Imagine getting up in the morning and going about your usual routine to start the day. How many different products do you apply to your body by the time you’re ready to head out the door?
For many people, the list would at least include toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and deodorant. But many people can also tack on hair conditioner, lip balm, sunscreen, shaving products, and a whole array of cosmetics. A survey by the Environmental Working Group found that the average American consumer uses 9 different products each day, and some use 15 or more.
Naturally, the companies that make these products want to make sure they don’t cause any problems for their customers, such as hair loss or skin rashes. So before bringing a new product to market, they test it for safety – often by feeding it or applying it to animals and seeing how it affects them. Each year, millions of rabbits, mice, rats, guinea pigs, and other animals have an assortment of products rubbed on their skin, smeared in their eyes, or forced down their throats – often resulting in severe pain, illness, and death for the animals.
However, there’s no actual law in this country requiring this type of product to be tested on animals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is in charge of regulating safety for personal care products, requires companies to test the ingredients they use for safety, but they can use any test that’s “appropriate and effective.” In fact, the FDA officially recommends that companies consider “scientifically valid alternative methods” first and use animal tests only as a last resort. And in some countries and regions – including the European Union, India, and Israel – animal testing for cosmetics is actually illegal, and products tested on animals can’t be sold there.
For all these reasons, many companies today are choosing to avoid animal testing. Some of them make cosmetics and other personal care products with proven ingredients that don’t need to be tested, while others rely on new testing methods that are often more accurate – and less expensive – than animal testing. These companies typically label their products as “cruelty free.” So if you don’t want your shopping dollars to support companies that harm animals, cruelty-free products offer a kinder alternative.
What Is Animal Testing?
In the United States, a wide variety of products get tested on animals. Drugs, vaccines, and medical devices of all kinds have to go through animal testing before they’re allowed to be used in human trials. Laws also require certain other products, such as garden chemicals, to be tested on animals to see how safe they are. Cosmetics and other personal care products aren’t required to go through animal testing, but manufacturers do have to prove that the ingredients they use are safe, and many use animal tests to do that.
Some people argue that all this animal testing is good – or at least necessary. They point out that the research done on animals, particularly for new drugs, helps save human lives. So while it’s unfortunate that animals have to suffer, they say it’s worth it to protect humans.
However, this argument doesn’t really apply to testing cosmetics and other personal care products. A new drug can save lives, but all a new deodorant can do is make you smell a bit better. And it isn’t even necessary to use animal testing to develop that new deodorant, since there are plenty of effective ingredients that are already known to be safe.
Of course, companies still prefer to be able to bring out new, high-tech ingredients for their products, because it’s one way for them to set themselves apart from the competition. Consumers are more likely to try a face cream that’s advertised as containing a miraculous new wrinkle-fighting ingredient because they hope it will work better than anything that has been on the market. But even if a company has a brand-new ingredient cooked up in a lab, it doesn’t necessarily need to test the chemical on animals to prove that it’s safe. There are various other scientific methods of testing substances without using animals – and evidence suggests that many of these new methods are just as effective as animal tests, if not better.
Types of Animal Tests
Companies conduct several types of animal tests to see how their personal care products could affect humans. They commonly use animals to test their products for the following:
- Skin Sensitization. Companies use two different tests to see whether a product is likely to cause an allergic reaction that affects the skin. In one test, they inject the substance under the skin of 32 guinea pigs and observe whether the skin becomes itchy, inflamed, ulcerated, or painful. In the second test, which is more common these days because it’s faster, scientists apply a substance to the ears of 16 mice. After observing its effects, they kill the mice so they can remove the lymph nodes next to their ears. They then count the number of lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) extracted from the node to measure immune response.
- Skin and Eye Irritation. One of the best-known animal tests is the Draize test for skin and eye irritation, which is performed on rabbits. Scientists shave the rabbit’s fur, apply the test substance to the bare skin, and look for damage such as rash, swelling, scaling, and lesions. They also put the substance into a rabbit’s eyes to see if it causes redness, bleeding, clouding, ulcers, or blindness.
- Acute Toxicity. Scientists use the “limit test” to determine how much of a substance it takes to kill animals that are exposed to it. This is a modified form of the LD50 test, which stands for “lethal dose 50%,” because its goal is to find the dose needed to kill half the animals involved in the test. Most acute toxicity tests are done on rats, but tests for skin toxicity can involve rabbits or guinea pigs. Scientists either force-feed the substance to the animals, apply it to their shaved skin for 24 hours, or place them in a tube and force them to inhale it. Depending on the test and the substance, animals can experience diarrhea, bleeding from the nose or mouth, convulsions, seizures, or paralysis before they finally die. If more than half the animals survive the test, the scientists repeat it over and over with higher doses until they find the amount needed to kill half the animals.
- Long-Term Toxicity. Companies don’t just want to know how harmful a substance can be in high doses – they also want to know how it could affect people over the long term. In one test, scientists expose rats to a substance every day for either 28 or 90 days, then kill them and dissect them to see how the chemical affected their cells and organs. In another test, they expose the rats to the substance and then draw blood from them every day to see when the chemical reaches its peak concentration in their blood. They then kill the test rats at different times and examine their organs to observe how the substance has moved through their bodies over time. In the longest-term test, scientists expose 400 rats or mice to the test substance every day for two years, then kill them and examine their tissues for signs of cancer or other chronic diseases.
- Reproductive and Developmental Effects. A final purpose of animal testing is to find out how a substance could affect pregnant women or their developing babies. In one test, scientists expose hundreds of male and female rats to the test substance for two to four weeks before mating and continue to expose the female throughout her pregnancy. Four days after she gives birth, they kill her and the baby rats to examine their tissues. An even longer-term test, called a two-generation study, involves taking the baby rats from the first type of test and continuing to expose them to the same substance throughout their lives. Rats that survive to adulthood are then mated and the test is repeated with the second generation of females.
In most laboratory tests, killing and dissecting the animal is part of the process. However, even when the animals survive testing, they’re of no further use to the researchers, so they’re routinely killed as soon as the test is complete. They either asphyxiate the animals, break their necks, or cut off their heads – generally without providing any kind of pain relief.
Reliability of Animal Testing
Animal welfare groups, such as The Humane Society and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), argue that animal testing is not only cruel but inaccurate. For one thing, the results from animal tests aren’t always clear-cut. Tests of the same chemical in different labs – or even different rounds of testing in the same lab – often produce different results.
Another problem is that humans don’t always respond the same way as lab animals when exposed to the same substance. For instance, in a study published in the journal Contact Dermatitis, researchers compared the results of the Draize skin test in rabbits with a four-hour skin patch test in humans for several different chemicals. They found that of the 16 substances that irritated the rabbits’ skin, only five were irritating to humans.
As a result, animal tests can either overestimate or underestimate the risk that a given chemical poses to human health. A report published in the journal Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology showed that this is particularly true when it comes to tests of potential carcinogens (cancer-causing substances). Examining existing data from cancer tests in rats, the researchers found that the tests identified many harmless substances as carcinogens while failing to catch several substances that are known to cause cancer.
The use of unreliable animal tests can result in costly problems for companies. For instance, a company could introduce a new product that appears perfectly safe based on animal tests, only to find when people start using it that it actually is harmful to humans. A situation like this could result in an expensive and embarrassing product recall, loss of business, or even a class-action consumer lawsuit. At the same time, many potentially useful products never come to market because of failed animal tests, even though they actually would be safe for humans to use.
Alternatives to Animal Testing
Even though animal tests aren’t always reliable, it could still make sense for companies to use them if they had no other way to test their products. But nowadays, that just isn’t the case. There are many new kinds of chemical safety tests that rely on human cells and tissues, computer models, synthetic tissues, or organs from animals that have already died, rather than live animals.
For example, synthetic versions of human skin, such as EpiDerm and SkinEthic, can be used in place of rabbit skin to test chemicals for skin corrosion and irritation. New test methods also make it possible to test eye irritation using the eyes of cattle and chickens that have been slaughtered for meat, rather than live rabbits.
AltTox.org, a partner to The Humane Society, lists more than 80 animal-free safety tests that have been approved by regulatory agencies, such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. These animal-free tests are often faster, cheaper, and more accurate than old-fashioned animal tests. That’s why the FDA officially recommends that companies explore other test methods before resorting to animal tests – and if they do use animals, use the most humane methods available and get the most information they can with as few animals as possible.
Another way for manufacturers to reduce their use of animal tests is to avoid using new chemicals that need testing. There are thousands of ingredients available that are known to be safe, either because they’ve already been tested or because they’ve been safely used for decades. Many socially conscious companies rely exclusively on these ingredients to make cruelty-free cosmetics and other personal care products.
Laws About Animal Testing
Laws about the use of animal testing vary widely from country to country. In China, for example, the government conducts animal tests on all cosmetic products sold in the country. This means that even if a product was developed without any animal tests, it can’t be sold in China without putting animals through painful testing procedures. The government of Brazil also requires animal testing for some types of cosmetics.
By contrast, in other countries, animal testing for cosmetics is forbidden by law. The European Union, Israel, and India have all banned the sale of any cosmetics or cosmetics ingredients that have been tested on animals.
In the United States, the FDA doesn’t require animal testing for cosmetics and other personal care products, but it’s not banned either. Individual companies get to make the decision whether to use animal testing or rely on modern testing methods and cruelty-free ingredients. However, the ban on animal testing in Europe is steering more American companies away from animal testing, as they can no longer sell their products in Europe if they’ve been tested on animals.
Laws About Animals Used in Research
Companies that do choose to use animal tests have to adhere to the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), the only law in the United States that protects lab animals. This law says that certain types of animals – including dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, and most other warm-blooded creatures – are entitled to proper food, housing, and veterinary care, no matter whether they’re being kept as pets or used for research.
However, the protections of the AWA are extremely limited. For starters, the law specifically excludes rats, mice, and birds that have been “bred for use in research.” According to the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS), an animal welfare group, these species together make up more than 90% of all the animals used in research – so most aren’t covered by the AWA at all. And even lab animals that are covered, such as rabbits and guinea pigs, are still allowed to be subjected to painful procedures such as the Draize test.
In theory, under the AWA, scientists who work with lab animals are required to “ensure that animal pain and distress are minimized” through pain-killing drugs and other veterinary treatments. However, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is in charge of enforcing the AWA, has only 115 inspectors to cover more than 7,750 licensed facilities that work with animals – not nearly enough to make sure the rules are being followed everywhere. And even when violators are caught, the maximum fine they can pay is $10,000 for each offense – a drop in the bucket for a lab that brings in millions of dollars a year from animal research. Fines this small do little to discourage labs from breaking the AWA again the minute the inspectors’ backs are turned.
Finding Cruelty-Free Products
If you’re opposed to animal testing, one of the most useful things you can do to fight it is to refuse to buy personal care products from companies that test on animals. Choosing cruelty-free alternatives is more than just a personal statement – it’s also a way you can affect the marketplace. The more customers reject a company’s products, the more its bottom line suffers – and that’s the best way to get its attention and persuade it to change its practices.
The biggest problem with shopping cruelty free is figuring out which products are tested on animals and which aren’t. Fortunately, animal welfare groups such as PETA and The Humane Society have done a little work to help you out. These groups maintain lists of companies that do and don’t test on animals. They also offer logos that companies can license to show that their products are cruelty free, so customers can easily find them on store shelves.
Although companies sometimes label their products as “not tested on animals,” these claims can be misleading. For instance, it’s possible that a finished product bearing this label wasn’t tested on animals, but the ingredients in the product were. It’s also possible that the company itself didn’t do any animal testing, but it went on to sell the product in China, where it had to go through animal tests to make it onto store shelves.
If you want the products you buy to be held to a higher standard, you can look for cruelty-free logos, such as the Leaping Bunny. All products bearing this logo must meet the strict standards of the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC), an umbrella organization formed by eight different animal-welfare groups.
To be certified by the CCIC, a company must meet these criteria:
- It doesn’t test any of its products on animals.
- It doesn’t use any ingredients that were tested on animals after its “fixed cut-off date” (the date when the company became certified).
- It doesn’t sell any products in foreign countries where animal testing is required.
- All its suppliers, both for finished products and for ingredients, sign statements saying that they do not use any animal testing.
- An independent audit of the company by a firm the CCIC selects shows that all its suppliers are holding to this promise.
A company doesn’t have to pay for CCIC certification. However, to use the Leaping Bunny logo, it must pay a one-time licensing fee, which varies based on the company’s annual sales. This sliding scale allows small companies to license the logo for a price they can afford.
Another cruelty-free label for products is PETA’s Beauty Without Bunnies logo. PETA’s standards for cruelty-free companies are roughly the same as the CCIC’s, but it’s not quite as strict about enforcing them. To get onto PETA’s cruelty-free list, all a company has to do is fill out a short questionnaire and sign a statement promising not to use any animal tests.
Once it’s on the list, the company can license the Beauty Without Bunnies logo for a one-time fee of $100. There are two versions of the logo: “Cruelty-Free” and “Cruelty-Free and Vegan.” Products with the second version are guaranteed to be not only free of animal testing, but also completely free of animal-based ingredients.
Cruelty-Free Shopping Guides
Looking for the PETA and CCIC logos is only one way to find cruelty-free products. Both these organizations also maintain lists online of all the cruelty-free companies that are registered with them.
These lists can come in handy when you’re shopping for personal care products online. If you see a brand you don’t recognize, you can just click over to the list of Leaping Bunny Approved Brands and look for the company name. You can also type the brand name into the PETA Search page to find out whether it’s a registered cruelty-free company or one that’s known to test on animals (or simply isn’t listed).
Cruelty-free shopping guides can also be handy for in-store shopping. Some companies certified by the CCIC or PETA haven’t paid to license their logos, so if you see a product that doesn’t have a cruelty-free logo, you can use your smartphone to do a quick search to check on the company. Both PETA and Leaping Bunny have shopping apps that you can download for either iPhone or Android.
If you don’t have a smartphone, both companies offer shopping guides in print form. On the Leaping Bunny site, you can get a free wallet-size guide mailed to you at no cost, or you can download the guide and print it out yourself. PETA also offers a free printed guide, but you have to sign up for the PETA mailing list in order to receive a copy. This means you’ll get a copy of PETA’s newsletter every month, along with coupons and other offers from cruelty-free companies.
Companies That Do and Don’t Test on Animals
Many large American companies that make cosmetics and other personal care products still use animal testing at some stage of the development process. These giant conglomerates, in turn, own many smaller companies, so most of the brands on the shelves of your local drugstore are made by them.
Major companies that test on animals, and some of their most popular brands, include the following:
- Church & Dwight (Arm & Hammer, Close-Up, Mentadent, Nair)
- Estée Lauder (Clinique, MAC Cosmetics, Origins)
- GlaxoSmithKline (Aquafresh, Biotene, Sensodyne)
- Johnson & Johnson (Band-Aid, Clean & Clear, Lubriderm, Listerine, Neutrogena, Stayfree)
- L’Oreal (Garnier, Giorgio Armani, Matrix, Maybelline, Redken)
- Procter & Gamble (Always, Clairol, Crest, Gillette, Head & Shoulders, Herbal Essences, Ivory, Olay, Old Spice, Pantene, Secret, Scope, Vidal Sassoon)
- Revlon (Almay, Mitchum)
- Unilever (Caress, Degree, Dove, Nexxus, Noxzema, Ponds, St. Ives, Suave, TRESemmé, Vaseline)
However, there are also hundreds of companies on the PETA and Leaping Bunny websites that have chosen to avoid animal testing. Some of the better-known ones are:
- Alba Botanica
- Beauty Without Cruelty
- The Body Shop
- Burt’s Bees
- Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps
- Earth Friendly Products
- E.L.F. Cosmetics
- LUSH Cosmetics
- NYX Los Angeles Inc.
- Paul Mitchell
- Physicians Formula
- Smashbox Cosmetics
- Tom’s of Maine
- Urban Decay
- wet n wild
- Yes To Inc.
Shopping cruelty free is only one way to fight animal testing. You can also work to change the U.S. laws that require animal tests for drugs and household chemicals, and enact new laws that ban animal testing for cosmetics. One such bill, the Humane Cosmetics Act, was introduced in the House of Representatives in June 2015. You can read the text of the bill on the House website and contact your representative to urge him or her to support it.
Another way to fight animal testing is to support animal-rights and animal-welfare groups in their work. PETA, for instance, funds research into animal-free testing methods and works with regulatory agencies to make these methods more widely accepted. Groups such as The Humane Society and the NEAVS also work to educate the public about animal testing, changing attitudes and, ultimately, changing laws.
In the long run, activists hope to change the laws and end animal testing everywhere. But in the meantime, shopping cruelty free gives you a way to support cruelty-free companies and help encourage other companies to adopt cruelty-free methods. In the end, a combination of the two strategies – activism and cruelty-free shopping – can do more to bring about change than either one can by itself.
How do you feel about animal testing?