Modern non-animal tests represent the very latest techniques that science has to offer to ensure the safety of new cosmetic products and ingredients. These alternatives tests are often quicker, cheaper and more reliable than outdated animal tests, producing results that are more relevant to humans and better able to predict how cosmetic chemicals will react in the human body.
More than 40 non-animal tests have been validated for use. For example, there are a number of skin tests available that use human reconstructed skin, such as EpiDerm and EPISKIN, as wells as the “3T3 NRU” test for sunlight-induced “phototoxicity,” and the Bovine Cornea Opacity and Permeability test for eye corrosion.
The road to full replacement
Some simple animal tests can be replaced by a single cell culture alternative. However, replacement of more complex animal tests that need to take account of potential effects on the whole body requires an integrated testing strategy. This means instead of replacing them with one single test, a combination of molecular, genetic, cell and tissue tests are used. Scientists divide the human body according to its various cell types (brain, skin, lung, liver, etc.) and each of these cell types is then individually tested in tissue culture systems. Then, to reconstruct the whole body scenario again, cutting-edge computer models are used to relate the test results to expected real-world conditions for a living, breathing human being.
Validation & regulatory acceptance
Government authorities and companies will accept alternative testing methods only after they have been scientifically “validated.” The aim of validation is to show the test to be relevant for its intended purpose, such as identifying chemicals that can irritate the skin or eyes, and able to produce consistent results within and between laboratories. Criteria and processes for test method validation have been developed by regional Centres for the Validation of Alternative Methods (CVAMs) in Europe, the United States, Japan, Korea and Brazil, and at the global level through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Validation and regulatory acceptance is slow and expensive, sometimes taking more than 10 years and millions of dollars for a single alternative method. However, once an alternative method has been accepted as an official OECD Test Guideline, all OECD member countries and adherents to its policy on “mutual acceptance of data” are required to accept the results of the test without question.