It’s banned in most countries. So does animal testing in cosmetics still matter? We investigate
By Emma Håkansson
Animal testing and vivisection – operating on live animals for experimentation, has been debated and fought against for far longer than you’d think. In fact, the first anti-vivisection organisation was founded in 1875. Animal testing specifically for cosmetics began in 1938, and of course there was outcry from some – but not enough to stop this cruel practice.
In 1988, ground-breaking animal rights organisation, PETA, released one of the first ever investigations into cosmetic animal testing. After their yearlong investigation, PETA uncovered more than 100 violations of federal state laws in the USA that demonstrated atrocious cruelty. For example: rabbits’ ears being cut off while they were conscious, rats being force fed chemicals and left convulsing even after laboratory staff went home; mice drowned in bottles of cooking oil; caustic chemicals being rubbed onto guinea pigs’ skin until it ate the skin away, and more.
Thankfully, cosmetic animal testing itself is now illegal in many countries across the world – all member countries of the European Union, as well as in Australia, India, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and the United Kingdom. Thanks to new legislation recently passed, these tests will no longer be legally required in the United States.
So, is animal testing really still an issue?
New ingredients, new tests
There are many thousands of existing cosmetics ingredients available, and the truth is, they don’t require further animal testing. Many of these are natural, making them great for your skin’s health when being applied – think: foundation that actually improves your skin!
However, if a company wants to use new ingredients, these will need to be tested in some countries. But this is a choice. A choice to use ingredients that require further, violent animal tests, when there are already so many to choose from.
As PETA says: “Any company that still uses ingredients tested on animals usually does so because it was required testing for other uses – for example, a chemical that is used by the cosmetics industry but is also used by other industries may have been tested by that other industry.”
In short, it’s possible that cosmetics companies are using ‘hidden’ animal testing in this way. In short: beware ‘new’ high-tech or chemical ingredients in your beauty products!
The Chinese loophole
In terms of animal rights, China is far, far behind the rest of the world. According to PETA: ‘Tests on animals for cosmetics ingredients and products have ended in most countries. Most of the companies that are currently included on our list of companies that do test on animals are on that list because they pay for cruel and deadly tests on animals in order to sell their products in China. Companies that want to sell cosmetics have to pay for tests on animals in that country.”
Unfortunately, ‘bans’ on animal tested cosmetic products are confusing, because of the Chinese loophole.
Consumers who live in cities and countries where cosmetic animal testing is illegal, often fairly assume all cosmetics they buy are free from animal testing. However, this is not necessarily the case. A company like Maybelline can sell their cosmetics in places with animal testing bans like the U.K., California, Australia and across the European Union – but they still test on animals for the Chinese market.
While brands themselves may not have to do this, they can send products to China for the authorities there to test on animals, thus washing their hands of direct cruelty (but still engaging in it indirectly).
For example, one anonymous cosmetics brand owner told us this, about their venture into the Chinese market:
“Our cooperation as a Leaping Bunny brand with Cruelty Free International is not about ‘getting around’ Chinese laws. We have been working with the regulations in China. [To do this without animal testing], we are using the former pilot project to make sure we are all comfortable that existing regulations with our extra built-in checks and safeguards on post-market testing work for cruelty free brands.”
He continues: “Our approach was based on the 2014 change to the rules governing domestic production when mandatory animal testing requirements were removed. As long as ingredients are already approved for use in China, we can send our original product in bulk to China to finish the process at an approved facility. We all hope that the end result is that mandatory animal testing requirements on imported finished products will also soon be ended.”
While China has ‘signaled’ a possible end of animal testing for imported ‘ordinary’ cosmetics – which includes products such as shampoos and perfumes – so far, any brand that sells in China cannot be considered cruelty free.
As PETA states: “companies choose to sell in China, knowing that they will have to pay the Chinese government to conduct tests on animals in Chinese laboratories as part of the requirements of selling”.
A tricky business
Products tested on animals in other countries, such as China may be sold in places with animal testing bans, such as the European Union. In the EU, products can be sold ‘if the animal test data from elsewhere is not used to verify the safety of the cosmetics in the EU’. Essentially, this means that products sold in the EU must have already been deemed safe to the public without this animal testing. So, the only purpose for the animal testing is to access more profits from the large Chinese market.
Truly cruelty-free brands choose not to sell to China, not wanting to pay for horrific tests on animals overseas. Because of this, PETA says consumers ‘have no way of knowing whether cosmetics companies allow or pay for testing on animals, even if they are compliant with [local] regulation’. It’s for this reason that cruelty-free certifications, like the PETA or Leaping Bunny logo are so important.
A list of brands that do pay for and allow tests on animals is available through PETA’s Global Beauty Without Bunnies searchable database.
Nick Irani, of the ethical and natural Ayurvedic beauty brand Subtle Energies believes that the appetite for cruelty-free cosmetics in China is growing. He says:
“Our experience is still limited, but we can see that there is an appetite for high quality and cruelty free brands, and in the natural space. It is no longer just about if the brand is one of the mega brands in cosmetics, although they are still the predominant demand but we can see that there is a Chinese consumer emerging that is looking for beyond that. [They want to know] whether a cosmetic is a good natural product, or something wellness related, or is not tested on animals.”
Irani also states that animal testing interferes with a brand’s purity, on many levels:
“As a family brand, our work is not just commercially driven. We want to provide work that will benefit people, at the same time that work needs to be done with our family values, ethics and integrity, and that includes doing everything within our power to be cruelty free. Our ethos is all about intention, and so every part of the product’s journey, from ingredients sourcing, to blending, to suppliers, has to have a positive intention embedded into the product. The cruelty of animal testing would disrupt that positive input and flow, therefore changing the vibration of the what we do and produce.”
And we would have to agree. How could a product involved in torture and cruelty be good for you in any way?
So, does animal testing in cosmetics still matter?
While we have made strides against animal testing in cosmetics, as you can see, unfortunately, the answer to the questions: does animal testing in cosmetics still matter? is a resounding YES.
Animal lovers should ensure that their cosmetics are 100% vegan – which ensures no animal products were used, and that no animal hidden animal testing has occurred.
Even within legislation which protects animals and prevents their use as test subjects for cosmetics, there are further loopholes we need to be aware of, as explained above.
If you would like to be sure your cosmetics are truly cruelty free, PETA offers a comprehensive list of companies which are truly wonderful – free from animal testing, and animal ingredients both.