Every time you reach for your bottle of facewash or reapply your lip-gloss, you do so secure in the knowledge that the chemicals these products contain are safe for use. But the toxicology tests completed to gather this information are stuck in the past, and are largely based on wasteful and often non-reliable animal experiments. Alison Abbott describes the validity of animal testing as “over or underestimate toxicity, or simply don't mirror toxicity in humans very well” (par. 15). Toxicology testing is important in the cosmetic industry because even though cosmetics are generally designed to stick to the skin's exterior and not move through the body like a drug, the compounds in cosmetics can still soak into the skin. For example, “an ingredient in a facial lotion, especially if it is lipophilic (attracted to fats), might move through the upper layer of skin in the sub-mucosa, which contains fatty tissue and small blood vessels; some of the compound might then leak into those vessels, travel through the bloodstream, heart, and lungs, and eventually reach the liver” (Mone par. 10). The Food and Drug Administration defines cosmetics as “articles intended to be applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance without affecting the body's structure or functions” (“Fact Sheet: Cosmetic” par. 1). I acknowledge the importance of official testing on cosmetics; however, I do not accept animal testing as an ethical or valid approach.
Laboratory animals such as mice, rats, and guinea pigs are providers of important research to the cosmetic industry, but their use raises ethical concerns. These animals, being defenseless subjects, need the protection provided by sufficient ethical review. During the course of an experiment they can be caged, frightened, exposed to pain or danger, and killed. They are exploitable because there is an unfairness of power between the investigator and the animals as research subjects. Excessive force and immoral practice is used to perform these tests. During the acute oral toxicity test, the “test substance is forced down a rat's throat using a feeding tube. They may experience diarrhea, convulsions, bleeding from the mouth, seizures, paralysis, and/or death” (“Cosmetics” par. 5). This test determines the “amount of a substance that causes half of the exposed animals to die within 14 days of exposure when the substance is swallowed” (par. 10). After these seemingly senseless and inhumane tests, animals are usually killed by asphyxiation, neck-breaking or decapitation where pain relief is not offered. The Animal Welfare Act is the only Federal law in the United States that regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers but “a large percentage of the animals used in such testing… receive no protection under the Animal Welfare Act” (“Fact Sheet: Cosmetic” par. 10). There is a common misconception that the AWA protects animals against abuse and harm in the laboratory when it only regulates the use of animals in research and outlines standards for their care. It does not protect animals from abuse and cruelty during the course of research, and it unquestionably does not ban their use. While some use the AWA as evidence to support animal testing methods, “the words ethic or ethical do not appear in the Animal Welfare Act” (Orlans p.164). Failure to protect these animals is an issue of ethics in the United States and should be a key question our country needs to address.
This is not just a question of ethics but an issue of validity. Many of the animal tests used today are tests from the 1940s that were developed under crisis conditions. The infamous Draize test, which determines the irritation or damage caused by chemicals simply by putting them in the eyes of rabbits, is a key example. It was developed by the US Food and Drug Administration in 1944 after reports in the 1930s that some cosmetics were producing permanent eye damage (Abbott par. 7). Along with this issue is the matter of expenses and time-limitations. Animal tests take too long and are too expensive and often involve several years of research and millions of dollars or more to carry out. One portion of the Draize called “skin sensitization test” tests for allergic reactions to the skin and uses “32 quinea pigs and 16 mice” (“Cosmetics” par. 7). Not only are these tests outdated and costly, the results that they produce are not reputable. The tests can be dramatically over-predicative: “more than 50% of the results are positive, of which 90% are false positives” (par. 17). In addition, results from these experiments can be quite unpredictable and hard to interpret. Unreliable and ineffective animal tests mean consumer safety cannot be guaranteed. The significant physiological differences between humans and the animals used to research the safety of chemicals also can limit the validity of the results. Another inconsistency in the legitimacy of these tests is the lack of regularity of the standards between countries. This forces companies to repeat the same tests with slight modifications in every country that they want to sell their product. The Chinese government conducts compulsory animal tests on all cosmetic products imported into the country. Therefore, “even if a cosmetics company does not test their products or ingredients on animals, if they sell their products in China they cannot be considered cruelty-free” (“Fact Sheet: Cosmetics” par. 3). If the company sells in China, they are subjected to animal testing even if the cosmetic company is “cruelty-free.” These outdated tests are costly and blatantly not reliable.
Alternatives to animal testing are being created to establish an effective and ethical way of examining the toxicity of a chemical or substance. In 2013, a “ban on animal testing for cosmetics and the marketing of cosmetics tested on animals went into effect in the European Union, paving the way for efforts to find alternatives for all of the common cosmetics tests that use animals.” In addition to the European Union, several other countries have passed similar laws including: India, Israel, Norway, Switzerland, New Zealand, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, and several states in Brazil. This means that cosmetics companies in the United States that conduct animal tests will not be able to sell their products in any of these countries unless they change their procedures (par.4). In contrast to the unreliable animal tests, non-animal alternatives can combine human cell-based tests and state-of-the-art computer models to deliver results more applicable to humans in hours or days, unlike some animal tests that take months or years. Scientists “acknowledge this approach leaves open the possibility of a molecule acting via an unknown mechanism, but he adds the same holds true for animal testing, and that it would be difficult to eliminate all risk” (Mone par. 8). The improvement of these alternatives is underway and vastly approaching a reliable way to test the toxins in cosmetics. According Elmar Hienzle, a chemical engineer at the University of Saarland in Germany and a leader of NOTOX, says
“scientists have reached a consensus that there are similarities in terms of how toxic chemicals act within the body. ‘Although the whole systems are very, very complex and the number of possible interactions is huge,' he says, ‘we have found that the number of pathways that leads to adverse outcomes is very limited.' The NOTOX plan is to analyze these pathways in the lab, picking out key events…and then using this data to bolster virtual or in silico models” (par.6-7).
Non-animal alternatives are on average more cost-effective than tests that use animals. There are nearly 50 non-animal tests that have been authorized for use, with several in progress. In addition, cosmetic companies can choose to use ingredients that have proved to be harmless for years. These up-to-date alternatives can offer results that are not only more applicable, but be more efficient and cost-effective.
Animal testing is imperative “to protect the public from harmful effects of toxic substances, and to ensure that medications and consumer products are safe for public use…” (“Factsheet: NIEHS” par. 1). To fight against the suffering of animals in cosmetics testing, citizens can urge our lawmakers to support the Humane Cosmetics Act, which would end cosmetics testing on animals in the U.S. by prohibiting the use of animals to test cosmetics and banning the import of animal-tested cosmetics. I believe that with the collaboration of everyone who is passionate about the protection of these animals that the United States will be added to the list of countries that ban animal testing.
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