Cosmetic testing – in vitro – in vivo – ex vivo – and more

When evaluating cosmetic products there are some terms you’ll here in reference to specific types of testing. These include in vitro, in vivo, and ex vivo. If you have a background in science you may have learned these terms. However, if it’s been awhile since you’ve been in school or you didn’t have formal scientific training, you’ll find these descriptions helpful. Also, I’ll explain how they relate to testing cosmetic products. cosmetic tests

  • In Vitro testing – This type of testing refers to conducting experiments on cultures of cells to determine the effect of an ingredient or formula. Essentially what you do is take a petri dish of cells (human or microbial), expose them to your composition, and take measurements on how it effects them. This is a way in which raw material suppliers can find exciting new technologies. It’s also a way for companies to predict product stability and whether their products will negatively effect people by causing irritation or even cancer. In Vitro testing is typically the first type of tests that are run on any ingredient that will go into a cosmetic.
  • In Vivo testing – This refers to experiments on humans or small animals to determine the effect of an ingredient or formula. Animal testing of cosmetics is a hugely controversial topic and it has been banned in various markets around the world.  The amount of animal testing done on cosmetics has been largely reduced since the 1970’s. But to find the effect of a material on the whole body there currently aren’t effective replacements for all types of animal testing. The EU continues to track the work on animal testing alternatives and you can read the progress there.The more widely done in vivo testing of cosmetic products is directly on human volunteers. These are clinical tests for things like irritation, product effectiveness, and claims testing. This type of testing is only done after the product developers have eliminated ingredients that might possibly cause cancer or other serious human conditions.
  • Ex Vivo testing – This is a cross between in vitro and in vivo testing. These types of test involve removing living tissue from a source or creating one then experimenting on how different treatments will affect it. This can work for testing on hair follicles or skin tissue. This type of testing is still being developed but it is hoped that one day it will replace all cosmetic animal testing.
  • In Situ – This term refers to doing testing on a specific site and in terms of cosmetic testing, this means the skin, hair or nails. Essentially, it means putting probes on skin and hair and measuring things like moisturization, wrinkle depth, color changes, etc. It’s similar to in vivo testing in that it is done on living tissue, but it doesn’t require separating the tissue from the test subject.
  • In Silico – An advanced type of testing that is still developing, this type of testing involves collecting data on skin, hair and other body systems and using it to create a model of the world and predict how a material will function in real life. This is futuristic stuff and hasn’t quite had a huge impact on cosmetics thus far. But as more big data becomes available and computer processing speeds increase, this type of testing may someday complete replace human and animal testing alike.

Photograph credit.Drew Hays

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