For more than a generation, the cosmetics industry used animals to test their various products to determine if they would be safer for humans to use. Although the experiments were harmful to the animals involved, the emphasis on personal safety seemed to justify the actions that were taken. Whenever new cosmetics were introduced, they would be applied to animals first.
Since the 1990s, there has been a significant emphasis on reducing the amount of animal testing in cosmetics. Even though many gains have been achieved with this effort, an estimated 100 million animals are still held in captivity and exposed to potentially toxic substances in the name of human safety.
Numerous species are used for the testing processes. 85% of the animal population being held for this work are rats, mice, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. Guinea pigs are the most common animal used by the cosmetics industry for testing. Public and private institutions also use primates, hamsters, and rabbits to get the results they want.
When reviewing the animal testing in cosmetics pros and cons, we must balance the health and safety of each animal with the need to provide humans safe access to the items they wanted to purchase.
List of the Pros of Animal Testing in Cosmetics
1. Animal welfare is a slippery argument to make when criticizing testing processes.
The issue with animal testing for cosmetics is that people struggle to see creatures who are suffering for any reason. If a rabbit dealt with a sore eye to prevent someone from having an eye infection after applying mascara, then the ends don’t always seem to justify the means when evaluating the final result.
On the other hand, there are over 60 billion animals butchered for the human food chain each year. More chickens and turkeys are killed each year than the total number of animals believed to be held in captivity for testing purposes. Where do we draw the line on what becomes harmful to an animal? Is it ethical to harm an animal because we will eat it instead of allowing it to survive under duress because of testing needs?
2. There is an element of animal welfare to consider with this industry.
The animals which are held in captivity for testing purposes often receive some of the best veterinary care available in the world today. Some could argue that testing laboratories provide better proactive care of the critters under their control than the average pet owner does in the world today. Although the purpose of keeping the animals in good health is to produce testing results, the vaccinations, food access, water, shelter, and independence that is possible through this industry is an issue which shouldn’t be ignored.
3. It provides us with information that is useful in various industries and applications.
One of the primary reasons why we use animal testing in cosmetics and medical applications is that we can see an advanced timeline of exposure compared to the data points we’d receive with human experimentation. The life of the average animal is accelerated compared to ours, so studying the effects on mice (who live for 3 years) is more effective than looking at the 80-year lifespan of the average human.
That structure makes it possible to study the impact, both positive and negative, that cosmetics products would have on multiple generations. Scientists can then take that information, apply it to human life cycles, and then determine if the products in question are safe enough to bring to the market.
4. Animal testing improves the safety of the products we use.
Testing products before they reach the market limits the liability of the company producing the item in question. If you were to bring an item that people purchased that caused harm, then your business could be liable for the losses that people suffer. Animal testing ensures that the items in question have a low threshold of harm when they are eventually sold to people. It is an opportunity to reduce the number of unplanned outcomes which are possible with this industry.
5. There isn’t a method of testing which offers a viable substitute.
It is possible to run digital simulations with chemical compounds to predict what they could do to human tissues. There is also the fact that the reliability of such a testing method is only as good as the person who programmed it. Animals are the closest living creatures on our planet when compared to humans. That means testing on them gives us viable information we can use to understand the safety (or lack thereof) that a product offers. If an individual felt that human life is more important than animal life, then this advantage is one that becomes too difficult to ignore.
6. It creates new avenues of research to pursue.
Animal testing is the only current viable method of seeing if a product being developed by the cosmetics industry is safe for use. Methods of trial and error using this technique help scientists be able to determine the viability of future products. This avenue of research also reduces the risk of adverse events that could impact the profitability of the business. That means there are jobs offered, positive economic impacts being made, and new items offered for sale that helps people feel better about how they look. That combination is often why supporters of animal testing for cosmetics say they back this idea.
7. Companies can enter new markets by undergoing this process.
China requires that all cosmetics be tested on animals for safety. If you want to sell in that market in this industry, then engaging with this process will help you to accomplish that goal. It is a way to address any safety concerns that exist with new ingredients will provide an entry-level knowledge base about what is permitted with that item.
List of the Cons of Animal Testing in Cosmetics
1. Cosmetics are not essential to human life as we know it.
No matter how many different ways someone may try to justify the actions, animal testing for cosmetics is an industry that is not essential to human life. People don’t need to wear makeup items. They choose to do so because of how it makes them feel, which causes us to create unwritten societal rules about beauty, intelligence, and attractiveness based on these items. That’s why butchering animals for food is a different process that harming them while testing new products under development. Consumption is a natural component in the cycle of life throughout the animal kingdom. You won’t find a lioness stopping to put on mascara before she starts hunting a wildebeest.
2. The industry is chock full of loopholes that are challenging to track.
Europe recently banned animal testing on all cosmetics, which brought a rightful cheer from critics of this practice. What some people may not realize is that there are several loopholes available in this declaration that make it possible for this process to continue. If the chemicals used in the cosmetics come from a different industry, then there is no rule that prevents someone from testing the product on an animal first. Chemical testing on animals is still permitted as well, and so is work that involves pharmaceuticals.
That means cosmetic industry professionals can shift their vendor from a disallowed area to one that is permitted under the declaration, and then continue operating as they always have.
3. The results achieved through animal testing are not always reliable.
Animal testing relies on the quality of the research techniques implemented to be effective. If researchers are not documenting results properly, operating under required controls, or taking shortcuts to obtain results, then the data produced through this process would be incomplete at best – and inaccurate at worst. It is very easy to achieve false positives through cosmetics testing if there is a specific result someone wants to achieve.
Since most testing activities are performed internally and self-directed, it is challenging to know the full extent of this potential problem.
4. There are viable alternatives available which are cheaper.
Modern technologies make it possible to perform the testing necessary to develop safe products without a requirement to involve animals in that process. Several techniques are used in other industries with documented success that the cosmetics industry could duplicate. The “organs on chips” method uses human cells grown in systems to mimic the function of organ systems. Companies have already turned the data points obtained from these cells into safe and usable products.
There are several tests that involve human blood cells, tissue models, and computer-based testing that can offer information about disease or injury progression too. Human-patient simulators are even a possible avenue for future testing for the industry.
5. It may not always be about the results that the companies want.
The Natural Resources Defense Council leadership recently acknowledged that it has a preference to test products on living creatures because it creates results. That comes after the NRDC acknowledged that there are non-animal testing options which are faster, cheaper, and more informative than anything that the cosmetics industry developed previously. This decision indicates that there is a willingness to inflict harm on animals for the sake of doing so because the professionals involved know that there is another better way of achieving results.
6. There are exemptions available for the industry.
Although there are welfare laws for the animals who are still involved in cosmetics testing, only 4% of them are actually covered by the legislation. Any facility which is involved in this practice has the right to apply for an exemption if they can prove that their products helped humanity in some way. Since self-governing occurs frequently in this industry, with reports generated internally about these “benefits,” it is a challenge to prove or disprove any of the claims made. That is why it is so easy to obtain an exemption if an organization feels that one is needed.
7. Animal testing has not had a positive impact on failure rates – ever.
The failure rate for animal testing in all industries, including cosmetics, is over 90%. Testing that occurs in the pharmaceutical industry has a failure rate of over 96%. Even during the 1980s when testing on animals because the “in” thing to do, the rate of failure was over 85%. That means animals are being tortured without producing products that reach the market while companies eat the cost of such activities. Despite all of these concerns, the United States continues to pursue this line of research.
8. It is an expensive testing process to follow.
Animal testing is not cheap. The average mouse or rat will cost about $500 per year to care for and keep healthy. If you look at larger animals, such as dogs and cats, then the expense rises to $9,000 per animal. Cosmetics companies that test on chimpanzees and other primates are spending $16,000 or more for each animal under their care.
Let’s just say for the sake of easy math that the 100 million animals in captivity at any given time are all mice or rats (or have a similar cost point). That means the animal testing industry burns through $50 billion each year – even though better alternative tests exist. What could the world do with that extra cash?
9. There are unregulated parts of the testing industry still around.
One of the most significant concerns about animal testing involves the unregulated nature of it in the United States. Any claims that involve this method are not subject to verification. Companies can place a label like “cruelty free” on their product without consequence over oversight. The industry is naturally moving away from animal testing because of the costs and time involved, but those that are still doing it only face public backlash as a reason to stop their practice.
10. Most items tested on animals by the cosmetics industry are never used.
Here’s a simple fact about animal testing for cosmetics: if the product causes harm to an animal, then it won’t go to the market because that increases the chances that it would hurt humans too. Some might argue that the “sacrifice” of animals leads to better safety, but the other side of this argument is that companies are spending money to hurt animals without receiving profits back in return.
11. Animal testing causes suffering to the creatures involved.
There is no getting around the fact that animal testing purposely harms creatures. The Chinese government requires that all cosmetics imported be tested on animals first. Even if a company is genuinely cruelty-free, they cannot sell their items in China that way because of local policies. That means if a test which measures lethality is administered, then a specific percentage of the animals involved must die before the product is legally cleared for sale.
These animal testing pros and cons are often based on emotional reactions to the process instead of a logical look at the outcome. Let’s set aside the idea of harming an animal as being an ethical decision for a minute to look at the processes. Different testing methods are more reliable. Most are cheaper too, while they work to reduce the risk of producing false information. If animal testing takes longer, costs more, and isn’t as reliable, then why are we doing it?
Brandon Miller has a B.A. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is a seasoned writer who has written over one hundred articles, which have been read by over 500,000 people. If you have any comments or concerns about this blog post, then please contact the Green Garage team here.