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Testing on Animals – are cosmetic companies lying to us?

May 7, 2013

Yesterday’s news is usually done and dusted by night fall but I have a feeling that this one won’t get away so lightly.  It was reported in various newspapers on websites that major cosmetic brands are failing to inform customers that their beauty products are tested on animals in china.

Choice, the consumer watchdog (here in Australia) is not happy and is referring brands to the ACCC (Australian Competition and Consumer Commission) for further investigation.

Choice say that when questioned, staff here in Australia are not informing customers of the testing that is involved in order to pass through the borders and into China and that this is wrong and misleading.  It does seem quite hard to argue with that point but what I want to know is it as simple as that?  Are these brands blatantly lying or is something else going on?

nail polish on a dog


This picture shows the trend for painting dogs nails in Japan. The image comes from here and the article is well worth a read if this post gets too much for you.

I guess there are a few scenarios that we have to consider. Here are a couple that sprang to my mind:

  1. The brand and everyone working for the brand should be aware and trained in the company (or specific brand’s) animal testing policy and is encouraged to answer questions honestly and fully.
  2. As above but staff are given a ‘party line’ or position statement  response to give back to customers to ensure uniformity and consistency of message.
  3. The staff do not have adequate training about the company or brands animal testing policy.
  4. The company has no animal testing policy.

The companies approached were David Jones and  Myer (both department stores) and the brands involved were reported to be SK-II, Lancome, Dior and M.A.C.  What isn’t clear is the level of training the staff at the  cosmetic counters had in this issue and how the questions were posed to staff – wording of the questions and answers is important as subtleties can make all the difference as you will see below. However, I don’t want that to take away from the main point. What has come out is that the staff questioned didn’t know the law in China and didn’t know the policies of the companies whose brands they were representing.  Something is clearly wrong.

So should department store counter staff understand global regulations and their impact on a companies animal testing position?

To be honest I think that yes, they should be briefed on what is what across the brand and if necessary across the whole company (companies like L’Oreal have many brands, some of which – The Body Shop tout the ‘Choose Cruelty Free’ logo while others sub brands such as ‘L’Oreal Paris’ display no such thing) and I would favour brands having a position statement to hand out or email to concerned customers rather than sales staff ad-libbing.  This isn’t because I think that brands have things to hide and should stage manage their client communication but is because the issue is more complex than a yes or no answer and could change depending on a brands sales strategy, global legal requirements and new product development.

Yes China requires products to be animal tested to meet the requirements of their cosmetic safety protocols NOW but maybe next year they won’t.

It is clear to me that these position statements and brand communications need to be two things:

  • Highly Specific e.g: ‘this statement covers these products in this brand (or this brand of this company) only”
  • Detailed in terms of what ‘not tested on animals or cruelty free or equivalent means – what is the scope of that statement.

So why is the issue of animal testing so complex?

The first problem the cosmetics industry has is that while its formulations may be global (well almost) the legislation in each country is a long way from harmonised.  The issue of harmonisation came up at this years In Cosmetics Paris exhibition and by the end of the presentation I wasn’t convinced that it would ever be possible.  However, I am hoping that China can be convinced to ditch the animal testing requirements and come into line with the EU laws which ban animal testing for cosmetic purposes.

But that isn’t the sum total of the problems.

Even if we did have one set of testing rules (no use of animals for cosmetic purposes) across the globe the problem wouldn’t necessarily be  solved as there are many different interpretations behind a companies ‘cruelty free’ and ‘not tested on animals’ policies not all of which would sit pretty with the average caring member of the public.

Some ‘small print’ behind a companies ‘not tested on animals’ position statement could include any one of the following sub-optimal small prints:

  • We don’t test our finished products on animals but that doesn’t mean that our ingredients aren’t being animal tested (presently or in the recent past)
  • We don’t test our products or ingredients on animals now but we will buy ingredients/ products that were tested on animals as long as it was more than 1 year OR 2 years OR 5 years OR 10 years before that particular product is launched or ingredient is used (companies generally set either a solid cut of date or employ a rolling time frame for animal testing).
  • We don’t test our products or ingredients on animals ever but our suppliers do (this can be the case when brands buy ‘white label’ formulations from other manufacturers and then re-brand them).
  • We don’t test our products or ingredients on animals ever (but the company that we just put into liquidation did).
  • We don’t test our products or ingredients on animals ever for cosmetic purposes (but we do test them to meet requirements of another market – pharma, food, household cleaning etc).
  • We don’t test our products/ ingredients on animals unless required by law to do so (the China cop out).

I am sure that there are many more different ways of sounding great too but I figured that the above would be enough to get the point across.

So does this constitute lying?

While it is true that everyone seeking to sell something will pitch it in the best light possible, to call people a liar for doing that isn’t necessarily fair and so I don’t think we should be too hard on brands or the market for communicating this complex issue in a way that is hard to understand.  I think that most brands go about this trying to make it easy but soon come unstuck when they realise (as I said above) that some issues are just too complex to ever be communicated cleanly and simply.

Everyone knows that the public wants cosmetics that haven’t been shoved in a bunnies eyes, on a guinea pigs shaved back or down a rats throat  but everyone campaigns for safe cosmetics. Further, what does ‘testing on animals’ mean anyway?  The days of putting things into attached eyeballs should be well behind us as alternative methods have been in-use for over ten years or more. However, long-term toxicity including carcenogenicity, phototoxicity, reprotoxicity, teratogenesis and toxicokinetics are still proving to be beyond the scope of in vitro test methods (test tube science). And what are they testing anyway – ingredients, finished products, ingredient combinations……  Does that matter? Is there ever a point where it is OK?  Does it make a difference  that these issues affect natural (essential oils, herbal extracts) and synthetic ingredients equally?  Would it change anything if I told you that pretty much every ingredient used in cosmetics has been animal tested at some point in time for some reason?

So where from here?

I personally want to investigate the meanings behind things like the leaping bunny and cruelty free logos a bit more with you as I think this is important.

I also want to see if there is anything that we as an industry and group of concerned individuals can do to bring China in line with Europe with regards to animal testing burden.

I would like cosmetic brands to provide written statements (with plenty of detail) outlining their animal testing position as it relates to the brand being questioned.

And I would like there to be more money available to speed up development of alternatives to animal testing.

But most of all.

I would like us all to take the time to better educate ourselves about this issue so that we can come up with our own animal testing position statement with which to measure progress, campaign for change and educate future consumers.

And as for those staff on the Myer/ David Jones counters well I am sure that they had no idea how much of a hornets nest they were stepping in.

Don’t shoot the messenger!


PS: Sorry for the mega-long post. As you can see it is complex!









7 Comments leave one →
  1. Raylene permalink
    May 7, 2013 7:10 pm

    This is a great post and I am always wondering about all of these things that you have mentioned. It is easy to say (as a company) we dont test on animals (and we don’t) but what about the ingrediants we have purchased to make our products? This has always been a grey area of concern to me too! I look forward to your follow up in this matter x

  2. Raylene permalink
    May 7, 2013 7:12 pm

    Reblogged this on 1Skin Lifestyle.

  3. August 6, 2017 8:37 am

    That would be nice! To have employees know if their products have been tested on animals and be able to tell the customer. It drives me mental when I am at the big perfume mall in Dalian and friends are in heaven because all these Dior’s, Burberry, Hugo Boss etc… perfumes are imported and not been tested on animals. They get upset when I show them the law here in China. Imported cosmetics must be tested on animals.

    The law is changing, but it seems to be only for the brands that can bring in more money to China. The law as it currently is, is a way of the government to tell its people that they “care” and are “looking out” for their well being. That the government is good. And honestly? Most of the people don’t really care. There are a few that do, but when your population is in the billions, and only a million people care about an issue, it seems like a lot by Western standards, but to Chinese standards? It is a pebble dropping in the ocean.

    • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
      August 6, 2017 12:25 pm

      Thanks for your valuable input, It is great to hear from someone who is seeing the impact of this law in china from the inside. I think the message is that people do see through the governments veiled attempts to look good. The world is not as naive as it once was (thanks to the internet in part). It is only when more and more people speak out about this and refuse to buy into this fakery that we can really force change both from the inside of China and the rest of the world. If China does want to lead rather than follow it needs to listen to everything and not just what it wants to hear. Good luck with your business activities x

      • August 6, 2017 12:40 pm

        That is one of the problems here, with the Great Firewall getting tighter and tighter we don’t have full access to blogs like yours to discuss and learn. It is wonderful that young Chinese are getting out of China and seeing the world and the way other people do things. And experiencing the internet outside of China. At the moment, China is seeming to want to lead by tightening its iron fist again. Sad really. But, we shall see as the younger generation ages what will happen! Thank you!

      • RealizeBeautyEd permalink*
        August 7, 2017 1:09 pm

        I do hear you on that one, I totally do. I can only hope that the government sees that, in the end the benefits outweigh the costs when it comes to free flow of information. How else are we supposed to innovate and grow. China is a great country and I look forward to the day that we can collaborate more openly together.


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