Cosmetics and Animal Testing

In today’s New York Times, Doreen Carvajal reports that cosmetic companies are scrambling to come into compliance with a 2009 ban on the use of animal testing for cosmetics in the European Union. 27 member economies strong, the EU can pass such rules, and watch the industry innovate to reach the goal of more humane treatment of animals.

As the 2009 deadline approaches, European regulators issue periodic tallies of the number of laboratory animals potentially spared by alternatives to animal tests, across all kinds of industrial uses. Part of the pressure for alternatives also stems from additional legislation, known as Reach, requiring companies to develop safety data on 30,000 chemicals over the next 11 years — research that could raise the prospect of increased animal testing.

In fact, the actual number of animals tested for cosmetics is small compared with medical or educational uses, according to a new European Commission report. But from 2002 to 2005 the tally grew 50 percent in Europe, to 5,571 animals.

I’d be interested to hear whether Sciencebloggers think about this. Can alternative means be as effective as animal testing for the purpose of proving that cosmetics are not harmful, and if so, will be see these innovations applied in other areas of traditional science?


  1. And is it really animal-less testing? Given that all the methods they cite involve tissue culture… they’re still using the serum of fetal cows.

    But cows are less cute than bunnies.

  2. Probably not yet…

    my psychology-based wife once got on to me when I said something drastic about animal-testing… and pointed out that perhaps I’d like to quit taking my a, b and c pharma’s tomorrow (since they were developed with the help of animal testing).

    But the Japaneses stem cell discovery… maybe there’s a chance?

  3. A cell culture or even more complex tissue culture is not a complete metazoan living system. So cultures will never replace animal testing.

    By the way, those neo-embryonic stem cells created from skin cells will not replace human embryonic stem cell and human cloning research either, for a number of reasons.

  4. AngryToxicologist responded in the negative to this question before. Dermatologic testing is one thing, figuring out what the hell the liver, kidneys, or virtually any other organ system in an animal will do is another matter.

  5. 27 member economies strong, the EU can pass such rules, and watch the industry innovate to reach the goal of more humane treatment of animals.

    Where as the poor beat up ol’ USA, being one tiny economy all on its own, can’t possibly afford to do anything to make those great big corporate bullies cross… awww

  6. Europe has some distinctively curious tendencies when it comes to public sentiment and/or governmental policies on biomedical issues. Compared to Americans, in general Europeans are more anti-animal research, anti-vax, anti-food irradition, anti-GMO, anti-fluoridation, anti-circumcision, pro-homeopathy, and more lax about sterility of animal products (hence way higher rates of toxoplasmosis in France – look it up).

    I think the common thread is that “progressive” Europe is more “bio-conservative” than the US.

    Both conservatives and liberals like to point to Europe as a grass-is-greener model or a cautionary example when it’s convenient for a particular argument. Hence, the finger-wagging that we should be more like Europe on abolition of the death penalty, but not so much on their (varying by country, obviously) more restrictive policies on abortion. More like Europe in opposition to the invasion of Iraq, but not so much on their failure to economically sanction Sudan or the Burmese junta. More like Europe on moving away from traditional religions but not like Europe when it comes to New Age woo and general bio-Ludditism.

  7. Colugo, the EU has had sanctions against Burma for a while now (at least since 2004), which included economical sanctions against the junta. Currently they are working on more restrictive sanctions.

    There are currently no economical sanctions against Sudan, only trade embargoes (weapons). I am not aware of the motivation for this, but it could be due to the fact that there are relatively few economical measures that can be taken against Sudan, that won’t disproportionally affect the civil population.

  8. scienceteacherinexile

    I like pressure being applied to innovate new ways to test, but we should be cautious.
    You don’t want the environment to tilt too far in the other direction where some animal rights organizations, who portray ANY animal testing as barbaric torture, can get a toe hold.
    We can’t do without animal testing at this stage.

  9. mayhempix

    The big difference here is that cosmetics testing is not about life saving research. While I deplore the tactics by radical animal rights activists and believe animal testing is currently necessary in medical and scientific research, cosmetics for the most part are about vanity, fashion and profit. I do not understand how anyone can condone the suffering of animals for next season’s “look”.

    I am no PETA apologist but strongly believe that the scientific community needs to draw a line here plus adopt any successful techniques that develop from the Euro ban. That would go a long way towards cooling public opinion by taking away one of the radicals’ big propaganda selling points.

  10. Won’t that simply mean that animal testing will not occur in the EU? The companies involved will just move or out source the testing to non-EU countries that do not have a strong PETA or Green Party presents. Perhaps China is a choice as they allow lead in toys.

  11. Thanks, Kristjan Wager. You’re right to point that out, and I stand corrected. But as you alluded to, the EU was slow to sanction Burma. The US has had major sanctions in place since 1997.

    The Burma Campaign UK, 2004

    “The attempt by the United States to impact on the economic interests of the regime and its constituency has been reduced by the inaction of the EU, Asian states and the UN.”

    As for Sudan, France is a major patron of the regime (just as it was a patron of the Rwanda Hutu regime) and heavily invested in its oil resources.

  12. scienceteacherinexile

    I agree with you that the standards for medical research vs. cosmetic research should not be the same. This is with regard to what constitutes a need for animal research. Across the board, the animals should be treated as humanely as possible.
    My point became a little blury. Mark asked in the last sentence if the innovations from cosmetics research will be seen in other traditional scientific areas. What I was trying to convey, is that yes we should try to innovate and use others innovations, but we must be careful or the kooks will say “well look the cosmetics industry doesn’t use animals now so no one else should either”. As you pointed out medical research and cosmetics research are two very different things.

  13. scienceteacherinexile

    And I meant Chris not Mark 😉

  14. metabopharm

    I would never use a personal care item that was NOT tested in animals. Certainly one can test products in non-cruel ways, the standard rabbit eye test is barbaric. You could use nude (hairless) mice, for example, to test for the effect on skin. But wahy should we abandon product safety?

  15. this is me

    what i don’t under stand is why would someone do this it is cruel. we should test cosmetics on the people who do this. that would be the only suitable punishment.

  16. thsgkl;ll;kjml;km;ln

    i agree i think the should be tested on to that is a great idea then they would understand what the animals the test stuff on go through

  17. lol i didnt even read this, ha!

  18. Everybody at one point in his/her life uses cosmetics such as make-up, deodorant, shampoo, wrinkle creams, blemish creams and many other products. In the many different trials that these products go through before reaching the public, some are tested on animals. Many people believe that this is a necessary part of product testing, and I agree that limited testing needs to be done in a controlled environment; however, animal testing of cosmetics is bad.

    Animals are used to learn the many different things about how cosmetics have on animal skins; however, they do not always have the same effect on humans. In some cases animals have their fur shaved off and they have the product placed on the skin, which ends up burning or giving them a rash, causing them pain. They also have chemicals dropped into their eyes, and lethal substances injected into their bodies. In other cases the animal shows no effect, but when they use it on humans, it does not give the same results as it did on the animals.

    Although animals are said to be well treated, they are not. The treatment is harsh, and they are cared for half-heartedly. Cages are not cleaned out. They are so small the animal can hardly move or breathe, and the animals are not fed like they should be. The animal is under mental and physical torture. This can also affect the outcomes of the studies being done.

  19. Facticion: While fetal matter is one method being used, there are many others that do not involve living animals. Tests such as Eytex, Skintex, and TOPKAT don’t use any animal matter, including cultures, at all. This plan for cutting animal testing isn’t perfect, but it’s still a major reduction in animal suffering as a whole.
    metabopharm: as Pharmaceutical tubes pointed out, animal tests can be very inaccurate because we simply don’t have the same bodies as test animals. Non-animal testing often uses HUMAN tissue samples and are generally more accurate. Clearly, animal-tested is not synonymous with safe.

  20. I do not think that the standards for medical research should be the same as that of cosmetic research. I agree with the ban on animal testing of cosmetics.

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