One of the questions I get asked most frequently as a cosmetic chemist is this - do beauty companies test their products on animals? While this is a simple question, the answer is not so straightforward. I'm going to take a closer look at this often debated and controversial topic with the hope of informing you about the reality of animal testing in cosmetics.
Why do animal testing?
The reason is because cosmetic companies are legally required through trade and consumer protection regulations to prove show their products are not toxic or dangerous. This is for the safety of the consumer, you don't want to put a product on yourself (or your child) without knowing it's safe to use. Specific rules vary from country to country, but in places like China, animal testing is required to prove product safety. While the U.S. and Japan don't specifically require animal testing, most of the testing they accept as proof of product safety requires animal testing. However, the EU has recently banned animal testing and as of 2013 it will start being phased out.
Why do so many companies claim to not test on animals?
Here is where things get a bit tricky. Companies can say they haven't tested their products on animals because they may not have. Many companies will contract out the work so they don't actually test anything themselves. They use the data of the testing house (or raw material suppliers) and then claim that they don't test on animals.
Very commonly, companies only use ingredients (or combinations of ingredients) that have already been tested on animals. In the cosmetic business, if all the individual ingredients are safe, you generally don't have to test the finished product. So while the shampoo or lotion you're using was not tested on animals, many of the individual materials were (you can start to see how this issue gets complicated!).
Are there alternatives to animal testing?
The good news is, researchers are working on finding animal testing alternatives, like using computer modeling and cell tissue cultures. However, while animal rights activists are suggesting that there are alternatives readily available, that is simply not yet the case. In some cases, these alternatives are not accepted as adequate proof. But, there is a lot of progress being made.
Companies don't want to conduct animal testing - it's expensive, terrible PR and many people consider it immoral. Scientists and cosmetic chemists love animals too! However, companies also want to sell products that are safe to use and often animal testing is the only way to prove product safety. It's a tough spot to be in. However, the amount of animal testing being conducted in the beauty industry has dropped drastically in recent years and will continue to drop as researchers find acceptable animal testing alternatives. I am hopeful that in the next 10-20 years animal testing will be a thing of the past!
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