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Animal Testing on Cosmetics

The Issue

People trust that the cosmetics and personal care products that they purchase are safe for all their family members, including their companion animals, but object to the use of animals in toxicity testing to assess the safety of these products and their ingredients. Polls have shown that most consumers would prefer to use products from companies that do not test on animals. And innovative alternative cosmetics testing methods are now available that are more humane, faster, less expensive and better able to predict how these products will affect people. Despite this, the practice of cosmetics testing on animals for safety purposes continues in the U.S. and throughout the world.

What Happens During Cosmetics Testing?

Cosmetics testing on animals relates to many aspects of the manufacturing process. Animal testing may occur on the full, finished product or it may occur on individual ingredients within a formulation. Another country may even be contracted to conduct the testing within the cosmetic company’s homeland or it may be contracted out to a country where animal testing is not currently banned.

Types of Animal Testing for Cosmetics

Cosmetics testing is usually focused on ensuring that a product does not harm a person’s eyes and skin. It is also tested for overall toxicity and any toxicity related to ultraviolet light. An example would be a product that contains retinol, which makes a person more susceptible to sun damage. As such, manufacturers will usually recommend a person use a sun protection factor of a minimum amount to safeguard skin and prevent damage and burning. Cosmetics testing will also focus on testing for mutagenic effects. Despite even this array of stringent testing, people do still suffer from reactions to cosmetics, which does indicate the challenges of drawing conclusions from testing that apply to the majority of the public. At present, cosmetics testing is generally faring well without the use of animal testing in areas where it is banned and hopefully, this trend will continue to take hold of other countries.
Cosmetics—typically defined as products that are intended to be applied or introduced into the human body for the purposes of cleansing or beautification—are, for the most part, not required to undergo animal testing in the U.S. There are exceptions, including hair dyes, certain cleaning products and anti-bacterial soaps. However, companies are still legally responsible for ensuring the safety of their ingredients and finished products before they come to market.

The use of animals for cosmetics testing was instituted in the 1940s in response to serious injuries suffered by people who were exposed to unsafe beauty products. Today, many companies actually have no need to test, as their formularies rely upon ingredients that are classified as “generally recognized as safe.” Testing for these ingredients may have been conducted on animals at one time, but is not done so currently. Regardless, some companies continue to do animal testing as a kind of legal protection against a lawsuit if a product harms a person. They may use the animal tests as evidence that they used “due diligence” in conducting safety testing.

Another reason  that cosmetics testing may take place using animals is that a company may be testing new chemical compounds, or testing compounds on a sensitive population such as children or the elderly, to determine whether the substances will cause an allergic reaction if applied to skin, or whether they cause irritation or corrosion of the skin or eyes.

Companies that manufacture or market their products overseas may be required to submit them for animal testing. Today, however, a growing number of countries around the world have passed laws banning cosmetics testing on animals. At the same time, many companies are working to develop, validate and implement innovative alternative methods that are not only replacing animal testing for cosmetics, but which are also being used in other industries.

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