Q&A: Cosmetic Testing

Humane Society International

  • HSI’s global Be Cruelty-Free campaign is working to end cosmetics animal testing—forever. iStock

Q: Is animal testing of cosmetics legally required?

A: In most countries, no. For example, legislation in Canada and the United States requires only that products are proven safe for use but doesn’t stipulate that animal tests must be used. This puts the onus on companies to assure the safety of their products and to choose cruelty-free methods. The European Union has gone further by introducing a complete ban on animal testing for cosmetic products and ingredients. However, in parts of Asia and South America, animal testing is a legal or regulatory requirement. In some cases, companies may even be required to repeat tests using laboratories within a particular country, e.g., China.

Q: How can companies ensure safety without animal testing?

A: Companies can assure the safety of their products by using ingredients with a long history of safe use, together with a growing number of proven, non-animal safety tests. This is the approach used by the hundreds of companies certified as cruelty-free under the internationally-recognised Leaping Bunny programme.

Q: Why do some companies still test cosmetics on animals if it’s not required?

A: Some companies choose to develop and/or use new, untested ingredients in their cosmetic products, and to conduct new animal tests to assess the safety of these new ingredients.

Q: What animal tests are carried out on cosmetics?

A: Newly developed raw ingredients may be subject to the same sorts of tests as any other chemicals. This can 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. At the end of a test the animals are killed, normally by asphyxiation, neck-breaking or decapitation. Pain relief is not provided.

Q: Besides animal welfare, are there other arguments against testing on animals?

A: Yes, animal tests also have scientific limitations because different species can respond differently when exposed to the same chemicals. Consequently, results from animal tests may not be relevant to humans, under- or over-estimating real-world hazards to people. In addition, results from animal tests can be quite variable and difficult to interpret. Unreliable and non-predictive animal tests mean consumer safety cannot be guaranteed.

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, by manufacturing the cruelty-free way.

Firstly, companies can use ingredients that are already known to be safe, of which there are thousands. These ingredients have been tested in the past and don’t require new testing. This is how so many socially conscious companies have been able to swear off animal testing.

Secondly, companies can use non-animal tests where new data need to be generated. 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 efficiently too.

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.

Q: What can be done to bring an end to animal testing for cosmetics?

A: One approach is legislative and policy initiatives that prohibit testing of cosmetics on animals. Europe has led the way by banning all animal testing for cosmetic products and ingredients, and is due to introduce a further ban on the sale of all newly animal tested cosmetics as of March 2013. A longer-term approach is to develop non-animal tests that provide a broader range of human safety information, including cancer and birth defects, which would provide complete evaluation of new products. Until that time, an effective approach is consumer pressure—companies will get the idea if consumers show a strong preference for cruelty-free cosmetics.

Q: What is the Be Cruelty-Free campaign doing to spare animals from cosmetics testing?

A: Humane Society International is committed to ending animal testing—forever. Through our Be Cruelty-Free campaign, we are working around the globe to create a world where animals no longer have to suffer to produce lipsticks and shampoo. We’re campaigning hard to be sure the promised European ban on selling animal-tested cosmetics is enforced without delay, and we’re reaching out to consumers and policy makers in Asia, Australia, New Zealand, North and South America to achieve lasting progress for animals.

We are also building unprecedented partnerships with scientists from universities, private companies and government agencies worldwide to support and push for a totally new “21st century” approach to safety testing that combines ultra-fast cell tests and sophisticated computer models to deliver human-relevant results in hours instead of months or even years for some animal tests.

Q: How can I help?

A: We urgently need your help to end the suffering of cosmetics animal testing. Here’s how you can help us:

  • Please sign HSI’s global cruelty-free pledge today to show that you care about the thousands of rabbits, guinea pigs, mice and other animals still suffering in cosmetics tests in laboratories around the world. Pledge your support for a global end to cosmetics animal testing and show policymakers everywhere that you support our mission to turn the world cruelty-free.
  • Become a monthly donor, or make a one-time donation to help us expand our Be Cruelty-Free campaign to more countries and work to save more animals from cosmetics cruelty
  • Shop cruelty-free, it can make a big difference to animals. By purchasing only cosmetic, personal care and household products from companies that do not test on animals, you’ll be standing up for animals one product at a time. Download your own Leaping Bunny Global Shopping Guide.
  • Tell your friends about Be Cruelty-Free by sending them an email, liking us on Facebook or tweeting about us on Twitter using hashtag #BeCrueltyFree—you can also get all the latest campaign updates by following us at @HSIGlobal.