Animal Testing: Alternatives and Cruelty-Free Cosmetics

L.HoltHow much do you think about the common products you buy? Do you know where they’re made? How they’re formulated? Do you consider the ingredients and how they’re approved for human use?

How often do you consider the use of animal testing in a product’s development? With good reason, this practice has been called the secret ingredient in cosmetic, personal care and household products. This is something that we here at The Herb Companion are especially passionate about, and, though many of our readers may be aware of the issue, some might not. We think it’s important that all of us know we have alternatives that don’t involve cruelty to animals. The practice is alarmingly widespread, so in this blog, I’ll focus on the cosmetics industry.

The very good news is that, as consumers, we can be a powerful influence on getting companies to eliminate these barbaric practices, simply by purchasing our products from companies that do the right thing.

Testing on animals has long been used in many forms of research as a way to evaluate a product or ingredient’s effects without endangering a human. One common method is the Draize test, which measures eye irritants. Albino rabbits are chosen because their eyes are less suited to flushing irritants than regular rabbits. The test subjects are restrained, often with their eyelids clipped open as the product is applied. Sometimes the rabbits with break their own necks as they struggle to get away from the pain. Lethal dosage tests—the infamous LD50—consist of either forcing animals to ingest the chemical in question, or injecting it until a certain percentage of them die.

Perhaps the worst part of this is that none of these tests is necessary, or even particularly useful, according to some experts. FDA regulations do not require testing on animals for a cosmetic product’s approval. As more methods are developed to replace animal testing, researchers are finding that the tests they intend to replace are inexact and thus not useful in determining actual human reactions to a given product or chemical. In fact, in reaction to the cruelty and inefficiency of these tests, the European Union passed a ban on animal testing for cosmetics, to be expanded in 2013 to ban the selling any product that has been tested on animals. The cosmetics industry in America has been slow to respond. In fact, even the pharmaceuticals industry shows faster response.

There are many alternatives to animal-tested products.
Photo by junicks/Courtesy Flickr

Several alternative testing methods are available. In vitro tests rely on organ cultures in a glass dish and simulated models that are more reliable, although unfortunately some of these tests are still not considered conclusive on their own.  One such test is the Neutral Red Uptake Assay, which consists of chemicals added to a dish of live cells, with an added dye that will change color in the presence of dead cells. The results are then analyzed with a computer. Another alternative involves testing human volunteers and using consumer feedback.

Despite these alternatives, many mainstream companies continue to use animal testing. In a tactic that can only be described as deeply cynical, some brands will even mark a product as “cruelty-free” because the final product was never tested on animals, even though components of it might have been. Some companies will hire another company to do the tests and then buy the results. Large companies such as Proctor & Gamble (Clariol, Cover Girl, Max factor, Oral-B, Pantene, Crest, Oil of Olay, etc.) and Johnson & Johnson (Aveeno, Clean and Clear, Listerine, Neutrogena, etc.) state that they have a commitment to eliminating animal testing, but, as in the case of Proctor & Gamble, reportedly spend several times more money on advertising and lobbying against animal testing bans than on developing alternatives. In 2008, Johnson & Johnson stated in a letter to a concerned consumer that only new ingredients need to be tested, and that some of those tests may include tests on animals “to fully ensure safety.” The letter is mostly hopeful, but one statement made me wonder. The representative states that their formulas are so mild that there is no need to restrain the animals in irritancy tests. My (perhaps naïve) question is: If they already know that about their product, why is it being tested at all?

Another alternative to animal testing would be to use all natural ingredients, or only those with known effects. Some large companies that provide such products include Avon Cosmetics and Estee-Lauder (and Clinique Make-up). Other well-known companies that do not use animal testing include Burt’s Bees and The Body Shop. Some companies that you may not know but that are available online and in natural food stores include Beauty Without Cruelty, Arbonne, Aubrey and Borlind. A valuable resource to consider as you search for cruelty-free products is the Leaping Bunny, a sister program to the American Anti-Vivisection Society.

If you’re worried about the price of cruelty-free cosmetics, or about your ability to find them where you live—or even if you just want to get a bit more use out of your herb garden, consider making your own beauty products. Plenty of face-scrub, lotion and lip balm recipes are simple to make and entirely natural.

Check back in the next few weeks for a more detailed consideration of companies and their products, as well as herbal recipes for your homemade cosmetics.