Today there have been some celebrations in London to mark the end of testing of cosmetics on animals in the EU.
Lots of people have opinions about animal testing of cosmetic ingredients – there was a time when I got asked about nothing else when I told people what I did for a living.
Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion on ethics, and at the end of the day if you don’t want animals to be tested there is no argument that will persuade you otherwise. But is the testing of animals justified on scientific grounds? For the non-scientist it might seem obvious that scientists would want to do animal testing. I remember the Onion running a very funny article which quoted a scientist as saying that basically, we just don’t like mice.
So it might come as a surprise to hear that I don’t support animal testing on cosmetics even on scientific grounds. Don’t get me wrong – I fully support the use of animals in drug development. There are some things that simply require what is called an animal model. But for cosmetics, does testing on animals mean that the cosmetics we use are safer? I don’t think that it did. (I am using the past tense because I am in Europe: animal testing is still legal in the US and elsewhere.) In fact I think it had no effect on product safety at all. Most of the tests weren’t carried out because scientists needed data to make decisions. Most of them were simply carried out to meet regulatory requirements.
Safety is actually a much more nebulous concept than most people realise. Water is quite dangerous for example. Too much of it can drown you. Soap is pretty deadly if you slip on it. Context is everything when it comes to assessing risk. Neat tests on mice in labs rarely give you the information you really need.
An example of how unhelpful animal testing can be is the rabbit ear comedogenicity test devised in the sixties by the renowned dermatologist Albert Kligman. Comedones is the scientific name for black heads, and comedogenicity is the technical description of something that causes black heads. Kligman’s idea was that by applying products to the ears of rabbits the tendency to cause black heads could be assessed. He later realised that he hadn’t quite got it right and withdrew it. This honesty was admirable. But by that time there were papers published ranking raw materials for how bad their comedogenic effects were. I am sure that formulations were changed in the light of this totally spurious data.
So I for one am glad that we have got away from a practise that was cruel to animals and a waste of everybody’s time.
[hana-code-insert name=’General Interest’ /]