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March 6, 2013

About Cosmetics Animal Testing

Humane Society International

  • HSI is calling on countries around the world to "Be Cruelty-Free." iStock

Did you know that in many parts of the world, animals in laboratories are still suffering and dying to test cosmetics such as lipstick and shampoo? They have chemicals forced down their throats and dripped into their eyes and onto their shaved skin. It's the ugly secret of the beauty industry that Humane Society International’s #BeCrueltyFree campaign is determined to end.

Q: What animal are used to test cosmetics?

A: We estimate that approximately 100,000-200,000 animals suffer and die just for cosmetics every year around the world. These are rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats and mice. While dogs and monkeys are never used to test cosmetics anywhere in the world, they are used to test other types of chemicals. 

Q: What animal tests are carried out for cosmetics?

A Typically, animal tests for cosmetics include skin and eye irritation tests where chemicals are rubbed onto the shaved skin or dripped into the eyes of rabbits; repeated oral force-feeding studies lasting weeks or months to look for signs of general illness or specific health hazards, such as cancer or birth defects; and even widely condemned “lethal dose” tests, in which animals are forced to swallow massive amounts of a test chemical to determine the dose that causes death. These tests can cause considerable pain and distress including blindness, swollen eyes, sore bleeding skin, internal bleeding and organ damage, birth defects, convulsions and death. Pain relief is not provided and at the end of a test the animals are killed, normally by asphyxiation, neck-breaking or decapitation. Learn more.

Q: Why do companies still animal test if it’s not required?

A: Almost without exception, companies have a choice about whether or not to test on animals. In the majority of cases, animal tests continue because some companies insist on developing and using “new” ingredients. These are ingredients that don’t have existing safety data—because they’re new! So new safety data has to be generated to satisfy the regulators before a product can go on sale, and that means new animal testing.

Why can’t they just use non-animal test methods? Well, they can for many of the test requirements because there are many superior non-animal tests available. But there aren’t non-animal test methods available yet for every single test area that needs to be performed for new ingredients. That’s because for so many years the development of non-animal tests simply hasn’t been seen as a priority, and developing new non-animal methods takes time. We’ll get there for sure, but we’re not there yet. So where there are test gaps, animal tests are performed.

If companies simply stuck to using the many thousands of existing cosmetic ingredients available, they would never have to animal test. That’s how cruelty-free companies work!

Animal testing also continues in the cosmetics industry because of convention—that’s the way it’s always been done, animal tests are familiar even if they’re flawed. Regulators, whose job it is to approve cosmetics for use, tend to be very conservative in their approach and can delay approving a product if the manufacturer provides safety data based on unfamiliar non-animal test methods. HSI works with companies and regulators to increase their understanding and acceptance of modern non-animal test methods.

Some companies claim that they have to test on animals because they sell their products in countries like China where animal testing is still required by law for companies importing into the country. But this isn’t really true. They have chosen to sell in China knowing that to do so will mean new animal testing. Truly cruelty-free companies such as LUSH and Paul Mitchell have pledge not to sell in China until the animal test law is changed.

Take action and donate to help us stop the suffering.

Q: Do these animal tests have scientific limitations?

A: Yes, animal tests have well-known scientific limitations because different species can respond differently from each other (and importantly, differently from people) when exposed to the same chemicals. This means that results from animal tests may not be relevant to humans, under- or over-estimating hazards to people. Animal test results can also be quite variable and difficult to interpret. Unreliable and non-predictive animal tests mean consumer safety cannot be guaranteed.

This lack of scientific credibility is hardly surprising since most of these animal tests were first devised back in the 1930s, when we had a very basic and crude understanding of how toxicity works in the body, and we didn’t understand the importance or extent of species differences on test results.

Q: What are the alternatives to animal testing?

A: Cosmetics companies can stop animal testing immediately and still produce new, safe and exciting beauty products, simply by manufacturing the cruelty-free way. Companies do this by:

  • Using the thousands of ingredients with a long history of safe use, because these will have existing safety data and require no further testing (animal or otherwise)
  • Making use of a growing number of advanced non-animal safety tests that can better predict how humans will react to chemicals. More than 40 non-animal tests have been validated for use, and these modern alternatives can offer results that are more relevant to people, often more cheaply and quickly, too. That’s because advanced non-animal tests represent the very latest techniques that science has to offer, replacing outdated animal tests that have been around for many decades and haven’t stood the test of time. For example, there are a number of skin tests available that use human reconstructed skin, such as EPISKIN, EpiDerm and SkinEthic, as wells as the 3T3 neutral red uptake test for sunlight-induced “phototoxicity”, and the Bovine Cornea Opacity and Permeability test for eye corrosion. Find out more.

This is the approach used by the 600+ companies certified as cruelty-free under the internationally-recognized Leaping Bunny program. Find out more about cruelty-free companies.

Q: Have any countries banned animal testing for cosmetics?

A: Yes. Animal testing for cosmetics has been banned throughout the 28 countries of the European Union since 2009. Thanks in large part to HSI’s #BeCrueltyFree campaign, the EU also banned the sale of cosmetic products or ingredients subject to new animal testing after March 2013. Israel imposed a testing and a sales ban in 2007 and 2013, respectively. And following a vibrant campaign by our #BeCrueltyFree India team, India also introduced a national test ban in 2013. Most recently our #BeCrueltyFree Brazil team congratulated the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo for introducing a complete cosmetics animal testing ban in January 2014, and #BeCrueltyFree New Zealand achieved a national cosmetics animal testing ban in 2015!

However, cosmetics animal testing remains legal in most other countries. Although many countries don’t expressly require such testing, as it is not prohibited it continues to take place at the discretion of cosmetics companies and ingredient suppliers. Thanks to our #BeCrueltyFree campaign teams around the world, we now have legislative bills for a ban under consideration in Australia, Brazil, Taiwan and the United States.

Q: What is HSI’s #BeCrueltyFree campaign doing to end cosmetics animal testing?

A: HSI’s #BeCrueltyFree campaign is the largest and most effective initiative in the world to end cosmetics animal cruelty. We’re advocating for animals by:

  • Changing laws to ban animal testing for cosmetic products and ingredients, and to end the sale of newly animal tested beauty products from anywhere the world
  • Promoting modern science, championing the development of new non-animal tests and training regulators and companies in their use
  • Educating consumers, raising awareness about animal testing and how to shop cruelty-free
  • Working with companies to help them move away from animal testing, and partnering with cruelty-free companies to lobby for change
  • Building an unstoppable international campaign backed by the public, top companies, politicians and our celebrity friends Paul McCartney, Ricky Gervais, Ke$ha and more.

Q: How can I help?

A: Get involved with these easy actions and help HSI put an end to cosmetics animal cruelty:

  • Sign the global Be Cruelty-Free pledge to show your support for banning animal testing for cosmetic products and ingredients.
  • Support us by becoming a Lab Animal Defender with our monthly donor program, or make a one-time donation to help us expand our Be Cruelty-Free campaign and save more animals.
  • Shop—buy only from companies that say no to animal testing and to newly developed and animal-tested ingredients. Download your own Leaping Bunny Global Shopping Guide.
  • Contact your favorite brands and urge them to make the leap to cruelty-free. Ask whether the company 1) animal-tests its products or ingredients, 2) purchases newly developed ingredients that have been animal-tested by the supplier, or 3) sells its products to countries like China that may require new animal testing. If the answer to any of these questions is yes, put the product back on the shelf.
  • Make some noise—follow us on Twitter @HSIGlobal and tweet about the campaign using hashtag #BeCrueltyFree. Like us on Facebook, too, and share our news and actions with your friends.