Herbal Essences has created some of the most iconic shampoo scents since the 1970s, but it's also been responsible for some pretty meaningless marketing clauses. Although it is PETA-approved and only uses plant-based ingredients – this doesn't necessarily make them cruelty-free or vegan.

Here's why. 

Herbal Essences is not cruelty-free. Although it doesn't conduct animal testing on its products, it does distribute its products where animal testing is required by law. Therefore, it cannot be considered holistically vegan even though Herbal Essences' products are free of animal byproducts.

Herbal Essences' public image has drastically changed in 50 years. It only wanted to be perceived as natural and clean (and not actually follow through). Today, it's trying to fulfill these unsubstantiated claims. 

Proctor & Gamble bought Herbal Essences (HE) over in 2001 to revive a brand that was in steady decline, and overall they've managed to save it. P&G wants to speak to a newer audience and create ethical and sustainable products. But a lot of these changes have room for improvement.

Before deciding on what to buy, here's what you need to know about HE's current animal testing policies, vegan ranges, formulation, and sustainability.

Is Herbal Essences Cruelty-Free and Vegan?

Herbal Essences is NOT 100% Cruelty-Free

It does not:

  • Test any of its products or ingredients on animals;
  • Purchase any ingredients tested on animals within its supply chain; or

However, it does: 

  • Distribute its products to any countries that require animal testing by law.

Herbal Essences is an American company owned by P&G. Although it's unclear whether the brand conducted animal testing on its products when it launched in 1971 – we can be quite confident say that it doesn't test on animals today. 

In saying that, there are a few important things to consider: 

  • Proctor & Gamble is not a cruelty-free parent company themselves. 
  • HE distributes its products to China, where animal testing is required by law on all cosmetics entering the country. 
  • It is PETA certified, but that's not enough. We discuss this more under certification

By our standards, products cannot be tested on animals anywhere in the world to consider them cruelty-free.

This brings us to the next point:

Herbal Essences is Not Vegan

The good news is that all Herbal Essences products are 100% free of any animal-based ingredients.

And if you're saying to yourself that it kinda makes them vegan, right? The answer is NO! 

That's because no animals can be harmed in a product's production or distribution for it to be considered truly vegan. 

Unfortunately, Herbal Essences doesn't fulfill that criteria, so we cannot consider it 100% vegan. 

Animal Testing Policy and History

Even though it was founded over 50 years ago and claimed to have supported cruelty-free cosmetics  – HE only got its first proper cruelty-free certification in 2019. 

Although we appreciate Herbal Essences' stronger environment and ethical initiatives – we still have a few concerns. 

Cruelty-Free Status in 2021

Here is a screenshot of Herbal Essences' official statement regarding its cruelty-free policy, taken from its website:

Herbal Essences PETA cruelty-free and vegan claim


Herbal Essences is a PETA-certified cruelty-free brand. And although its website talks about what vegan certification would require, HE doesn't claim to be vegan itself. 

One of the good things about this certification is that it allows Herbal Essences to avoid pre-market animal testing in China.

Companies distributing to China (or any country that requires pre-market animal testing) can do this in one of two ways: 

  • Manufacturing products in China itself (as opposed to importing them).  
  • Not branding its products as "special use," meaning they have specific claims. A good example of this would be sunscreen. 

The best way to avoid any form of pre-market or post-market testing is to ship directly to customers by selling products online.

Overall, this is a good start, but it's still not enough for HE to be an internationally recognized cruelty-free brand because animal testing can still occur.

PETA Certification Doesn't Guarantee a Product is Cruelty-Free

  • Even with PETA certification, any products entering China are still eligible for random post-market testing if the government chooses.

    This means that if there is a customer complaint about a product, it can still be taken back for testing and review. Herbal Essences do not share this information.
  • PETA is not doing any audits at the moment to verify that any product it certifies as cruelty-free upholds the claim. All that's required of a brand is their signature to a voluntary pledge.

    The pledge is written as follows:

    “The brand must pledge not to test on animals anywhere in production. The brand’s ingredient suppliers must pledge to the same statement.” – PETA.org

Why Leaping Bunny Certification is Better

Currently, Leaping Bunny is the only internationally recognized cruelty-free organization. It sets the highest standard for any brand that was accreditation. This includes random audits throughout the brand's supply chain. 

Here are its requirements: 

  • No animal testing is conducted on the ingredients, formulas, or final products they sell.
  • No animal testing is conducted by the brand suppliers or on their ingredients or formulas.
  • No animal testing is done by someone else that the company itself paid for.
  • Any other form of testing (beyond ingredient and consumer safety), such as worker safety and environmental health, are considered and evaluated.

If you want to know more about Leaping Bunny and cruelty-free labels you can trust – you need to read this article: What Cruelty-Free Logos Can You Trust?

Is Herbal Essences Sold Where Animal Testing is Required By Law? 

Yes, Herbal Essences distributes its products to China, where animal testing is required by law for all international cosmetics entering the country. This includes pre-market and/or post-market testing.

China has a shocking track record. It is the country with the most amount of animal testing globally, with over 20 million animals used per year.

As of 2021, there are still no loopholes for any brand to distribute to China without agreeing to some form of animal testing. 

However, if you live in China or are concerned about its cruel beauty policies, there are a couple of loopholes to be aware of. Here's how to find cruelty-free cosmetics in China: Are Cosmetics Made in China Cruelty-Free?

What Are Herbal Essences' Best Vegan Products?

We don't consider Herbal Essences holistically vegan because the brand is not 100% cruelty-free.

In saying that, it does have many popular products, all of which are free of animal-derived ingredients.

Here are some of its best-selling products:

  • Aloe Vera + Bamboo Sulfate-free Strengthening Shampoo & Conditioner  
  • Argan Oil + Aloe Vera Hair Oil Blend
  • Arabica Coffee Fruit Shampoo & Conditioner for Hair Volume
  • Micellar Water + Blue Ginger Hair Purifying Shampoo & Conditioner 
  • White Strawberry and Sweet Mint Cleansing Shampoo & Conditioner 

For a full list of Herbal Essences best-selling products, you can find them listed here: Herbal Essences Best-Selling Product List 

Vegan Alternatives to Herbal Essences 

Technically, Herbal Essences is made with cruelty-free, plant-based ingredients until it reaches distribution. 

So, if you are vegan or a strong advocate of cruelty-free cosmetics, Herbal Essences may not be the right brand for you. 

Luckily, there are many alternatives you can find that are certified cruelty-free and vegan to choose from.  

If you're looking for hair care brands that are 100% vegan, cruelty-free, and within the same price range at drugstores – here are some great options.

  • Eden Bodyworks 
  • Love Beauty and Planet 
  • As I Am 
  • Maui 
  • Lush Big Shampoo (this is a splurge, but it's worth mentioning) 

Is Herbal Essences Natural and Organic? 

Unlike the name suggests, Herbal Essences is not a natural or organic brand. All it does is claim to use certain naturally derived and safe ingredients.

As a conscientious shopper, you must read up on any brand's ingredient list before you make a purchase – especially if you live within the United States.

This is because the FDA has only banned or restricted 11 harmful chemicals from cosmetics within the country. Europe, on the other hand, has banned 1,328!

With haircare, some ingredients you want to avoid:

  • Parabens,
  • Phthalates, 
  • Polyethylene Glycols,
  • Triclosan, and
  • Formaldehyde. 

Does Herbal Essences Use Safe Ingredients?

As a more affordable drugstore haircare brand, Essential Essences has a relatively decent spread of ingredients. It also avoids using common allergens where possible.

According to Skin Safe, Herbal Essences usually has a 73% - 91% allergen-free ranking for each product.

Many of Herbal Essences' products are free of allergens such as gluten, nickel, parabens, phthalates, soy, and propylene glycol.

Reading the ingredient list is crucial because Herbal Essences is not actually natural or chemical-free. So if your skin is easily irritated – its products are not suitable for you. 

It's only in recent years that P&G started to take Herbal Essences' ranking on the EWG Skin Deep database more seriously. 

This is especially true since the brand has been on a steady decline in popularity after customers reviewed it as relatively ineffective and pumped with chemical irritants.

Now it has launched certain haircare products with "cleaner formulations", removing harmful ingredients such as:

  • Sulfates,
  • Fragrances, 
  • Common irritants, and 
  • Methylisothiazolinone (a preservative linked to neurotoxicity).

But the bottom line is that these products are still not natural, nor do they have highly naturally-derived formulations.

There are over 30 ingredients in each type of shampoo that Herbal Essences produces – most of which are not naturally derived at all. 

Are Cruelty-Free Ingredients Safe?

If you're worried about how safe it is to use cosmetics that are not tested on animals – please relax and take a sigh of relief.

There is no reason why cruelty-free products shouldn't be just as safe, if not safer, than anything tested on an animal.

Not only is it easy to test ingredients without using animals altogether, but there are so many pre-approved ingredients you can use to make cosmetics that there is no need.

Here's more on the subject if you're interested: Are Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Safe?

Is Herbal Essences Sustainable and Ethical? 

P&G is trying to make Herbal Essences' products "cleaner" – and they're trying to translate that to their sustainability too. 

The Herbal Essences' website claims that it is currently: 

  • Purchasing certified renewable energy credits, which are added to the electricity grid. This helps displace conventional fuels (like coal) from being used). 
  • Reduce manufacturing waste. Half of all Herbal Essences manufacturing sites have absolutely no manufacturing to landfill waste disposal – it is all repurposed.  
  • Reduce water used in production. From 2010 - 2016 the brand was able to bring its water usage down by 20% in an attempt to save this important resource.

To date, Herbal Essences has cut down its absolute gas emissions by 15%!

This information is fantastic; however, we'd like to see more on the brand's code of conduct and supply chain transparency act because there is currently nothing available on their website. 

The brand claims to use ethically sourced ingredients – but it would be ideal to walk their consumers through this process. 

A supply chain transparency act includes:

  • Banning the use of forced labor, child labor, and human trafficking at any stage of its supply chain for materials incorporated into its products.
  • Banning and made punishable the harassment and abuse of workers.

Final Thoughts

Herbal Essences has made huge steps forward from its launch in the 70s. It used to be packed with harmful chemicals and common allergens – proving to be the complete opposite of the natural, bohemian-themed brand it portrayed. 

After P&G bought it over – positive changes started to happen. The brand worked on producing "cleaner" formulas, improving sustainability, and even becoming PETA-certified cruelty-free. 

Although these are good steps forward, we cannot ignore the fact that Herbal Essences: 

  • Is not internationally recognized as cruelty-free since it distributes to mainland China. 
  •  Is owned by P&G, which is definitely not cruelty-free either. 
  • Still uses a lot of chemicals in its formulations – so it's not really in keeping with the "au natural" brand image it portrays.
  • Doesn't show much supply chain transparency, so we don't know how ethically its ingredients are sourced. 

Let's not kid ourselves for a drugstore haircare brand with super affordable pricing – it's not that bad. But it could definitely do better with the things we mentioned above. 

Since Herbal Essences is not 100% cruelty-free or vegan – it might not be the best choice for any activists.

However, if you love this brand, the best thing you can do is contact them directly and explain your concerns politely. The more HE is made aware of customer concerns – the higher the chances they'll take action. 

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