The case for cosmetics animal testing

A bill in Australia’s parliament geared to ban animal testing for cosmetics is being held up by animal rights groups because it will allow importation of cosmetic products that contain chemicals that have been tested on animals. South Korea and Europe have banned the use of animals for cosmetics testing and efforts on the part of animal rights activists in other countries have attempted to highlight this issue.

For example, in 2012 a woman in Great Britain subjected herself to methods allegedly used in testing animals for cosmetics. The proposed legislation is based on the assumption that animals are cruelly treated when used to test them.

However, as a Fashionista article published a few years ago points out, nothing could be further from the truth. No doubt the methods groups like PETA allege are used on animals in cosmetics testing are not true either. As the Fashionista explains:

Contrary to some of the propaganda you see out there, most beauty companies really do want to be able to move away from animal testing. Pretty much every expert I spoke to on both sides of the issue agreed on this point. Animal testing is expensive, it can be imprecise, and to take a cynical view, it can also be a PR nightmare for a company.

Brands like Caudalie and Urban Decay discovered this a few years ago when they announced plans to sell in China, a country which has a mandatory animal testing law for cosmetics. The public backlash was brutal.

The U.S. has many resources committed to researching alternatives to animal testing. The Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT) at Johns Hopkins is at the forefront of the science, and it receives funding from private cosmetics companies, philanthropy and grants from governmental agencies like the NIH. Thanks to the CAAT’s research, there are a number of tests that can substitute for animal testing now. “We have progress on eye irritation, skin irritation, skin erosion, and phototoxicity. Skin sensitization is coming soon,” Dr. Thomas Hartung, the director of the CAAT, says. But there are limitations. According to Perry Romanowski, a cosmetic chemist and a co-founder of The Beauty Brains, there are no laboratory tests yet that can replicate the results of what happens when a chemical is inhaled (although Dr. Hartung says there has been promising research on artificial lungs coming out of Harvard) or to predict whether a substance will cause cancer, for example.

The article goes on to point out that most beauty companies purchase chemicals from companies other than in the beauty industry (such as pharmaceutical and manufacturing) that may have tested on animals. An example being anti-aging skin care additives are used in cosmetics that hail from pharmaceutical businesses.

Animal testing does allow companies to innovate with new skin care and other scented products. If animal testing for cosmetics were banned completely, as one cosmetic chemist points out, companies would keep their products the same but the packaging would change along with the price. Companies, like L’Oreal and Avon, do reserve the right to test on animals stating there are times they have to. In light of their need to innovate, who could blame them?

Fortunately, it doesn’t look like that a ban on animal testing for cosmetics will happen Down Under. For those of you who prefer so-called cruelty-free cosmetics, Leaping Bunny has a rigorous certification process. The whole issue of animal testing (be it for cosmetics or medicines) comes down to not if companies or governments must do it but if they have the right to.

While knowingly being cruel to animals is wrong, like it or not they are a resource like many others on our planet. As a species we have a right to use the Earth’s resources as we see fit and it is not cruelty if animals are used for human betterment. In this case it is to use animals so that people can enhance their lives with perfumes, colognes and other cosmetics. Restricting the right to use animals only restricts the rights of humans.

NOTE: This is a slightly modified version of a similar essay published two years ago.