China's animal testing laws

When a brand makes a statement that it is cruelty-free, an important criterion it has to meet is that it DOES NOT sell in China.


Why is this so?

Till date, China requires mandatory animal testing to be conducted on all foreign cosmetics that are sold there. This means that popular international brands that are currently sold in China must undergo animal testing.

This raises a common question – why sell in China?

China is extremely lucrative for cosmetic brands. The potential revenues and profits are what lure brands into selling in the Chinese market – including previously cruelty-free brands such as NARS.


What are China’s animal testing laws?

Simply put, China’s animal testing laws require mandatory animal testing to be conducted on all cosmetics products that are manufactured outside of China. These products include –

  • Skincare
  • Hair Products
  • Makeup
  • Nail Products
  • Hair Dye
  • Perfume
  • Deodorant
  • Sunscreen
  • Skin Lightening/Whitening Products


| This law is applicable to beauty brands that enter the Chinese market and sell their products in China. Therefore, when a foreign brand starts to sell its products in stores in China, it is no longer cruelty-free. |

China's animal testing laws

China tests products on animals at two stages – pre-market and post-market. A company that wishes to sell its products in China invariably agrees to both of these testing stages.

Pre-market animal testing occurs before products hit retail shelves. While post-market testing is not a mandate, it can happen, at any moment – Chinese authorities can have products already on the shelves tested on animals.


What do you mean by “all” cosmetic products?

Article 2 of China’s cosmetic regulation defines cosmetic product as industrially produced chemical product subject to daily use, which are intended to be placed in contact with any external parts of human body (skin, hair system, nails, lips and oral cavity) by spreading, rubbing, spraying, sprinkling etc., with the purpose of cleansing, correcting body odors, protecting, maintain function or changing their appearance. tweet

Cosmetics are divided into special-use cosmetics and ordinary use.

Ordinary cosmetics – make up, fragrances, skin, hair, and nail care products, and products that do not make any functional claim on their labels.

Special-use cosmetics – hair dyes, perms and hair growth products, deodorants, sunscreens, skin-whitening and lightening products, and products that make a functional claim on the labels.


What about brands which are domestic to China?

China’s animal testing laws are implemented to protect its people. The law exists as a safety measure to ensure that the products used by the people of China are safe for human use. Of course, there is no ignoring the fact that this law is cruel and archaic, especially today when there are alternative, non-animal testing methods that are far more efficient and reliable.

30th June, 2014 was a landmark day for animal-welfare groups and compassionate consumer in China and across the globe – on this day, China lifted the mandatory animal testing requirement for cosmetics manufactured within the country.

Therefore, ordinary cosmetics produced by brands that are native or domestic to China NO LONGER REQUIRE animal testing, irrespective of where they are sold. However, this rule does not apply to special use cosmetics.

One must keep in mind that, even though testing on animals is not mandatory for local brands and products, it is not entirely banned. So, while there are alternative testing methods available for these products, animal testing can still be used, if the brand chooses to do so.


My favourite make-up/skincare line says that its products are “made in China”, and yet it is mentioned in your cruelty-free list. Why?

A foreign brand can by all means, manufacture ordinary cosmetics within China, and these products DO NOT REQUIRE animal testing, if they are intended for export. This means that these brands can retain their cruelty-free status!

However, if the brand chooses to sell these domestically manufactured products in China, its products will be subject to animal testing, and the brand loses its cruelty-free status.


What about brands that sell in China only via e-commerce?

China’s animal testing laws do not apply to online shopping; they are applicable to products that are physically sold in the country.

Therefore, if a Chinese customer purchases cosmetics on a foreign shopping site, that product does not require animal testing. Again, to maintain its cruelty-free status AND sell in China, the brand in question should not be available at physical stores in China.

According to CCF’s website,

  • Imported products can continue to be direct mailed by foreign companies to consumers in the Chinese mainland for personal use with no animal testing requirement.
  • Imported products can be sent to Hong Kong by foreign companies, then an agent there can direct mail to consumers in the Chinese mainland for personal use, with no animal testing requirement.
  • Hong Kong still has no mandatory animal testing regulations for e-commerce or retail.


I see some brands that say that they sell in China, but they are mentioned in your list of cruelty-free brands. Why is that?

These brands sell their products in Hong Kong, and not mainland China.

Mainland China is the colloquial term used for People’s Republic of China. Mainland China does not include Hong Kong.

China's animal testing laws

China’s animal testing laws do not apply to cosmetics sold in Hong Kong, a wonderful exception to the laws!


Here’s a summary of China’s animal testing laws today, created by the compassionate Vicky Ly of Ethical Elephant

China's Animal Testing Laws


To wrap it up –
  • Foreign/imported ordinary cosmetics – require animal testing
  • Domestically produced ordinary cosmetics – animal testing is no longer an absolute requirement
  • Both foreign imported and domestically produced special-use cosmetics – require animal testing
  • Domestically produced ordinary cosmetics for foreign export only – have never required animal testing
  • Any cosmetic bought in China via a foreign e-commerce website – has never required animal testing.


A parting note –

When a brand claims to not test on animals, we encourage you to read their policies on their websites. Often, brands carry the following statement –

Our brand does not conduct animal testing, nor asks others to do it on its behalf, except when it is required by law tweet

This phrase – except when it is required by law – makes a world of difference when it comes to a brand’s cruelty status. What it means is, the brand will, in order to be able to sell in certain markets, comply with applicable laws in those markets, including the ones that require animal testing to be conducted.

This phrase, and the free usage of ‘not tested on animals‘ makes it confusing for compassionate shoppers to choose brands that are cruelty-free. Check out our list of cruelty-free brands available in India, to know which brands can be trusted!