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What do ‘cruelty-free’ and ‘vegan’ mean in home fragrance?

As we become increasingly aware of the environmental, ethical, health and wellbeing pitfalls of animal products, more and more of us are choosing veganism and opting for cruelty-free products. On the former, The Vegan Society estimates that the number of vegans in the UK quadrupled to 600,000 between 2014 and 2018. On the latter, the number of cruelty-free cosmetic brands globally almost doubled between 2013 and 2018.

But while these terms are well-defined in the dietary and beauty spaces respectively, how can you tell if your home fragrance products are vegan and cruelty-free?

It is first important to recognise the difference in meaning between the two terms. For a product to be vegan, it must not contain any animal or animal-derived products. For a product to be cruelty free, it – and all its ingredients – must not have been tested on animals.


Additionally, many shoppers who strongly advocate for animal rights choose not to purchase products from brands which test on animals for different ranges or in different regions. Of particular contention is the Chinese market; by law, all cosmetics and health and beauty products require animal testing.

So this journal entry explores some of the simplest ways to check that your home fragrance aligns with your ethics.

Identifying vegan home fragrance


If you are opting for a reed diffuser or room spray, essential oils will be your main consideration. By their nature (i.e. that they are made by cold-pressing or distilling plants) essential oils are usually vegan friendly. However, not all brands which make essential oils are fully vegan across their entire portfolio, so it is worth checking the manufacturer where possible.

It is also important to ensure that your product contains essential oils rather than fragrance oils. Essential oils are natural and plant-based, whereas fragrance oils are synthetically created in a lab and can contain as many as 200 ingredients – some of which may be animal-derived.


Even if the fragrance oil is vegan, it will not provide any aromatherapy benefits and may even lead to adverse effects. More information on the difference between natural and synthetic oils can be found in this previous journal post.

As for scented candles, the wax and wick will also need to be considered. Most scented candles on the market are not vegan because they are made using paraffin-based wax, chosen for its low price point and ability to take on synthetic dyes. Paraffin itself is derived from petroleum and classed as vegan in most cases – but because it is soft and translucent, stearic acid is typically added to harden the material and improve its appearance. Stearic acid is most commonly derived from animal fat. Coconut-derived stearic acid is available but is more expensive and, therefore, not as frequently used.

Aside from paraffin, tallow and beeswax are also not vegan. These materials are, however, much less popular now than they have been in decades past. Vegan alternatives include rapeseed, soy and coconut.

Regarding wicks, wicks are typically made from braided cotton, making them vegan. Wood wicks are also vegan. However, vegans will want to steer clear of wicks pre-waxed in paraffin, given the complexities noted above.

Is my home fragrance cruelty-free?

Essential oils and the other components used to make home fragrance products are usually cruelty-free by their nature – essential oils, waxes and wicks have been in use for many hundreds of years and do not require new testing.

But, as above, some brands supplying these components are not certified as cruelty-free and may test on animals elsewhere in their portfolio.

The bottom line is that unless a brand or supplier clearly states – either on its packaging or website – that its home fragrance lines are cruelty-free and/or vegan, they probably aren’t. Some brands and suppliers may choose to use certification scheme logos rather than written explanations, so look out for The Leaping Bunny or Choose Cruelty Free (CCF). PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies is another common certification scheme but it is worth considering the organisation’s multitude of controversies.

To summarise, home fragrance products are not all created equal and it is better to be safe than sorry. The good news is that cruelty-free and vegan products have never been more popular, affordable or easy to find.

ELM RD. only uses 100% natural, vegan and plant-based materials and avoids using any ingredients that have been tested on animals for cosmetic purposes since 1 January 2006. This is in line with our core values: Wellbeing, sustainability, slow and mindful living and kindness.

You can find out more about how and where our scented candles, mists and diffusers are made and what they are made from by visiting our FAQs page.