Animal Testing in the Cosmetic Industry

I saw this article in the Guardian about the delay the EU faces in their ban of animal testing of cosmetic products.

For someone new in the cosmetic industry, the role of animal testing may be confusing. There are many brands out there that claim to be ‘cruelty free’ and that ‘don’t test on animals.’ It might make an aspiring cosmetic chemist wonder, why do some companies continue to test on animals? What kind of animal testing is done? If one company could stop testing on animals, why don’t they all?

Good questions. But before we answer, let’s go over what animal testing has been used in the cosmetic industry.

Cosmetic animal testing

There are a number of animal tests that can be done on cosmetic formulas and ingredients. The primary tests include the following.

1. Draize test - This is a procedure used to determine dermal irritation. Animals used are albino rabbits who have much more sensitive skin than humans. Semiocclusive patches of the test material are placed on skin and readings are taken at 24 and 72 hours. The skin is then graded for erythema and edema. In the United States, this test is required by law for cosmetics and skin care products under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act.

2. Eye irritancy test - Tests what happens if the cosmetic gets into the eye. It involves albino rabbits again and compounds are put into the eyes. Evaluations take place at 24, 48, 72 hrs and up to 7 days.

3. Guinea Pig Maximization test - This test measures for the sensitizing potential of an ingredient and involves injecting the compound under the skin followed by topical application.

I’ve never been too comfortable doing animal tests and as a cosmetic formulator, I never had to. Fortunately, it is unlikely that you will ever have to do any animal testing yourself. It is typically done by an outside testing laboratory. But governments still require cosmetic companies to demonstrate their products are safe and while they don’t usually require animal testing, for some products, it is the only proof they accept.

Thoughts on cosmetic animal testing

I was once asked a series of questions about animal testing. Here is my perspective.

1. Do you think that animal testing for cosmetics should be banned?

While I don’t like animal testing, as the original story shows there are currently no suitable alternatives for some types of tests. I don’t think animal testing should be banned until there are alternative tests that help prove products are safe.

2. Should animal testing be banned for cosmetics, but still be allowed for medicine?

Animal testing is not something that anyone wants to do. Scientists feel the same affection for animals as everyone else. But until alternative tests are better developed, banning animal testing for either cosmetics or medicine seems unethical. Aren’t human lives more important than animals?

EU animal testing ban

3. Do you agree with the EU ban on animal testing? What will the effects be?

I don’t agree or disagree with the decision made by the EU. The truth is cosmetics are not vital for living a healthy life. The result of banning animal testing will be that no new cosmetic products will be made. All you will get in the future are color & bottle changes using the same products you have today. Cosmetic innovation will stop. Solutions to acne, dandruff, dry skin, frizzy hair, etc. will not be developed. Fortunately, the products available now are often good enough. If these problems were never solved and there were never a new cosmetic made, the world would be just fine.

However, it seems strange people get upset about animal testing, but still eat meat, kill mice & rats, and wear leather products.

Pros of a ban: fewer animals will be killed

Cons of a ban: Cosmetic problems will not be solved, no new ingredients will be used, innovation stops

4. Do you use cosmetics products that have been tested on animals?

Yes I do. So do you. Everyone uses products that have ingredients that were tested on animals. It is misleading when companies say they don’t test on animals. ALL cosmetics have been tested directly or indirectly on animals.

The truth is, very few cosmetic companies directly test their products on animals. Animal testing is expensive and terrible for public relations. Companies who say they don’t test on animals either use ingredients that were already tested on animals or have their raw material suppliers do the animal testing. They can argue that they never tested their formula on animals (which they technically don’t) because they know they are using only raw materials that have already been tested on animals (by someone else).

Since all ingredients have been tested on animals, there does not seem to me to be any moral high ground to avoiding companies based on whether they claim to test on animals or not.

Getting rid of animal testing

5. With all the efforts to stopping animal testing for cosmetics, do you think that it’s possible to one day completely get rid of animal testing for cosmetics?

Yes, I believe one day animal testing of cosmetics will be a thing of the past. Everyone wants to get rid of this type of testing. No one wants to hurt animals. Scientists are working hard to create testing alternatives that work. We are just now seeing some tests that are receiving approval from governmental agencies. I believe withing 10 — 20 years animal testing of cosmetics will be practically non-existent. But until there are reliable testing alternatives (there aren’t yet) animal testing will still be necessary.

What are your thoughts on cosmetic animal testing? Does it affect your formulating decisions? Leave a comment below.

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