With most of the world moving away from cosmetic animal testing towards cruelty-free beauty, why is cosmetic animal testing even still a thing?!
It’s widely condemned and it’s clear that a significant number of consumers are strongly against it. If you need a refresher, have a read of part one of this topic which is all about consumer behaviour and the trend towards cruelty-free beauty. Unfortunately, like most things in life, animal testing in cosmetics cannot be eradicated instantaneously. The rise of the cruelty-free phenomenon has taken time, and similarly, technological advancements in non-animal testing alternatives have taken (and continue to take) many years. With that said, there have recently been major developments as the market has shifted to demanding cruelty-free alternatives and dedicating more funding to non-animal testing technologies. In order to understand the process of phasing out cosmetic animal testing, let’s take a look at why animal testing was used in the first place, how animal testing and non-animal testing techniques compare, and why this process has been such a long one.
Why were cosmetics tested on animals in the first place?
It seems outrageous that animals are put through pain and trauma for the sake of testing products used for our own vanity, right?
Well, unfortunately, the harsh reality is that many of the animal tests used today were developed years ago (we’re talking the 1940s) under crisis conditions. For example, the Draize test, which involves testing the irritation and damage caused by chemicals by applying them to the skin or eye of a rabbit, was developed in 1944 after reports that cosmetics were causing permanent eye injuries. The governing principle was that tests should be developed to predict any possible toxic effects of chemicals, and at the time, animal testing was the most reliable method.
This principle more or less applies today, but the World Animal Health Organisation states that “animals should only be used when ethically justified and when no other alternative methods are available.” When it comes to cosmetics though, the harm to animals is often significant, while the benefit to humans is minimal. Despite the fact that many non-animal tests have been developed since, animal testing methods such as the Draize test are still being used. This is mainly out of convenience: it’s what has always been done, there’s a precedent, and results can be easily compared to earlier tests on animals to give confidence to scientists. Although, as I’ve said – times are changing! The movement against animal testing is encouraging more developments in non-animal testing, and in many cases these new technologies are more reliable.
Animal vs Non-animal testing
To put the final nail in the coffin of cosmetic animal testing, it’s widely understood that it really isn’t a reliable predictor for toxic effects in humans. Most animal tests over or underestimate toxicity, or simply don’t mirror toxicity in humans very well.
After all, humans are completely different species to rabbits and guinea pigs. A study from the late 1980s found that there was less than 50% correlation between animals and humans, while in-vitro methods (human cells in test tubes) had an 85% correlation and were therefore likely to produce more reliable results. Similarly, there are certain chemicals that have been proven to have negative effects on animals, but are in fact beneficial to humans. It’s been shown that animal experiments only have a 5-25% success rate for predicting harmful human side effects, and that animals pass 92% of clinical tests that humans fail. What this means is that the predictions made from animal tests are inconclusive and often incorrect.
In contrast to this, a combination of chemistry and cell-based alternatives have been shown to accurately predict human reactions 90% of the time. Ultimately, non-animal methods like in-vitro testing or artificial human skin models eliminate any sort of harm to both animals and people and may help eliminate animal testing all together. However, in order to be accepted as valid testing methods, they are put through an intense and slow validation process.
What cruelty-free alternatives are available?
Alternative testing methods are those that follow the “three Rs” principle, in which the test either replaces a procedure that uses animals, reduces the number of animals used in a procedure or refines a procedure to alleviate or minimise potential animal pain. Despite many alternatives being developed, the process for them to be validated and accepted is a long and rigorous one. An alternative must be scientifically validated in multiple laboratories – often in different countries – to see if its results reliably predict outcomes in humans. Once validated, government authorities must decide whether they will accept the test as an alternative to replace, reduce or refine animal use. Government regulation significantly influences what testing methods private companies use, which is why it is so significant that countries around the world ban cosmetic animal testing. If anything, the intense validation process non-animal tests go through makes them more reliable, as animal tests never had to undergo such rigorous processes.
Alternative tests include in-vitro methods, advanced computer-modelling techniques and studies with human volunteers. In-vitro testing includes using human cells and tissues to mimic the structure and function of human organs and organ systems. Computer-modelling techniques, also known as in silico models, simulate human biology and the progression of developing diseases. Studies have shown that these models can accurately predict how new drugs will react in the human body. So, why harm animals when a model or computerised simulation works just as well? Microdosing with human volunteers can help screen out drug compounds that won’t work in humans, so they won’t be needlessly tested on animals. These alternative methods are extremely promising, however further development is needed in order to fill knowledge gaps and make up for their weaknesses.
There is no one alternative method that will completely replace animal testing, but rather a combination of methods and research. As more consumers and countries move towards supporting cruelty-free beauty, more development will be done in non-animal methods and eventually, animal testing will be replaced for good.