How to stay Cruelty-Free at a Photo Shoot

Last week I took part in Operation BoPo, an awesome community project to promote body positivity. Models of every shape and size were photographed for an art show celebrating the fact that all bodies are good bodies. We dressed how we liked, in the clothes that made us feel beautiful. We had our hair and makeup done by professionals. We were snapped by a professional photographer. It was such a wonderful and empowering experience, but I think it’s important to flag up an issue that I encountered on the day.

As it was my very first photo shoot, I spent so long deciding what to wear that I didn’t even thing about the products the makeup artist and hair stylist might have in their kit. It was only by chance I brought my own foundation. When I turned up, I just plonked myself down on the chair and waited for them to work their magic. Until the MUA cleansed my face and applied moisturiser, using a brand that is owned by Unilever, a parent company that DOES test on animals. 

First of all, “natural” doesn’t necessarily mean “cruelty-free”. It’s a common misconception that something that doesn’t contain additives surely can’t have been tested on animals. I had cleansed and moisturised just before leaving the house in the morning, and I do get that MUAs prefer to start with a clean base. I was a little upset that my wee face, smothered in cruelty free face serum and moisturiser, was then wiped clean and remoisturised with a product that was potentially tested on a non-human animal. That’s beagles and bunnies, people. It’s not a product or a brand I would ever choose to use, and I wasn’t too sure how to broach the subject without seeming like a total diva.

Then the MUA went on to apply a primer to my face, and I noticed the brand of product she was using DOES definitely test on animals. I am so grateful to the wonderful Ginger Rigby, who not only helped explain the situation, but gave me some helpful tips as well.

Know what you can and cannot use

I try to keep my beauty regime as cruelty-free as possible, sticking to either products from brands I know don’t test on animals, or looking up information online when I’m out shopping. I gave up my fave primer from Benefit last year because I couldn’t bring myself to repurchase something that brought unnecessary pain to another living creature. I’ve become pretty nifty at the sneaky Google search on my phone at the makeup counter of Space NK, and I do tend to stay away from some of the big mainstream brands that I know sell in China. If you’re looking for new products to try that definitely AREN’T tested on animals, I would seriously recommend checking out Vivi’s blog Sammy Sans Cruelty,and Vicky’s blog Ethical Elephant. If it’s Korean beauty that you adore (which I do), this blog post by the fabulous Fii at Little Miss Fii is super informative as well. I was so relieved to find out that most of my faves are indeed ok for me to use!

My general advice is that if you’re unsure, then look it up! Do it blatantly, or do it furtively, but just do it! The more you educate yourself about which brands are cruelty-free, the easier it becomes.

You might need to bring your own products

I’m a weird skin tone to colour match for a lot of MUAs in the UK because I’m Chinese. Folk seem to think I want to go full-on “American Tan”, or white me out like a doll. It was for that reason I brought my own Charlotte Tilbury foundation to the photo shoot, and I’m so relieved I did. I also had in my arsenal a liquid eyeliner from By Terry, which the MUA didn’t end up using as I fell in love with a glitter liner by Barry M she happened to have. Sometimes your MUA will have something suitable, but if they don’t it’s always useful to have something stashed just in case! They might have a whole selection of eyeshadows and blushers from various brands so you can adapt your look accordingly, but if all their foundations are from MAC then you’re a bit fucked aren’t you? Be prepared.

Not everyone is aware of what cruelty-free is

Now this might sound bizarre to you, but bear with me. I spend a lot of time on social media, reading blogs, and a lot of my friends are either bloggers or vegans. It’s something I take for granted that everyone knows that MAC is not cruelty-free, nor is its parent company Estee Lauder. I just assume that everybody is aware that L’oreal and Lancôme sell in China, and that non-domestic companies are required by Chinese law to test on animals. Not everybody does. Try not to be a dick about it, because everyone has a different set of skills and hey, I may be able to tell you who tests on bunnies but I sure as hell don’t know how to highlight or execute the perfect winged liner. It’s a bit reductionist to assume that everyone “must” already understand the implications of animal testing.

People will try to “catch you out”

It makes some people uncomfortable to think that the products they use every day and take for granted might be causing the suffering of other living creatures. I’ve been asked before whether I colour my hair (no I am naturally mermaid tinged ofc), and what products are used to make it that vibrant green. When I said that the green is my own, but that the blue was the salon’s own “house” brand, someone piped up that they were surprised I didn’t know exactly what shampoo, conditioner, hair bleach, toner, colour, leave-in conditioner, serum, hairspray and anti-frizz was used in my hair if I professed to be cruelty-free. For the most part, yes I do, but it felt like a bit of a confrontation, I’m not an expert on beauty, cosmetics or haircare. I’m not even a beauty blogger. Half of the brands used by MUAs and stylists I’ve not even heard of, but I’m trying to educate myself about these as I go along. I look that shit up all the time, so thank fuck for smartphones. People will try to test you, and it doesn’t matter if you are an expert or a rookie.

I get the same sort of chat as a vegan, with questions about whether I drink beer as it’s filtered through isinglass (fish guts), or eat figs because y’know, wasps. Oh what about white sugar? I mean that’s processed through bone char, so you *obviously* can’t be a proper vegan right? I’m not telling anyone else what to do with their life, and on the whole I don’t care if you won’t give up your favourite MAC lipstick or Maybelline mascara. I’m not perfect, and yeah there are still products I have from before I made the switch to cruelty-free that I am using up. I might not know that a brand I haven’t heard of before is owned by Unilever, or Estee Lauder, or Coty. I am trying my best, and if I choose not to have a certain product on my face or in my hair because I know it’s been tested on animals, I kinda feel like folk should just respect that and move on.

The MUA and hair stylist did an awesome job though, and I absolutely loved my look! Taking part in a photo shoot wasn’t nearly as terrifying as I expected. It helped that one of my favourite people in the world, Sophie from Sophia Violet Blog, was also there looking stunning as usual!


  1. Hiiiiiiiii I am a frivolous cow and want to comment on how amazing your winged glitter eyeliner looks and not the very important contents of your post.

    As you were.


  2. I am so glad I was helpful. I totally agree that not everyone knows or cares about cruelty free living & often explaining politely is the best route to take. I’m also on board with the fact that none of us are perfect, but we’re trying our best! Also, you looked stunning on the day & I am delighted you are a part of oPeration BoPo.

  3. as a photographer, if working with a commercial MUA, i always choose to work with ones who support a cruelty-free POV. cosmetics needn’t be the ugly side of the beauty/fashion industry. i refuse to work with those who can’t see that.

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