Easing Away From Animal Testing in the Cosmetics Industry
People naturally use cosmetics in their everyday lives. Whether it be applying deodorant or rubbing lotion onto dry skin, both men and women spend a minute or two of their days enhancing their exterior appearances. But have you ever wondered how these products came to be? How did companies create these products so that they were guaranteed to be safe for human use? One such method of testing for the safety of chemicals in human cosmetic items is the general use of animal experimentation. Animal testing is simply the use of non-human animals in experiments. While animal experimentation has been extremely effective in ensuring the safe usage of chemicals in cosmetics, the tests that the animals are forced to endure often involve the suffering of the animals being tested. The use of inhumane animal testing methods begs the question of whether it is necessary for companies to employ such procedures despite the moral questions surrounding the experiments. Do cosmetic corporations have a means of bypassing animals in the chemical testing process so as to make the production of cosmetics as morally acceptable as possible? And if so, how effective are these alternative, cruelty-free procedures?
According to the National Anti-Vivisection Society, most animal testing in cosmetics involves the testing of irritancy of chemicals and the potential harm they might cause if these chemicals were eaten, inhaled, or came in contact with a living body (145). In particular, the Draize tests are the most frequently-used tests for irritancy in substances used when producing cosmetics. They involve the placement of potentially corrosive chemicals on either the skin or the eyes of live animals. In the Draize eye test, “various concentrations of products are applied directly into the animals’ eyes, which can cause intense burning, itching and pain” (145). Alison Abbott, a senior European correspondent for Nature magazine, states that these chemicals are often directly applied into the eyes of live rabbits, whose eyes are then assessed for possible damage and overall reaction to the irritants (144). The National Anti-Vivisection Society further explains how certain substances are “applied to shaved and abraded skin, which is then covered with plastic sheeting” when testing for chemical irritancy on the skin (145). As in the Draize eye test, the skin would then be evaluated to see how it did or did not react to the chemical placed upon it.
With the knowledge of these tests in mind, why is it that companies still consider using animal testing on their products? The United States Food and Drug Administration, which is responsible for making sure the cosmetics are safe for people to use, neither requires the use of animal experimentation to test a product nor subjects cosmetics to FDA “premarket” approval (“Animal Testing”). Yet, most companies that have continued to use animal testing argue that they wish to experiment on animals because it has been effective in determining the safety of chemicals on humans in the past. Andrew Knight, an Australian bioethicist and a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, writes that there have been claims that animal research is vital to the understanding and curing of human diseases. He further states how many cosmetic manufacturers believe that animal testing is essential for the “greatest achievements” in the medicinal industry, and how the “complexity of laboratory animals” provides a sufficient model for research pertaining to the “complexity of humans” (39).
Another reason companies continue to test cosmetic chemicals on animals is because of the convenience of maintaining the traditional use of animal testing in their procedures. The National Anti-Vivisection Society claims that cosmetic producers view animal testing as a “legal safety net” to ensure that they have “appropriate” safety data in case they are ever sued for defective products (147). In addition, the FDA does not even have a definition for the term “cruelty-free.” Cosmetic producers can easily label their products as such without restriction according to their definition of what may be considered “animal testing” (“Cruelty-Free/Not Tested On Animals”). For example, if a company does not test their final products on animals but uses other substances in their products that have been tested on animals, they may still be able to label their products as “Not Tested On Animals” because their claim only pertains to the final product.
There are still many ethical issues that arise from using animals as test subjects in research. First, the commonly-used tests like the Draize tests are possibly painful and damaging for the animals. If a chemical is indeed corrosive, then naturally an animal would be subject to significant amounts of pain from these procedures. Irritancy tests are also a cause of great distress, which is defined as “an aversive state in which an animal is unable to adapt completely to stressors and the resulting stress and shows maladaptive behaviors” (qtd. in Knight 29), often due to the environment the animals are kept in (32). According to a 2004 study by scientist J. Balcombe and associates, general human contact (i.e. handling, cage cleaning, and restraining during procedures) distorted homeostasis, or the maintenance of biological equilibrium, within most of the common laboratory animal species (i.e. rats and mice) (31-2). These results indicate the presence of stress and potentially fear in laboratory animals (32). Such tests not only bring up ethical questions but reveal a certain hypocrisy as well. As Roman Kolar of the Animal Welfare Society says, “…it seems unacceptable that we, as humans, put sentient beings into states of suffering that we would never accept for ourselves” (112). Animals used in cosmetic testing are almost certainly sentient creatures (like rabbits, rats, and mice); they may not have the ability of higher-level perception like humans, but they are still capable of receiving and perceiving pain stimuli. People are definitely aware of the unpleasantness of such chemical testing methods; for what other reason would we choose to test human products on animals instead of on fellow people? But since the animals used in these experiments are also sentient creatures, it is simply not fair to subject them to cruel tests, especially when we ourselves would probably never willingly endure such unnecessary pain.
There are also legitimate scientific reasons as to why animal testing methods should be re-evaluated and reformed. The leading scientific argument against animal testing would be whether or not test results done on lower level mammals like mice and rabbits can accurately be “extrapolated” to humans (“Cosmetic Testing: Facts”). Abbott claims that “Most animal tests over or underestimate toxicity, or simply don’t mirror toxicity in humans very well” (145). Seeing as humans and, for instance, mice are different organisms, it makes sense that the reactions of both species have a higher chance of being different. Studies dating back to 1971 even show how multiple Draize tests performed in different labs turned out to be irreproducible and unreliable (145).
So what are the possible alternatives to animal testing? In a general statement, the non-profit organization “In Defense of Animals” states that cosmetic companies should start using “cell and skin tissue cultures, corneas from eye banks, and sophisticated computer and mathematical models” instead of using live animal test subjects that may not even give accurate results on the health hazards of chemicals on humans (“Cosmetic Testing: Facts”). In place of skin irritant testing, the National Anti-Vivisection Society suggests that companies use procedures such as Corroxitex®, which evaluates the corrosiveness of acids, bases, and acid derivatives, instead (149). This is done using a biomembrane and chemical detection system that uses color change to show when a substance is corrosive (“Testing Alternatives”). Another possible test would be EpiDerm, which is a “layered model of human-derived epidermal keratinocytes” that functions as artificial human skin (“Testing Alternatives”). This method too can be used to test chemical irritancy with skin.
But as with all things, even the alternative testing methods have yet to be perfected (or as perfected as it can be in this constantly changing realm of science). Even with Corroxitex® and EpiDerm, which are two methods validated by the Interagency Coordinating Committee on the Validation of Alternative Methods, or ICCVAM, scientists are sometimes advised to test the final product on live animals to once again confirm the irritancy or corrosiveness of the tested chemical (“Testing Alternatives”). Among cosmetic companies (and any other company using animals experimentation), there is a general apprehension about the effectiveness of alternative animal testing. According to Thomas Hartung, the former head of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods, people feel “uneasy about taking risks where stakes are so high and issues so emotive. We all want to be sure that there is real evidence that alternative tests are predictive of human toxicity” (qtd. in Abbott 146).
Nevertheless, it is still important to try and ease away from the prevalent and inhumane use of animals in the laboratory setting. While current validated alternative testing methods may not exclude animals entirely, they are at least reducing the use of live animals in cosmetics testing. Abbott believes that the long-term benefits of reducing animal suffering while still progressing in the area of science and cosmetics are preferable to the current inhumane usage of animal testing in science (146). The science of cosmetics is as constantly changing as any other realm of science; the continuous process of researching and learning new techniques still has the potential to someday leave the cosmetics industry free of cruel animal testing methods.
Abbott, Alison. “Animal testing: more than a cosmetic change.” Nature 438 (2005): 144-146. Print.
“Animal Testing.” Cosmetics. United States Food and Drug Administration, 1999. Web. 6 Nov. 2011.
“Cosmetic Testing: Facts.” In Defense of Animals. Web. 2 Nov. 2011.
“Cruelty-Free/Not Tested On Animals.” Cosmetics. United States Food and Drug Administration, 1995. Web. 13 Nov. 2011.
Knight, Andrew. The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experiments. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2011. Print.
Kolar, Roman. “Animal Experimentation.” Science and Engineering Ethics 12.1 (2006): 111-122. Print.
The National Anti-Vivisection Society. Personal Care for People Who Care. The National Anti-Vivisection Society, 2007. Print.
“Testing Alternatives.” American Anti-Vivisection Society, 2011. Web. 5 Nov. 2011.