Readers: What Do You Think of the EU Animal-Tested Cosmetics Ban?

Skin Care


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?

Testing on animals can mean that when products are given to humans, they're more safe.
Testing on animals can mean that when products are given to humans, they’re more safe.

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

Having a ban on the sale of animal-tested cosmetics in the EU puts pressure on companies to find alternative testing solutions.
Having a ban on the sale of animal-tested cosmetics in the EU puts pressure on companies to find alternative testing solutions.

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.

Bottom Line

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!

What do you think of animal testing in cosmetics? Tell us in the comments!

*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.

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  • grace

    I am very supportive of the ban, especially with all of the alternatives. It’s about time people start showing compassion toward our fellow beings. All animals feel pain and can suffer and it’s unconscionable that we treat them in such horrible ways from factory farming to animal testing, etc. Thanks for the article.

  • Natalie Bell

    @Sandra — Thank you for your comment! I think you’ll see quite a few more cruelty free labels popping up on brands in the future because of this ban.

    @Christine — Thank you so much for your input and the correction! Your comment adds another layer to this conversation about the importance of safety testing. I agree that we’re advanced enough that we don’t have to test every product on animals just because something is tweaked slightly. And I’ll definitely look into exactly what these alternative testing methods are!

  • Natalie Bell

    @Shannon — Thank you for you input! I agree. As cosmetics become more like medical treatments, it gets harder to tell which is which. I think this is going to be an important conversation that we’ll continue to have.

    @Rozy — Thank you so much for commenting! I agree that in many cases, as it stands now, animal testing is very important in medical research. It saves and improves many lives. I do agree though, that regulations should be stricter about how animals are cared for, as anything else would be unnecessary cruelty.

    @Laura D. — Thank you for your opinion! I’m hoping that new technologies can change the way that we test products, especially if they can help make them safer for consumers. I hope this ban actually puts more pressure on these industries to up the ante on technology.

  • Quick correction from a New Orleans esthetician – the Gulf spill was in 2010, and the Corexit dispersant, which was hastily chosen, is now known to have caused widespread human illness and immeasurable damage to the ecosystem.

    As for cosmetics testing, my thoughts are that the bevy of cosmetic ingredients are so well known at this point that animal testing is more or less obsolete. The instance of synthesizing new ingredients could be one example where animal testing might still be useful, however as an esthetician, I would hate to see every single new peptide, for example, tested on animals. Since we already know that that family of compounds are safe and effective, researchers developing new versions with slight changes should be confident enough to fast track through some alternative testing methods (I would love to read a breakdown of types of alternative testing, by the way), and go straight to human testing just as many cruelty-free cosmetic companies do when they are developing a cream with a slightly different balance of oils or a serum with a different concentration of a well-known ingredient.

  • Sandra

    I am happy to read this. I am strictly against animal testing for cosmetic products. I love and respect animals, and they do not have to suffer.

  • Laura D.

    Definitely a hot button issue for most people, I am in favor of ceasing animal testing for cosmetics on moral grounds (few people love animals more than I do). These animals are subjected to horrible living conditions and cruel treatment, which I do not believe is necessary, considering the statistic you mention about 25% of drugs that produce no reaction in animals cause an adverse reaction in humans.

  • Rozy

    Thank you for this thoughtful article. I think it would be a very terrible thing to stop testing drugs on animals without having an alternative that is equal or more effective and I can definitely see how these issues overlap. I think the animals being tested should be treated with empathy and compassion and I think animal testing is a necessary evil so to speak that should only be given up when we are really truly ready and have something better. I think it is interesting how far ahead the EU is. I wonder if their ways of testing save them money. As someone with mental illness I can tell you the drugs to treat it and mental healthcare in general are still in their infancy and just being taking seriously by the majority so it will likely be necessary to have animal testing for a long time especially for psychiatric drugs effect our most precious organ-the brain. I think animals that are being tested should be fed healthy food and be put to sleep peacefully in they are in pain.

  • I think it is absolutely important consider biomedical testing on animals as you consider cosmetic testing. There is in fact a huge crossover between the two fields, as “cosmetic” doesn’t always just mean eye shadow and lipstick. It also applies to serums and moisturizers. The FDA only really looks at things that penetrate to the dermal layer of the skin, not what is applied to the epidermis. With the current trend of “cosmeceutical” skincare, cosmetic companies are borrowing more and more from their medical counterparts. And, cosmetic companies are even adding more active ingredients to products like lip glosses (think lip plumpers), foundations (heard of a BB cream?) and anything in between. I am an esthetician, and many of the services and skin care lines that I work with originally had some basis in medical research, or are currently working on technology that may influence medical research. Thanks for putting such good information out there regarding the correlation of the two fields!

  • Natalie Bell

    Hello Janessa,

    Thank you for commenting. I think that many people agree with your conclusion, particularly given how many new technologies are present to do testing on. The EU ban will definitely put pressure on companies in other countries to stop animal testing so they can sell in the EU market.


  • Natalie Bell

    Hello Anastasia,

    I appreciate your well-thought-out response and I’d like to address it. First of all, it IS important to draw a parallel between cosmetics and medical research because sometimes they overlap. To presume “cosmetic” products are all makeup does indeed make it a very black and white distinction. But it exists on a spectrum. For example, is psoriasis a medical condition or a cosmetic one? It might be considered medical, but it’s often treated with “cosmetic” products. So, there’s a lot of gray area about the line at which we decide something is “important” enough to be considered medical versus cosmetic.

    It’s also important to mention medical research because some of these animal rights organizations are pushing to further cosmetics bans such as these to eventually include medical animal testing as well. The issue isn’t simply about animal testing on cosmetics, it’s about animal testing in general and at what point we draw the line between necessary and luxury. Perhaps I didn’t make that point clear in my article, but it’s not a definitive line.

    Second, I’d be quite happy to do an article that address the alternative methods of testing in the future. The reason the article is titled and written as such is to give readers points to consider in coming to their own conclusions — not to make a definitive stance. That’s because this is actually a very complicated issue. To write an article that merely assumed “cosmetic” testing was lipstick would be one that missed the point in many ways that there is a fine, blurry line between the medical and the cosmetic.

    Third, the article does address how the EU ban will affect testing. Because so many companies are global and need that market, it will put pressure on them to use alternative methods, meaning the EU ban will also effect products manufactured in other countries. This, and the increased pressure that will come to medical animal testing, are probably the biggest results that will come out of this ban. Both of those things are addressed in the article.

    I appreciate your response and I’m always happy to engage in a dialogue on the site.


  • Janessa

    I’m against animal testing for cosmetics because nearly all (?) ingredients have been tested or approved at one point. There shouldn’t be active ingredients (that would be considered a drug anyway) in cosmetics so testing on animals isn’t necessary. I believe chemists can formulate non-irritating makeup products without testing on animals.

  • The EU ban is on animal testing for cosmetic products, it does not mention biomedical products, and for good reason – they’re completely different issues. Drawing a parallel between something as trivial and unnecessary as makeup and something as serious as life-saving medication is irrelevant at best and offensive at worst. I like makeup, I have a massive collection, but it’s a luxury, optional item, whereas medicine is not. The consequences of not being able to produce a new line of lipstick because you cannot prove that it’s safe, and the consequences of not being able to produce a new type of cancer medication because you cannot prove that it’s safe, have drastically different consequences.
    This disparity should be a key component in any argument for animal testing for cosmetic products vs animal testing for biomedical products – which is not even what the article said it was about, so why was biomedical testing mentioned at all?

    I fail to see how biomedical testing on animals was in any way relevant to the topic. The only reason I can see why it was included in this article was to offer the only real argument against the ban there is to be found, and it doesn’t even achieve that.

    This would have been a more interesting piece if it went into further detail about the alternative methods of product safety testing being employed in the cosmetics industry, the disparity between the technology being used in the EU compared to the US for this testing, the effects the cost of the testing is having on product prices vs animal testing. How are small businesses affected? How many products actually need to use ingredients tested on animals, when most are formulated with ingredients that are already FDA approved?

    This article seems to have been mis-titled, as it fails to examine the pros and cons of cosmetic animal testing, the EU ban, and contains more information about an irrelevant area of animal testing which is not under debate.

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