The Genteel
April 17, 2021



After substantial global debate spanning two decades, the European Union will finally impose a full ban on the sale, marketing and import of all cosmetics tested on animals - for both finished products and their ingredients - effective March 11, 2013. The ban has been implemented in stages through the EU's Cosmetics Directive, beginning with the prohibition of all animal testing on finished cosmetic products in September 2004. In March 2009, the testing of ingredients was banned and a phased marketing ban was put in place. The March 11 date is widely considered to be the final nail in the coffin, so to speak, on such research practices across Europe. 


As a result of alternative research methods, the number of animals used by cosmetic manufacturers for safety tests has continued to fall and saw a 90 per cent reduction between the 1930s and 1980s. According to the European Commission, cosmetics only made up 0.0125 per cent of all animal testing undertaken in Europe in 2008, but this still amounts to approximately 1,500 animals. 

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) explains that the test for "acute oral toxicity" involves seven rats ingesting the test substance through feeding tubes, from which they "may experience diarrhoea, convulsions, bleeding from the mouth, seizures, paralysis and/or death." Similarly, when checking for "repeat dose toxicity," 40 rats are force-fed the test substance for 28 days. At the end of the exposure period, the animals are killed, often without pain relief and normally by asphyxiation, neck breaking or decapitation; once dead, their organs are examined for damage. Even seemingly mild tests for "skin sensitization" can end up leaving 32 guinea pigs or 16 mice (per test substance) with signs of "redness, ulcers, scaling, inflammation and itchiness." As the HSUS points out on its website, "a large percentage of the animals used in such testing (such as laboratory-bred rats and mice) are not counted in official statistics."

Until now, many companies including The Body Shop and Aveda, have prominently promoted the mantra of "cruelty-free" in their branding and marketing. The term is widely known, but its unclear definition allows companies to use it loosely; for many brands, there is still ambiguity as to whether their finished product or the individual ingredients are entirely cruelty-free, especially given that many imported cosmetic ingredients may have already undergone animal testing in the past.

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) explains that the test for 'acute oral toxicity' involves seven rats ingesting the substance through feeding tubes. The animals 'may experience diarrhoea, convulsions, bleeding from the mouth, seizures, paralysis and/or death'.

To make the notion of "cruelty-free" clearer, the Leaping Bunny logo was developed as a way for consumers to know that products have adhered to a clear set of humane standards. Cruelty Free International chief executive, Michelle Thew, told The Daily Mail, "The Humane Standards, symbolised by the Leaping Bunny logo, is the most rigorous international cruelty-free certification in the world."

In 2011, around one third of all 400 certified companies used the Leaping Bunny logo, including popular cosmetic brand's Burt's Bees and Urban Decay. The symbol, according to the ECEAE, guarantees that the certified finished product has "not been tested on animals", "any suppliers have not tested ingredients" on animals and that "ingredients used to make that product have not been tested on animals." Furthermore, "the company is asked to recommit to being cruelty-free every year with a full audit" and "the company operates a fixed cut-off date after which animal testing on ingredients will not be allowed."

A full ban of animal testing in the cosmetic industry in Europe has been in the pipeline for some time, but arguments for its necessity in view of human safety, and what defines "animal cruelty" have complicated the process. Frankie Trull, president of the American-based Foundation for Biomedical Research (a foundation that promotes humane and responsible animal research) told the New York Times in December 2011 that "in some cases, animal models are still a necessary part of ensuring ingredients will not cause harm to people." On the other hand, Nancy Beck, senior director for the Regulatory Science Policy at the American Chemistry Council, argues to eradicate animal testing altogether and promote more modern scientific research methods. As she told the New York Times, "Science has evolved, and we have the technology now that maybe we didn't have 30 or 40 years ago to do safety assessments without using animals."

Indeed, the majority of safety tests on animals can now be avoided. According to Animal Aid, there are currently over 8,000 tried and tested cosmetic products on the market. For new products, alternative tests are already available. These include L'Oréal's human skin model, EPISKIN, designed to test "the effects of substances applied to a human skin, without using human volunteers" and ToxCast, which claims to have "already screened roughly 300 chemicals in more than 600 different rapid, automated tests" which would take "30 years and $2 billion to screen the same number of chemicals using traditional animal toxicity tests."

Although this legislation is a major step for consumers and cosmetic industries within the EU member states, it's not yet clear how American companies - both large and small - will respond to it. Cosmetic safety in America is largely overseen by the United States Food & Drug Administration (FDA) guided by the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act of 1938 (FDCA) (although the federal Safe Cosmetics Act (SCA) was tabled on June 24, 2011). The FD&C Act and SCA don't specifically require nor prohibit the use of animals in testing cosmetics for safety, however the FDA has "consistently advised cosmetic manufacturers to employ whatever testing is appropriate and effective for substantiating the safety of their products."

If American companies want to sell in Europe, their products will have to adhere to animal-free testing measures. To a certain degree, though, Americans can worry a little less about sales within Europe given the accessibility of China. The sale of cosmetics within China increased last year by 18 per cent to £10 billion. Despite chemical testing being faster, more accurate and safer than ever, for any cosmetic product to be sold within China, companies must pay to have each one tested on animals, thus swinging the ethical pendulum in entirely the opposite direction.

Under Chinese legislation, regardless of whether or not such experiments have already been done, each product must undergo rigorous tests on animals as a required safety precaution before it can be marketed to the general public. PETA has offered financial assistance in an attempt to change this reliance on animal testing, but it is impossible for many companies to bring their well-established ethical code to China under its current policy. Any cruelty-free brands wishing to sell in China must sacrifice their tightly set morals. In doing so, they also find themselves removed from the respected Leaping Bunny program.

Tonio Borg speaks at the UN.

The financial lure of both the American and Chinese markets may wholly undermine the work being done within Europe, until their own regulations are changed. But some businesses are willing to take a stand against such action; as co-founder of Paul Mitchell, John Paul DeJoria, told The Daily Mail, "we do not conduct or condone animal testing on our products, and we will not attempt to market our products in China until alternatives to animal testing methods have been accepted by the government."

Despite these challenges, it has been considered momentous for both consumers and companies that the EU has decided to implement such firm legislation across its member states. As Thew commented in a press release, "This is truly an historic event and the culmination of over 20 years of campaigning… Now we will apply our determination and vision on a global stage to ensure that the rest of the world follows this lead." In a letter to those challenging the ban, Tonio Borg, the European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy remarked, "this decision… means that we need to step up our efforts in the development, validation and acceptance of alternative methods, as well as in the international recognition of these methods."



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