Animal testing in cosmetics uses non-human subjects to examine the variables which could exist when specific products are applied. The goal of this process is to ensure the safety of humanity when new cosmetics are developed. It comes, however, at the expense of guaranteeing the safety of animals.
Even with an emphasis in place to stop animal testing in all its forms, it is believed that over 100 million animals are used for research purposes on the average year. Mice, rats, fish, amphibians, and reptiles comprise about 85% of the animal testing population.
In their publication of 2016 animal research statistics, the USDA reports that the number of animals used for testing in the United States rose by almost 7%, with public and private institutions reporting these numbers. Guinea Pigs are the most common animal used for testing, followed by rabbits, hamsters, and non-human primates.
List of the Key Advantages of Animal Testing in Cosmetics
1. It provides a research aid for new products.
If animal testing were not available, then there would be no way to test the safety of a product on organic tissues before applying it to humans. Educated guesses are not good enough for companies that must deal with legal liabilities if their products harm customers. Trial and error exercises are permitted within this type of research, which makes it possible to create advancements which benefit people. Almost every major advancement humanity made in the field of medicine and product development relied on animal testing in some way.
2. There are no suitable testing alternatives available.
People can run computer simulations and make their own projections, but this information does not substitute for actual testing. Animals are the next closest level of life on our planet, so if someone operates off the idea that human life is valued higher than animal life, testing is a logical outcome because it prevents harm to people. Untested cosmetics could be immediately harmful when applies, so animal testing verifies whether or not an item is suitable for further development or introduction to the market.
3. Animal testing improves the safety of the cosmetics.
By testing the viability of the cosmetics before going to human testing, a safer product is development by manufacturers. Although cosmetics aren’t like drug tests that could be immediately harmful to an animal or a person during the initial evaluation phases, unplanned outcomes do not bear the same legal responsibility with an animal test as they would a human test. This process is the only viable way to determine how a chemical reacts when used in a realistic way.
4. There are animal welfare benefits to consider.
Much of the attention in the world of animal testing focuses on the potential for harm. There must also be a focus on the potential for good. The animals which are in testing facilities are fully vaccinated, provided food, water, and shelter, while being able to have a limited amount of independence. Keeping an animal in a cage is the same at home as it is in a lab. Many of the distinctions drawn are based on purpose, not application, and that point must be driven home. We are able to save lives, including animal lives, because of the information obtained through these testing processes.
5. It provides an opportunity to research lifespan applications.
In some countries, the average human lifespan is above 80 years. For the average mouse, their lifespan might be 3 years. With animal testing processes, it becomes possible to research cosmetics at different stages of life to determine what dangers might apply. For some products, the effect of chemicals on multiple generations can be studied. That information can then apply to human needs, which offers us all a greater level of protection.
6. We kill more animals for food than are harmed by animal testing.
In the United States, over 60 billion animals are killed for food each year. There are more turkeys killed for food (232 million) than all of the animals that are even estimated to be in animal testing facilities. Although some might see this as a false equivalency, the debate around animal testing for cosmetics often focuses on the harm done to the animal. If we are indifferent to how animals meet one human need, but not another, then that says more about our personal perspectives on the issue than it does about the morality of testing.
List of the Key Disadvantages of Animal Testing in Cosmetics
1. Animal testing harms the animals – there’s no getting around that fact.
One of the most common animal studies is called the LD50 test. It stands for the “lethal dose 50%” test, where animals are given test substances until half of them die. Although this process has never been scientifically validated, it is used as a standard to determine acute toxicity levels for human use. Even with cosmetics, the application of an LD50 test is accurate to just 65%. In comparison, human cell-line tests, are up to 80% accurate. In high-dosage groups, animals might endure bleeding, rashes, eye contact, forced inhalation of products, and suffer from paralysis, seizures, and convulsions.
2. Many of the items tested by the cosmetics industry are never used.
The safety of products measured by animal testing often results in development practices that are abandoned. If too much harm comes to the animal, then that increases the chance of harm eventually happening to a human if the produce were to be used. In many instances, animals are asked to sacrifice their lives to determine the safety of a product that may never make it out of the development stage.
3. Animal testing claims are not regulated in the United States.
Companies are free to say whatever they want about their approach to animal testing in the United States. Claims of animal testing are not verified. Anything can be placed on the product label of the cosmetics in question without oversight. Although finished products used to be tested frequently on animals, thankfully the practice is decreasing in the industry. Just keep in mind, however, that a cosmetics company might not test products on animals, but their supplier could still be doing it.
4. It is an expensive testing process.
The average cost to care for a single chimpanzee published by Save the Chimps is $16,000 per year. To care for the average dog, the average cost is $9,000 per year. A single rat or mouse will cost several hundred dollars per year. Now multiply those costs by the 100 million animals that are rotated through the animal testing industry each year. Companies are literally spending billions of dollars on antiquated research practices when that money could be used for research and development procedures that are more effective.
5. The results from animal testing are not reliable.
Failure rates from animal research activities in all industries is above 90%. Recent data published by the Food and Drug Administration suggests that the failure rate of drugs tested on animals could be as high as 96%. Even in 1985, when there was a surge of global animal testing for cosmetics and other products, 86% of the tests conducted on animals created failures. For that reason, the United States is the only major region in the developed world where major bans on animal-tested products does not exist.
6. Exemptions are available for animal testing laws.
Just 4% of the animals involved in testing schemes for all industries were protected by current welfare laws. Facilities are able to apply for exemptions from these laws if they can show their products have the potential to help people in some way. Most companies govern themselves with animal testing compliance as well, appointing self-supervision committees that report only to themselves about the work that is being done. Without a direct inspection of the organization and its processes, it is impossible to know who is in compliance and who is not.
7. For some, the goal may be a sadistic pleasure in harming other living creatures.
In the late 20th century, the Natural Resources Defense Council released a paper which stated that there were non-animal testing options available that were faster, cheaper, informative, and more valuable than the information that animal tests provide. In the same paper, however, the scientists in the NRDC publicly advocated for a reversal of the European ban on this testing because they need to “test these products on living things.” If the information is cheaper and better with non-animal testing, then what other purpose is there to continue with tests on animals?
8. Ineffective practices may invalidate the results achieved.
If poor research techniques are used when testing cosmetics on animals, there is the possibility that the data would be incomplete or inaccurate. You can achieve false positives or negatives based on the approaches used by the researchers. Because many activities in this area are self-directed, it is easy enough for corruption to enter the research arena to create results that support bringing a product to market.
9. There are loopholes available for the cosmetics companies.
Even though the European ban on animal testing for cosmetics made headlines, what hasn’t is the loopholes which are available to organizations. Chemicals which come from an industry other that beauty and cosmetics are still fair game. Pharmaceutical and chemical testing are still permitted. If you’re using anti-aging products, then there’s a good chance that the information for the product came from the realm of animal testing in pharmaceuticals.
10. Cosmetics are not a necessity of human life.
Although animals are slaughtered by the millions every day for food, there is a different purpose. Humans need food to survive. Heme iron is absorbed readily, while non-heme iron from plants is not. Cosmetics are a different industry altogether. You need food to eat. You don’t necessarily need a cosmetic product. Our question is incorrect. We often ask if animals can reason, or if they can communicate with us. We should be asking ourselves this: do animals suffer?
The advantages and disadvantages of animal testing for cosmetics can be somewhat misleading. For the cosmetics company, being involved with testing is a public relations nightmare. It is an expensive process that is imprecise. The issue is the list of grandfathered chemicals. Although these items are listed as safe, they only got that way because of animal testing. Even if a product is cruelty-free and not tested on animals now, it may be based on information obtained years ago that was based on animal testing.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.