Animal Testing

I got an e-mail from someone asking about the testing of cosmetics on animals.  Well, I say asking.  They had done a lot of research and it sounded more like they were telling me that cosmetics are tested on animals in effect because of legislation that requires all new chemicals to be tested for safety.

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond at first.  The animal rights people are well known to be extremely forthright and some of them resort to pretty robust methods. I don’t want to end up getting my car blown up.  I also don’t want to be hypocritical.  So let me say that if I thought that the testing of cosmetics on animals was necessary to ensure their safety I would support it.  It doesn’t seem any more cruel to animals to use them in this kind of way than to cut them up and eat them, which most of us do every day.   People are going to use cosmetics, and they need to be safe.  I have no desire to harm animals but I don’t want people using harmful products either.

But as a scientist who develops cosmetics I have never felt the slightest need for data generated on animals.  I have never had to wrestle with any moral dilemmas simply because I don’t see any need for testing on animals in the first place for the purposes of developing cosmetics.  There have been legislative requirements in some countries that have meant lots of testing has had to be done to comply with the law.  (I am pretty sure this has never been the case in the UK as it happens.)  Legislators are not very good at science generally. In California they seem determined to take no notice of it all.  But as things stand the EU has now banned any testing of cosmetic products using animals.   Hopefully this is an issue we can now all forget about.

13 thoughts on “Animal Testing

  1. Kat (

    Hi Colin! Totally agree with you here. I love animals and have 3 rabbits myself who I treat like my kids. While the thoughts of animal suffering really upsets me, I can understand the necessity of animal testing in many cases – drug testing etc.

    I’ve had to perform some animal tests myself for my BSc research project and had to complete an ethics and animal handling course before I was let anywhere near the mice. Even then only specially trained staff are allowed to perform the majority of procedures on the animals. There are extremely strict regulations in place to ensure that no undue suffering is incurred by the animals, at both the university lab and EU directive levels.

    While I think that it’s a very important issue, and I welcome every effort to restrict and replace animal testing, I do believe that the militant anti-testing protesters are misinformed. But I daren’t try to educate them, lest they resort to violence. It’s disgraceful the actions they take against scientists, when most if not all scientists do their best to ensure animal suffering is kept to the very minimum.

  2. aubrey

    You would support animal testing to make sure COSMETICS were safe? Cosmetics, though I love using them, are not something humans actually need. Better to go without than harm non-human animals. As far as the food issue, plenty of people don’t eat animals for ethical, health and environmental reasons, so your point is a bit of a false dichotomy. I love your site but I’ve got to disagree with you on this one.

  3. Colin Post author

    @Aubrey – Humans don’t need meat either. Vegetarians are just as healthy as meat eaters. And meat eating has a double cost. You not only end the life of the animal you are eating, but because livestock requires a lot more farmland per calorie of food produced you are also reducing the amount of wilderness available for wild animals to live in. But as you probably know there are vegetarian brands about and I’m working on a post about how they work, so I hope you’ll find that interesting.

  4. Pedro

    Most people don’t realize that big cosmetics companies (specially cosmetics companies like Shiseido, Kao Corporation, Amore Pacific, Procter & Gamble etc) also do a lot of basic research – eg.: on melanoma. For basic research, you usually don’t have alternative methods.

  5. Pedro

    Please, correct “cosmetics companies” for me. 🙂

    “That is true Pedro, but I think that kind of work is really pharmaceutical rather than cosmetic. The role of cosmetics isn’t to modify the metabolism.”

    Sure, but some cosmetic companies publish more scientific articles than many pharmaceutical companies.

    Type, for example, Shiseido, L’oréal or Kao Corporation (cosmetic companies) on Pubmed. You’ll find about 400 studies made by these cosmetic companies. It’s more than many medium or even big pharmaceutical companies have published…

    ” Incidentally, are you the Pedro (…)”

    Yes. 🙂

  6. Maria Crossley

    Isn’t it true though that Estee Lauder Group and Avon have both started to re-test on animals as they want to break into the huge Chinese cosmetics market? And that it is a current legal requirement in China that all cosmetics be animal tested?

  7. Colin Post author

    You are close Maria, but not spot on. China requires any company that is exporting cosmetics into China to submit them for animal tests in China itself. The regulations specify which labs are to be used, so it is very definitely all under the direct control of the Chinese government. I don’t know what the two companies you have named are doing, but if they are manufacturing outside China then their products will have been tested by the Chinese. They can avoid this requirement by opening a plant in China itself. Whether this counts as doing animal testing is a good question. As I have already hinted, I have another blog on this subject on the way so I’ll leave it at that for now.

  8. Dawn

    I have always found it interesting that companies who boast that they don’t test on animal have probably already benefited from the information from companies/researchers that do.

  9. Dee

    If there is no benefit, why would they do it? I find it hard to believe that cosmetic companies are all run by Cruella De Vil types who just get a kick out of tormenting puppies and rabbits for fun.. There must be some purpose to animal testing, or – given how unpopular it is. – companies wouldn’t do it.

  10. Colin Post author

    Well the main reason is simply to comply with legislation in various countries. The unpopularity of animal testing isn’t universal around the world. I had a Spanish guy working with me once who was astonished that none of the rest of us in the lab wanted to see a bullfight, so attitudes do vary. There are times when a specific question needs to be answered and a particular test seems to offer an answer. There is a very good example in the public domain. The scientific committee of the EU wanted to know what proportion of the parabens applied to the skin got through to the blood stream. They attempted to answer this by trying to measure it in mice. In the end the results didn’t really tell them anything meaningful. If I am ever asked to justify my skepticism about the value of animal testing that will be the first example I will point to. The problem for people who share my misgivings is the groups who go around complaining that 75% of the ingredients in cosmetics have never been tested for safety. (Or whatever the current number is.) A lot of people think that animal testing makes their products safer and so are in favour of it, which is not an unreasonable position to take.

  11. nick

    does anyone know if all cosmetics are tested on animals in china? even kids facepaints that are destined for sale in other countries and not in china?


Leave a Reply