The gentle guide to animal testing

I’m an animal person. My career has been heavily inspired and shaped through my love of wildlife and the natural world. I definitely agree with communicating hard truths about the world we live in. Still, animal testing is a subject that I have historically turned off to.

I try not to think about it too much because deep down I know some brands I purchase do it. When I’ve clicked on headlines promising more info I end up closing the browser at the first sight of a sad hamster or a shaved beagle in a lab. It makes me feel too sad and guilty I guess.

So I’ve done some filtering for you. If you’re interested in learning a little more about why we still test on animals and some great companies who don’t - without being pummelled by awful images – read on. And just to relax you: here’s the first image of a happy animal, not being tested on.

Because animals are people too.      

Look at this happy pig not getting tested on

Look at this happy pig not getting tested on


What does "cosmetics" testing mean?

Animal testing is performed around the world for several reasons. One reason is to save lives: testing the application of medicinal drugs or genetic therapy options which could eventually reduce human suffering. Supporters of the use of animals in experiments, such as the British Royal Society, argue that virtually every medical achievement in the 20th century relied on the use of animals in some way.

Animal testing is undertaken in universities around the world for psychological and biological studies to better understand the nature of the world around us. It’s also undertaken to conduct food and household product safety studies (your laundry powder for example, has likely been tested on an animal).

Baby goats love it when we don't test on them

Baby goats love it when we don't test on them

But then there are those companies testing on animals to make lipstick last longer or liquid liner glide on smoother. That’s what cosmetics testing is about: testing products that are defined by the FDA as "articles intended to be applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance without affecting the body's structure or functions." 

Beauty products. That’s what we’re talking about here.

In 1933, more than a dozen women were blinded and one woman died from using a permanent mascara called Lash Lure. Lash Lure contained p-phenylenediamine, an untested chemical. At the time, there were no regulations to ensure the safety of products.

The p-phenylenediamine caused horrific blisters, abscesses, and ulcers on the face, eyelids, and eyes of Lash Lure users, and it led to blindness for some. In one case, the ulcers were so severe that a woman developed a bacterial infection and died. After that incident, the safety of makeup was strictly regulated.

Today, animal testing of cosmetic products and ingredients is legally allowed in around 80% of countries worldwide. Cruelty Free International estimates that more than 500,000 animals are used worldwide in cosmetics testing each year, or 1400 animals a day.

Actual numbers are notoriously tricky to pin down because companies often don’t advertise their use of animal testing (because it makes people like me feel guilty) and results are often unpublished.

Using animal testing in the development of cosmetics may involve testing either a finished product or the individual ingredients of a finished product. Re-using existing test data obtained from previous animal testing is generally not considered to be cosmetic testing on animals.

This baby cheetah is stoked about not being in a lab

This baby cheetah is stoked about not being in a lab

Which animals are used?

The Humane Society International lists rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats and mice as the most commonly used animals in cosmetic testing. While dogs and monkeys are never used to test cosmetics anywhere in the world, they are used to test other types of chemicals (such as agricultural, medical or industrial).


What is involved?

Cosmetic testing on animals is generally about measuring the reaction of animals' skin, eyes and respiratory tracts to high concentrations of certain chemicals. Other tests determine a product's potential to cause fetal abnormalities, cancer or genetic mutations.

The tests are conducted on conscsious animals without painkillers because interactions between drugs can affect how animals detoxify chemicals, and may interfere with the results.

Types of tests include:

  • Skin and eye irritation tests where chemicals are rubbed onto shaved skin or dripped into eyes
  • Repeated force-feeding studies (lasting weeks or months) which look for signs of general illness or specific health hazards such as cancer or birth defects
  • "Lethal dose" tests in which animals are forced to swallow large amounts of a test chemical to determine the dose that causes death

At the end of a test the animals are killed, normally by asphyxiation, neck-breaking or decapitation.

This mouse is chilling in a cup instead of getting tested on

This mouse is chilling in a cup instead of getting tested on


Why do companies still do it?

Basically, a cosmetics company needs to run tests on a product if it hasn’t already been approved.

The Institute for Laboratory Animal Research of the United States National Academy of Sciences has argued that animal research cannot be replaced by even sophisticated computer models, which are unable to deal with the extremely complex interactions between molecules, cells, tissues, organs, organisms and the environment.

The only thing that makes us happier than this mouse eating a cookie is cruelty-free brands

The only thing that makes us happier than this mouse eating a cookie is cruelty-free brands


Do we still actually need it?

Eliminating animal testing of cosmetics is entirely feasible. The Humane Society International and other animal rights organisations point to the thousands of ingredients with a long history of safe use as a main justification for halting cosmetics testing on animals altogether. There is a list of over 5000 products that have existing safety data and require no further testing (animal or otherwise).

HSIs stance is that “If companies simply stuck to using the many thousands of existing cosmetic ingredients available, they would never have to animal test. That’s how cruelty-free companies work!” .

Furthermore, in the past three decades scientists have developed many advanced alternatives to animal testing— methods that use human blood, cell lines, artificial skin or computer models to test the safety of products.

And many multinational companies have embraced these alternative test methods, reducing and in some cases eliminating their dependence on animal testing. As a result, they cut costs and save time; animal testing is expensive, slow and, because animals are not people, not always predictive.

Organisations like the Centre for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT), PETA and many others advocate for the use of in vitro (in a test tube or culture dish) and other non-animal tests in the development of consumer products.

The Institute For In Vitro Services notes on their website: “Since cosmetics do not require pre-market approval, companies may choose how to design their testing strategies to ensure the safety of their products.” So cosmetic companies have a choice - that's encouraging.

Downward fox 

Downward fox 

EpiSkin™, EpiDerm™ and SkinEthic are products composed of artificial human skin as an option for alternative testing. Artificial skin can imitate the reaction actual human skin will have to a product and the chemicals it contains and can be altered to mimic different skin types and ages.

So there are options, and the more consumers choose to spend their money with companies who are using non-animal-tested options, the greater the commercial incentive for moving on from animal testing becomes.


Is cosmetics animal testing banned anywhere?

There are a couple of ways countries are banning cosmetic animal testing. You can ban the actual practice of testing in your country, but it can still be fine to sell products that have been tested on animals in another part of the world. Or you can make an all out ban – no testing in your country and no sales of products that have been tested on animals.

Animal testing for cosmetics has been banned in the UK and throughout the 28 countries of the European Union since 2009. Taking things a step further, the EU also banned the sale of cosmetic products or ingredients which had been tested on animals after March 2013. 

Savage AF fluffy gang don't take no testing

Savage AF fluffy gang don't take no testing

Israel imposed a testing and a sales ban in 2007 and 2013, respectively. In early 2014, India announced a ban on testing cosmetics on animals in the country, and later banned import of cosmetics tested on animals. In November 2014 São Paulo in Brazil banned cosmetic animal testing.

New Zealand banned animal testing on"finished cosmetic products and their ingredients"  as part of the new Animal Welfare Act in 2015. You can still import animal tested products here though. New Zealand's Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy acknowledged that the move was largely symbolic however because "To the best of our knowledge there never has been any animal testing for cosmetics in New Zealand, but this amendment will send an important message that this kind of testing is unacceptable to New Zealanders and will never happen here".

Cosmetics animal testing remains legal in most other countries. Cruelty Free International estimates that the top 10 animal testing countries in the world are the USA, Japan, China, Australia, France, Canada, the UK, Taiwan and Brazil, in that order.


Access to the Chinese market

China’s Food and Drug Administration requires all imported cosmetics (even if previously approved), new cosmetic ingredients, and “special-use” cosmetics such as hair dyes, deodorants and sunscreens, to undergo animal testing before being sold.

So any cruelty-free company needs to make the choice that they simply cannot sell their products to the Chinese market. The cosmetics market in China is currently worth around USD $29 billion so that’s a pretty huge sacrifice that these companies are making in the name of animal welfare!

Panda panda panda panda 

Panda panda panda panda 


Some companies get around this access to the Chinese market through referring to ‘exceptions’ made; for instance MAC has this statement on their website: “Even though we don’t test on animals ourselves, our products or ingredients can be tested on animals in places like China as a requirement by law.”  Estée Lauder has pretty much the same statement.

In June 2014, the Chinese FDA introduced regulatory reform that removed the mandatory requirement of animal testing for  “ordinary” cosmetics manufactured in mainland China. So this may result in fewer animals tests being conducted, at least for products made in China. 

However cruelty-free certification programs, such as the North American Leaping Bunny program overseen by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics, maintain that “any company that markets or sells their products in China may be removed from the Leaping Bunny Program unless a company can provide proof that they are exempt from animal testing now and anytime in the future.” Australia’s Choose Cruelty Free organisation has a similar position statement.


Give me some good news

 The good news is: regardless of the laws of any country, you can choose where the hell you want to spend your money! The list of companies going cruelty free is growing every year – and don’t forget they can’t sell in China so they need your support!

The Body Shop and Cruelty Free International are hoping to rack up 8 million signatures for their petition calling on the world wide ban on cosmetic testing which can be signed in store on online.

When you buy a cruelty-free product you love don't forget to instagram, tweet or FB it to spread the word - and use the hashtag #ForeverAgainstAnimalTesting.


So who's keeping animals happy?

Here are few great cruelty-free shopping resources:

There are some local stores who sell high quality products that haven’t been tested on animals:

Some of our favourite companies that are easy to source in New Zealand include:

OK and one more happy animal.....

Happy lab testing free lamb

Happy lab testing free lamb

Tess x