It's a common, but erroneous, belief that Korean beauty products are always tested on animals. I have a handful of friends who won't even dip their toes into the sheet-masking world because they naively assume that these brands aren't using cruelty-free testing, but their misconceptions are based less in actual practices, and more in the fact that they're too lazy to do the research on what ingredients and methods are being used. And while it is true that many K-Beauty brands did test on animals, major strides have been made, particularly in the past year, in the area, making these products safe for animal-adoring beauty lovers everywhere.
In 2016, a bill passed stating that all Korean beauty brand companies must stop testing cosmetics and ingredients on animals by the end of 2018. “Korea has strict laws against animal testing, and they even impose a fine if a company tests on animals or distributes products within that have experimented on animals," Soko Glam founder Charlotte Cho explains. That said, things get confusing where K-Beauty is concerned because of the fact that any beauty or cosmetic product sold in China is required by law to test on animals. For years, before K-Beauty was widely available in the States, and was primarily purchased through Amazon or other websites, it was hard to know if the products were coming through Chinese manufacturers of Korean brands, where they definitely would have been tested on animals, versus having been manufactured at facilities meant for the global market, wherein they would not have been tested on animals.
Things have changed though with the rise of trusted e-commerce sites like Soko Glam, Glow Recipe, and Peach & Lily, which personally curate products, and guarantee that they are cruelty-free. Now, this doesn't necessarily mean they're vegan, because brands that are cruelty-free can still have products that contain non-vegan ingredients like propolis, beeswax, or snail mucin. However, there can be a guarantee that no animal testing was involved, so animal-lovers can breathe a sigh of relief.
And so, ahead, we've gathered our own and some of the founders of Soko Glam's, Glow Recipe's, and Peach & Lily's favorite cruelty-free brands, including many—but not exclusively—vegan products. And don't worry, we've made sure to label which brands happen to be both vegan and cruelty-free—aka the unicorns of the K-beauty space.
Not only is Aromatica vegan and cruelty-free, its products are also organic and all-natural. While the term “natural” can also sometimes be synonymous with “inevitable breakout,” Alicia Yoon of Peach & Lily notes that the brand’s products are gentle on the skin while also being very effective.
Aromatica, Orange Cleansing Sherbert, $25, available at Peach & Lily.
Vegan: Close, but not entirely
CosRX makes some of our absolute favorite K-Beauty products, including the Low-pH face cleanser, which has changed the lives of everyone I’ve recommended it to. While that specific product is vegan, not all of the brand’s star items are. Some contain snail mucin, which, though obtained in a reportedly safe manner (read more about that here), still take it out of vegan contention.
CosRX, Low-pH Good Morning Cleanser, $11, available at Soko Glam.
Glow Recipe just started developing products last year and has made it a point to be 100 percent vegan and cruelty-free. “We worked closely with our labs to create a beautiful, sustainable formula for each of our products,” co-founder Sarah Lee tells us.
Glow Recipe, Watermelon Glow Pink Juice Moisturizer, $39, available at Glow Recipe.
Vegan: Not entirely
Klairs would make the vegan cut if it weren’t for the brand’s Manuka Honey & Choco Body Soap and Midnight Blue Calming Cream, which contains beeswax. Its wildly popular Vitamin C Serum is vegan though, so don’t feel guilty about snagging that.
Klairs, Freshly Juiced Vitamin C Serum, $23, available at Soko Glam.
Another brand that checks both the cruelty-free and vegan-friendly box is Re:p. On top of that, the products are also eco-friendly and affordable.
Re:p, Bio Fresh Mask With Real Calming Herb, $32, available at Soko Glam.
Some of Neogen’s products contain caviar, but the ones that do fall into the vegan category happen to be our favorites, like its rose cleansing water and its many different peels.
Neogen, Real Flower Cleansing Water, $22, available at Soko Glam.
Femmue is a natural skin-care line made up of gorgeous-smelling flowers. Yoon says it’s quickly become a fan favorite amongst her customers, with her personal favorite product being its Ideal Oil.
Femmue, Ideal Oil, $58, available at Peach & Lily.