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Why we must end the cruelty behind animal testing for cosmetic products

Nowadays, we are all concerned about protecting the environment and nature, and we are gradually increasing our concerns about animal safety and want to avoid animal suffering. Therefore, many people don't buy products tested on animals, including cruelty-free cosmetics.

If we focus on cruelty-free cosmetics, we have seen an increasing number of cosmetic products showing some kind of cruelty-free stamp on the packaging during the last couple of years. However, European laws don't allow animal testing on cosmetic products. Why, then, does the product need to show a cruelty-free stamp? Are not all of them cruelty-free?

Why are there still brands which are not considered cruelty-free? In this post, we will dive into the polemics around cruelty-free, and I will give you a few good reasons to move to a cruelty-free lifestyle.


What does cruelty-free mean?

Cruelty-free is a term that refers to anything which has not been tested on animals AND which doesn't contain any ingredient tested on animals. The term cruelty-free applies to various products, like food, fabric, cleansing products and, of course, skincare and makeup.

The animals involved in testing for cosmetic products are mainly rats, mice and rabbits. For example, in 2008, more than 31,0000 rabbits were used for animal testing in the EU. These animals suffer cruel torture and slow death.


Type of experiments in non-cruelty-free cosmetics

Any cosmetic product available in the market must be safe enough for the skin, eyes and health in general. I don't want to buy a cream that produces eczema or irritation on my skin. The question is whether we need to torture animals to warranty cosmetic safety.

The tests carried out on laboratory animals are incredibly cruel. They involve the application of cosmetics on the animal's eye or over bare skin and administering cosmetics ingredients on the animal's eyes for several consecutive days to check its reaction.


Animals incur severe eye irritation; most even become blind after days of suffering.

Other experiments involve applying products over shaved skin and exposing the animal to sunlight. That experiment is mainly for sunscreen testing, and the animals frequently suffer severe burns on the skin due to these types of investigations.

I could continue detailing cruel experiments, but I will stop here because some are even harsher than the ones already mentioned, and I don't want to hurt sensitive people.


Are these experiments worthwhile?

The salient point of all these experiments is that animals and humans are different. Most of the time, we can extrapolate the experiments made on animals to humans. But sometimes, something perfectly safe for animals is dangerous for humans and the opposite.


Despite not being related to cosmetics, I will give you an example to illustrate what I mean. Most of us love chocolate, and the unique factor of chocolate is that it can contribute to weight gain. However, chocolate can kill a cat; it is poisonous, and so are onions and other food.

The same applies to human medicines - Aspirin is a popular painkiller for us, but cats don't tolerate acetyl-salicylic acid. Drugs are tested on animals but also tested in humans before release because humans and animals react differently to medications, chemicals or treatments.


There are alternative methods to test cosmetics, and it is safer to try them in vitro or over organs and tissue simulators. These tests are efficient and fast, and although they need an initial investment, they will save money for the laboratory in the long term.


What does the law say about animal testing?

Since 2009, in the EU, it has been banned to test ingredients for cosmetic products on animals. Also, since 2013, it has been illegal in the EU to sell any cosmetic product that has undergone animal testing, including products manufactured in the EU or imported to the EU.


In the UK, the question after Brexit was how the UK would adopt the laws against animal testing. Fortunately, nothing changed, and the UK has followed the 2013/15/CE law after Brexit.

Other countries which follow the law against animal tests are Australia, Colombia, Guatemala, India, Iceland, Israel, Norway, New Zealand, Serbia, Switzerland, Taiwan and Turkiye.


The Republic of Korea approved a law in 2017 banning animal testing; however, this law allows a few exceptions. They still test for preservatives, colourants or UV filters. Taiwan has similar rules, and from 2019, animal testing for cosmetic products has been banned except when the ingredient is widely used, there is no alternative or when an ingredient is considered unsafe.


The countries like the US, Canada, Mexico, Japan and the ASEAN, i.e. Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which includes Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines) don't require animal testing to sell cosmetic products. However, it must be clarified, as these countries don't ban these experiments either.

It is the brand's responsibility to do or not do animal tests. Only seven US states banned animal testing: California, Illinois, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Virginia and Nevada.

The case of China is quite complicated. They used to require animal testing for all the products imported to China from other countries and are changing this requirement. In November 2020, they presented a new law draft, the Instructions for Cosmetic Registration and Notification Dossier, in which China MAY allow the sale of cosmetic products without animal testing. However, in a practical sense, that means nothing.


First of all, they ask for a considerable amount of paperwork. Second, a lot of products are outside this law, like:

  • Products for babies and children

  • Cosmetics containing ingredients not included in the IECIC (Inventory of Existing Cosmetic Ingredients in China)

  • Hair dies or products which produce a permanent change in the hair

  • Products to treat dark spots

  • Sunscreens or products containing UV filters

  • Products to avoid and treat hair loss

  • Products claiming a new functionality or property

The list of exceptions includes almost any product. Therefore, in a practical sense, China still requires animal testing.


The polemic about cruelty-free labelling

Most Western and Asian countries cannot trade cosmetic products tested on animals. Then, two questions can come to mind; why the product needs a cruelty-free stamp, and why do we still hear about non-cruelty-free brands? Let's consider the answers.


If non-cruelty-free cosmetic products are banned, why must the brands include a stamp on the packaging?

The cruelty-free stamp or qualification is not given to a brand but to a particular product. A brand that tests on animals can have some cruelty-free products; however, other products can be tested on animals.


Why do we still talk about non-cruelty-free brands?

There are too many answers to this question. The main answer is that some brands sell products in China, but when manufactured in China, products undergo animal testing. Even though the products sold in the EU, UK, and other Western countries are not tested on animals, they will be as soon as they cross the Chinese border. Therefore, those brands cannot be considered cruelty-free.


Another possibility that occurs, more frequently than you think, is that a brand does not test on animals, but other laboratories do testing on their behalf.

I cannot say if it is right or wrong to buy products from brands selling in China; I am not here to judge anybody; that is a very personal choice. However, if you purchase cruelty-free products from a brand that test on animal for the Chinese market, you are funding these tests with your money to some extent.

It is different when a brand manufactures the products in a factory which is in China instead of exporting them from the EU. In this case, products manufactured in China do not require animal testing.


How can you be sure you are buying cruelty-free products?

The best way to ensure you get cruelty-free products is to buy them from small, indie and local natural brands instead of huge commercial brands.


I want to make a point - cruelty-free doesn't mean natural or vegan.

A brand may not test on animals but still include non-natural ingredients or ingredients with an animal origin in their formula. Let's think, for example, of honey or beeswax; even if the brand is cruelty-free, it will not be vegan.

However, most of the time, a natural and vegan brand is also cruelty-free. And that makes sense because if you love and respect animals, you will not produce a product or cosmetic where testing would cause pain and suffering to animals.

Natural and vegan indie brands, like Live Well, are experts in producing high-quality, affordable, cruelty-free products. They don't need to test on animals, and as they use naturally sourced vegan ingredients, the risk of causing any damage is low.


In addition, this type of cosmetic product has other benefits for the skin, as we already discussed in this post.

In summary, only you can decide if you want to be part of animal suffering. Many affordable cruelty-free products are available, so anybody can afford to switch to a cruelty-free lifestyle. Not only will animals benefit from your decision, but your skin and the environment will also benefit from that change.


Dr Irene Resa

Analytical Chemist


Thank you for reading my post. For more information on cosmetics and personal care products, please visit www.irenebeautyandmore.co.uk and my social pages. https://www.instagram.com/irene_beautyandmore/ https://www.facebook.com/irenebeautyandmore

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