:

    This is so in-depth! It's a minefield, isn't it? I love Innisfree products too, and Etude House.

  4. Dominic Hughes says:

    Fab piece. Great work translating the material across for us all to see. This is why language students rule mwahah

  5. Idoia says:

    Thank you for writing this! I'm trying to move onto cruelty free skincare slowly, so this is a great source 🙂

  6. Unknown says:

    Awwww i love innisfree too, but knowing they have stores in China made me switch to Klairs which I only discover from my search of cruelty-free korean makeups. Thank you for this list i hope you can update.

  7. Leala says:

    Thank you. This is very clear and helpful.

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