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Not Tested On Animals

June 24, 2011

The thought that your cosmetics may have been tested on animals prior to them ending up in your basket is enough to turn even the most hardened of stomachs so why does it still happen?  Well, to tell you the truth in most cases it doesn’t. 

The testing of finished cosmetics on animals was finally banned by the European Union on 11th September 2004 after being on the table for at least ten years prior to becoming law.  Across the water in the USA while the testing of finished products on animals isn’t banned it is rarely carried out nowadays due to a combination of factors including the EU ban, public sentiment, the acceptance of read-across safety data  and the advancement of alternative testing methods.  This situation is mirrored across the world as one would expect in a global market dominated by a handful of large players.

Contrary to popular belief it would be highly unlikely these days for multinational companies to test their finished cosmetics on animals whatever local laws exist.  Aside from the ethical implications, the resulting products would be banned from sale in one of their key markets.  However, when it comes to animal testing it is not the finished products that we should be focusing on.

When it comes to cosmetic ingredients the situation is a little different as the European ban on testing of ingredients introduced in 2004 and fully enforceable since 11th March 2009 only covers tests for which there are alternatives and that doesn’t include things like Acute Toxicity (estimated to take another 2-3 years to develop an alternative), Skin Sensitisation (about 3 years away),  Skin Absorption and penetration (close to finished),  Subacute and Sub chronic Toxicity (up to 10 years away), Geno toxicity and Mutagenicity (8 years away),  Toxicokinetics and Metabolism (at least 8 more years) and Carcinogenicity (approx 8 years).  

All cosmetic brands require ingredients and all ingredients placed for sale on the market must be able to prove that they are safe.  As you would expect the rules and requirements for safety vary from country to country but generally speaking chemical manufacturers must be able to demonstrate that the ingredient will not cause harm in both the short and long-term under expected conditions of use.   Work carried out in the EU and across other nations has meant that many tests that used to be carried out on animals have been replaced by animal-free alternatives. An example of such as the Draize eye test carried out on rabbits to test the potential of an ingredient to harm the eyes is now performed either on Hen’s eggs or bovine corneas, Rabbit eyes or Chickens Enucleated eyes harvested from slaughtered animals.  While these tests still sound barbaric, the fact that they involve no further suffering for the animals still constitutes a major advancement in the science of safety assessing.

So, you may be thinking that this is still far less than ideal and indeed, the slow progress of the development of animal testing alternatives has been an issue of frustration and much political activism over the past seven years but that doesn’t change facts.  The fact of the matter is that in the first instance chemical safety is regulated by a country’s government first, industry bodies second and where governments are concerned safety comes first.

Following on from this, it may seem logical to seek manufacturers that do not test their ingredients on animals and in some cases that search would bare fruit if you didn’t look too closely but is that really what we want to do?

The only ingredient manufacturing companies who can avoid having any animal testing done in their name are the companies that either manufacture chemicals that other people have tested or that only make small changes to existing (and often tested) chemistry (so that they can use existing safety data).  This statement is neither malicious or anti ‘me-too’ business as supplier choice is a good thing.  Basically with the introduction of REACH and CLP on top of existing cosmetic legislation the European Union has ensured that all chemicals entering and made in the EU are fully assessed for their safety and this includes ingredients that have been around for years and years and years.  Somebody somewhere has to do it as it is the law.

There  seems to be no way to get around the fact that cosmetic ingredients are tested on animals and that is more than uncomfortable, that is outrageous so what choices do we have?

Well, the first thing to keep in mind is that nobody wants to do animal testing and that any testing carried out is done under strict welfare standards using the minimum  number of animals possible to achieve the required confidence level.  Further, the funding into alternative methods is still a top priority globally and is moving closer to having a full suite of alternatives and so in time the requirement for animal testing will decrease.

Secondly we have to remember that many of the ingredients used in cosmetics come from other industries such as food, pharmaceuticals and textiles and as such the animal testing (while still difficult to accept) was not commissioned for something as trivial as cosmetics.

Third is the fact that many non government organisations, consumer groups and members of the public are demanding that their cosmetics are even safer and as it is impossible (and irresponsible) to attribute safety without the appropriate evidence this presents the industry with a strange dichotomy.  Greater assurances of safety with less testing?

Next we may need to accept that the only way to avoid contributing to animal testing is to use older technology for which full toxicity data already exists. This may be harder than it would at first seem as many natural and trusted ingredients such as essential oils and extracts are, in fact missing the type of evidence demanded by many legislators. So we should try to change the law?  Well, the law (and there are many) is constantly being challenged as we seek to make things safer, more sustainable and more ethical.  Who wants new technology anyway……..

Fifth and finally as free individuals we are of course able to vote with our wallets and opt-out of this non-essential market altogether if the truth does not match with our ethics.

To summarise the issue of animal testing is more complex and less clear-cut than some would have you believe.  It is important that we as both an industry and as individuals continue to support the research and development of alternative testing methods so that we may continue to enjoy an un-tainted cosmetic future. 

Let’s work together to make animal testing a thing of the past by investment, education and the promotion of sensible business practices. We can make a difference, it just takes time.

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