By now you might have heard that the European Union has remained firm in its decision to go through with its ban on the sale of cosmetic products that employ animal testing, set to go into effect in March 11, 2013 (Cosmetic Design Europe, European Commission). This means that products containing ingredients tested on animals will not be found in European drugstores. This is largely considered a success but global animal rights activists (Cosmetic Design Europe).
And others are following suit. China is implementing its first alternative methods to testing on animals. Israel recently put a ban into place that bans the import of any cosmetics that use animal testing. Numerous people involved in the movement claim alternative testing methods are just as successful, if not more so, than animal testing. And bans such as these have resulted in more money being pumped into looking for alternatives (Sky News).
Cruelty-free cosmetics have grown in popularity as of late, so many consider this a success. Before I begin, I want to state that FutureDerm does not support animal testing in cosmetics and our products are not testing on animals. For the sake of this article, I will also discuss medical testing. This is for two reasons: One, because the current animal testing debate isn’t merely about cosmetics, but also medical research; and two, because there can be a fine line between what is considered “cosmetic” and what is considered “medical” (as cosmetic doesn’t merely mean makeup).
Why Do We Test on Animals?
The general argument for animal testing up until this point has been that to test on animals is cruel, but to do widespread damage to humans because of inadequate testing is generally considered crueler. Animal testing is done to ensure that products are as safe as possible before testing them on humans an eventually releasing them for general use (FDA).
That said, there are, indeed, alternative methods of testing products. In fact, the FDA is committed to integrating as many of these technologies into practice as possible to reduce the numbers of animals used in testing. These include human cells grown in laboratories and sophisticated software that allows researchers to look at what might happen to different kinds of bodies when given certain products (Humane Society, NEAVS).
So why do we still test on animals if we have all this fancy new technology? Simple. It’s impossible to use cells in a laboratory and gauge exactly how a functioning body with all sorts of systems — including immune systems — will react to certain things. While a drug or ingredient may kill cells in a lab, it could demonstrate a beneficial effect on a living body (New York Times). (This is particularly important with medical and drug testing on animals, which hasn’t been banned in Europe.)
The reason I bring this point up is because there is some argument from select researchers that to put humans in danger with cosmetics without animal testing would be in some way irresponsible, and could potentially do harm. However, a large number of researchers support using alternative methods.
The Issues with Animal Testing
But animal testing also isn’t perfect.
It’s possible with animal testing to try a product on an animal, only to do a trial on humans and discover that we have a different interaction. Reports show that in the medical world, about 25% of drugs did not show side effects in animals that later showed up in humans. There is not a statistic to report how often this might occur with cosmetic products.
In addition to this, using animals in tests is much costlier than many of the other readily available options. Because side effects might not show up in one species, researchers often do tests on several different species to ensure they have the safest drug possible. To do this costs quite a bit of money. However, it’s not always the case that animal testing costs more. Sometimes alternative testing can be even costlier, jacking up the price of products.
It also costs time. Animal testing can take years, and in cases such as the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2011, scientists quickly determined which oil dispersant would be the safest because they used alternative methods that took less time (The Scientist). This means that cosmetic ingredients could be approved more quickly and, in all likelihood, with more accuracy.
The more we understand about alternative testing and its limitations, the more we can understand which tests are best for which products.
How the Ban Affects Testing
Because companies that sell products in Europe had years to develop the technologies to allow them to forgo animal testing before the ban, they weren’t caught off-guard. By giving them ample time, the European Union created an environment where new technologies are in demand, and so, for this reason, put pressure on innovation. For this reason, the European Union is about 10 years ahead of the U.S. in adopting this technology.
Some scientists champion finding alternatives for testing cosmetics with some arguing that cosmetics companies should be allowed to test on animals (The Guardian). The question is: At what point does it become necessary to use as many tests as possible to ensure consumer safety? Essentially, the question is where we draw the line between a cream that is cosmetic and one that is intended to treat a dermatological problem and in which areas do we value the utmost certainty in safety.
But along with the cosmetics debate has come a debate about whether animal testing for biomedical and toxicology reasons is ethical. While there are many groups against it, scientists continue to point out that the work is intended to ensure that experimental medications, devices, etc. will be safe. Not doing all the appropriate tests possible put human lives in danger and is considered by some to be equally as unethical (The Guardian).
While many researchers and groups alike hope to have alternative testing that decreases the number of animals used in testing for biomedical reasons, it’s important not to try to illegalize this important part of research.
As with many debates, a “right” answer can depend on an individual’s ethics.
When it comes to animal testing, it’s important to make a distinction between medical testing and cosmetic testing, but it’s also important to recognize that sometimes the line between them isn’t so stark. While many view lifesaving biomedical testing as an important part of research that may require animal testing, opinions about cosmetics testing have changed. Still, we need to constantly consider where we draw the line between cosmetic and medical. Though the process can give even more assurance about whether ingredients are safe, there have been new innovations in alternative testing that can, in some (though not all) cases, provide equal if not more accurate results.
Though the United States hasn’t implemented a ban on the use of animal testing in cosmetics, the large European Union market will put pressure on global countries to find alternative methods for testing. And with other countries warming up to the idea of a ban, it’s likely you’ll see more and more companies finding alternatives to animal testing.
It is my personal opinion that the ban is a good thing that will encourage the creation of newer, better, more ethical testing technologies more quickly than simply encouraging this kind of innovation with legislation. But I think readers should come to their own conclusions.
FutureDerm Inc. does not support animal testing, and does not mean to imply so in this article. All FutureDerm products will be void of animal testing!
*Editor’s Note: This article was edited on Feb. 6, 2013 to clarify why we chose to discuss medical testing along with cosmetic testing in regards to the animal testing ban.