1. What animals are used for cosmetics testing?
Tests on animals for cosmetics typically use rats, mice, guinea pigs, or rabbits, who are purpose-bred in secretive facilities. These animals will live their lives confined to bleak cages, experiencing only artificial light, bland food, and the four walls of a laboratory. If they’re lucky, they may be given a small toy, some nesting material, or a shelter as “enrichment”. These sensitive animals deserve so much more than being treated as disposable laboratory equipment. Given the chance, male mice sing to their mates, rats play hide-and-seek, rabbits hop and jump with excitement, and guinea pigs love to chat.
2. How many animals are used in cosmetics tests?
The exact figure isn’t known, but it’s estimated that at least 300,000 animals are used every year in tests for cosmetics products or ingredients in China alone, and the global total is likely to be much higher.
3. What happens to animals used for tests? How do cosmetics companies test on animals?
Cosmetics tests on animals, whether for final products or their ingredients, are unscientific, cruel, and unethical. A single test for a cosmetics ingredient can use over 1,000 rats or rabbits.
To see if their offspring will be deformed in the womb, experimenters may force-feed hundreds of rabbits an ingredient throughout pregnancy before killing and dissecting them and their unborn babies. In other tests, experimenters allow the offspring to be born, only for them to experience the same miserable fate as their mums. Experimenters monitor the rabbits’ growth and survival rates, and in some cases, they continue to give them the substance and force them to mate to observe the fertility and toxicity effects on the subsequent generation.
The notorious Draize tests involve placing rabbits in restraining stocks so that they cannot struggle or wipe their eyes. Experimenters pull their eyelids apart and apply chemicals onto the eye. In the similarly horrific skin test, experimenters typically apply chemicals onto the shaved skin of rabbits to check for the severity of the reaction. After the test is over, they kill the animals.
Rats used in inhalation tests are squeezed into narrow tubes in which they are immobilised and forced to inhale substances for hours on end, sometimes daily for weeks or months. Then, experimenters kill and dissect them.
These are just some of the ways in which animals may be used in toxicity tests. You can read more about the consequences of those tests here.
4. Have cosmetics tests on animals been banned in the UK and the EU?
Yes, both testing and marketing bans exist – but keep reading, as this isn’t the end of the story.
Tests on animals for cosmetics products and their ingredients have been banned in the UK since 1998 and across the EU since 2009. A sales ban on animal-tested cosmetics products and ingredients was fully implemented across the UK and the EU in March 2013.
5. So, since 2013, all cosmetics for sale in the UK and EU are animal test–free?
No. Despite the testing and marketing bans, companies can sell products in the UK or EU even after they’ve been injected into guinea pigs, forced down rats’ throats, or applied to rabbits’ eyes in China or other countries as long as the tests aren’t used to demonstrate product safety for UK or EU standards. This means companies may continue to pay for tests on animals in China – where they’re required for many products – as long as they rely only on additional data from non-animal methods to sell those products in the UK or EU.
To complicated things further, The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA), supported by the European Commission and the ECHA Board of Appeal, continues to demand new tests on animals for chemicals used exclusively as cosmetics ingredients under the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) regulation. This policy undermines the bans and goes against the intention of legislators in creating them: to ensure that animals no longer suffer and die for the sake of cosmetics. ECHA claims that the tests are needed to demonstrate safety for workers who manufacture or handle the substances, but testing ingredients on thousands of animals won’t help protect workers. Fundamental biological differences between humans and other animals mean the results of tests on animals just don’t reliably predict what will happen in humans.
Following its exit from the EU, we hoped the UK would take a stand against animal testing, but disappointingly, the government has failed to rule out such tests on animals for cosmetics ingredients under UK chemicals regulations.
This is why it’s still important to use the PETA US Beauty Without Bunnies database.
6. What types of products are classified as cosmetics in the UK/EU?
What constitutes a cosmetics product is assessed on a case-by-case basis, but the term certainly encompasses a wide range of products beyond make-up.
Typically, cosmetics products include creams, emulsions, lotions, gels, and oils for the skin; face masks; after-bath powders; hygienic powders; soaps; deodorants and antiperspirants; perfumes, aftershave, and other fragrances; bath and shower preparations (salts, foams, oils, gels); depilatories; hair colourants; products for waving, straightening, and fixing hair; hair-setting products; hair cleansing products (lotions, powders, shampoos); hair conditioning products (lotions, creams, oils); hairdressing products (lotions, lacquers, brilliantines); shaving products (creams, foams, lotions); make-up and products to remove it; products intended for application to the lips; products for care of the teeth and the mouth; products for nail care; products for external intimate hygiene; sunbathing products; products for tanning without sun; skin-whitening products; and anti-wrinkle products.
7. Where is animal testing banned?
Despite issues with the implementation and interpretation of the UK and EU bans, they represent a historic victory for animals and have been effective in inspiring similar bans in countries including Australia, India, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, and Turkey.
Many other countries around the world, including Canada and the US, currently have laws up for consideration that would also ban tests on animals for cosmetics. In the US, several states have banned testing for cosmetics and cosmetics ingredients, but most of these laws have loopholes that allow for testing required by regulatory authorities.
8. Which countries still test on animals?
China is the largest market to have a blanket requirement for tests on animals for cosmetics, and some other countries, like Russia, may require some tests on animals for cosmetics.
In 2012, PETA and our international affiliates revealed that some formerly cruelty-free companies had covertly started paying the Chinese government to test their products on animals in order to sell them in China. Every year, experimenters subject hundreds of thousands of animals to cruel and deadly poisoning tests in which they’re force-fed products or chemicals are applied to their skin or eyes.
Thanks to the efforts of PETA US, the Institute for In Vitro Sciences, and a number of progressive companies, the situation is improving. In March 2021, the Chinese government announced that it had created a new pathway for certain types of cruelty-free cosmetics to be sold in China – but it doesn’t mean the end of all tests on animals yet. You can read more about the developments in China here.
While other countries – including the US – may not legally require cosmetics to be tested on animals, the tests are still permitted.
9. What does cruelty-free mean?
The term “cruelty-free” gets thrown around a lot. Beauty bloggers mention it often, and companies sometimes cite it in a “code of ethics” on their website. Like labels such as “organic”, “clean”, “green”, and “eco-friendly”, it does not guarantee that a product is has not been tested on animals or is vegan. There’s simply no single globally accepted legal definition.
But to PETA, “cruelty-free” means that a company or brand has taken the position that it won’t allow any tests on animals, including in its supply chain, for any reason – and its products are vegan.
It’s important to remember that products can be animal test–free but still contain animal-derived ingredients. The PETA US Beauty Without Bunnies programme recognises companies that do not allow tests on animals as “Animal Test–Free”/“PETA Approved Global Animal Test Policy”. But to be truly cruelty-free, a company must not only ban tests on animals but also refuse to use any animal-derived ingredients, such as honey, beeswax, or carmine, in its products. In the PETA US Beauty Without Bunnies programme, these products are designated as “Animal Test–Free”/“PETA Approved Global Animal Test Policy” and “Vegan”.
This handy list of animal-derived ingredients and their alternatives will help you decipher product labels.
10. Can companies advertise themselves as cruelty-free but still test on animals?
It’s easy to assume that all cosmetics sold in the EU and UK are animal test–free or that cruelty-free claims on packaging can be trusted. Don’t fall into this trap.
Some companies – such as Benefit, Bobbi Brown, and Maybelline – say they don’t conduct animal tests unless required to by law. This usually means that they are opting to sell in places where such requirements exist, thereby putting profit before ethics by choosing to pay for tests on animals or use animal-tested ingredients so they can expand their market. Don’t buy it!
Remember, products tested on animals in other countries, such as China, may be sold in the EU if the animal-test data from elsewhere are not used to verify the safety of the cosmetics in the EU. Additionally, ingredients may be tested on animals under REACH.
11. How do I know if something is cruelty-free or not?
The only way to be sure you’re not funding cruel and pointless tests on animals when you buy cosmetics is to use the PETA US Beauty Without Bunnies global searchable database of more than 5,200 companies and brands that don’t test on animals. Also, check out the Bunny Free mobile app to verify which brands are animal test–free and/or vegan.
12. How can a company be listed as ‘Animal Test–Free’ or ‘PETA-Approved’?
In order to be listed as a company or brand that does not test on animals and carry the “Animal Test–Free”/“PETA Approved Global Animal Test Policy” logo, companies must pledge never to conduct, commission, pay for, or allow tests on animals at any phase of development, for both ingredients and final products. They’re required to have agreements in place with their suppliers guaranteeing that they will refrain from conducting, commissioning, paying for, or allowing tests on animals for the ingredients purchased by the company.
13. What brands are cruelty free? What UK brands are cruelty free?
We all have our own personal favourites, and PETA applauds every single one of the companies and brands that have joined the ranks of those that are animal test–free. Check out some of our staffers’ top recommendations:
- Sam, our research associate, loves As I Am Hydration Elation Intensive Conditioner and Noughty Wave Hello Shampoo, which work perfectly for curly hair!
- Margarita, our digital marketing manager, can’t get enough of Bleach London vegan and cruelty-free hair dyes. Her favourite products are Rosé Super Cool Colour and the Reincarnation Mask.
- The list is being updated. Come back for more!
Download the Bunny Free app so you can shop conscientiously, too.
14. Which brands test on animals?
As consumers, we all have the power to help end animal testing. Every time we go shopping, we have an opportunity to vote with our wallets. Our daily choices send a powerful message to corporations: they won’t have our money as long as they conduct, commission, or pay for tests on animals.
15. What’s the difference between cruelty-free and vegan?
Vegan products don’t contain any animal-derived ingredients, while animal test–free means that companies refuse to have their products or ingredients tested on animals. Look for products carrying the PETA US Beauty Without Bunnies “Animal Test–Free”/“PETA Approved Global Animal Test Policy” and “Vegan” logos.
16. Do cosmetics need to be tested on animals?
Given the wealth of non-animal approaches available for assessing the safety of cosmetics and their ingredients, there’s no excuse for testing on animals. In the rare event that the safety of a cosmetics product or ingredient cannot be demonstrated using non-animal methods, it should simply not be used. The life of an animal is so much more important than a tube of lipstick or toothpaste.
17. Why is animal testing unreliable?
Toxicity tests on animals work on the premise that the effect of a product or ingredient on animals predicts what will happen in humans, but this is false.
Some of the animal tests required by law have not been validated, meaning that their scientific basis, reliability, and relevance to humans have not been satisfactorily demonstrated. Even those tests that have been validated can be unreliable, failing to produce the same result when the test is repeated.
When you consider the biological differences between humans and the animals commonly used in toxicity tests and the unnatural and stressful conditions these animals are forced to endure, this adds up to meaningless results that fail to protect humans.
18. What can be used instead of animal testing? What are the alternative, non-animal methods of testing?
The EU bans brought about a boom in the development of non-animal methods for assessing the safety of cosmetics and their ingredients. Superior approaches incorporating the use of cutting-edge tools like three-dimensional tissue models and advanced computer simulations are now used routinely to assess the safety of cosmetics without harming animals.
Today, there’s no reason for companies to inject guinea pigs with lipstick ingredients to check for painful skin reactions, force-feed rats shampoo ingredients for weeks or months –causing sickness, convulsions, weight loss, and death – or dose pregnant rabbits with face cream ingredients to see whether their newborns will be deformed.
19. Why do companies still choose to test on animals?
By choosing to sell in countries like China that still require tests on animals, companies are putting profit before ethics and condemning animals to suffer and die for the sake of lipstick or shampoo. The situation in the UK and EU is trickier, as some ingredients suppliers are actively fighting test requests.
Our message to regulators and companies is clear: only non-animal methods should be relied upon to bring a cosmetics product to market. If that’s not possible, the ingredient should not be used.
20. What is PETA doing to help animals used for cosmetics testing?
PETA and our global affiliates have been opposing cosmetics tests on animals for decades with eye-catching and provocative demonstrations and exposés of cruelty in laboratories. We have also been sharing information explaining why tests on animals are unreliable and not applicable (and even dangerous!) to humans and supporting modern, animal-free science.
Behind the scenes, scientists from PETA and our affiliates meet with lawmakers, cosmetics brands, and ingredients suppliers; take the stand in legal and administrative cases; prepare scientific papers and technical comments; and speak at international conferences and workshops. PETA has also helped fund the validation of a superior, non-animal test that can be used to help replace painful tests on mice and guinea pigs.
Recently, PETA joined forces with other animal protection groups and cruelty-free companies and brands to urge the president of the European Commission to suspend all requests for cosmetics ingredients tests on animals and allow companies to demonstrate the safety of ingredients using only non-animal methods.
We will continue to do all we can until no more animals are killed for the sake of an eyeshadow or deodorant.
21. What can I do to help animals used in cosmetics tests?
Use the PETA US Beauty Without Bunnies database to look for companies and brands that do not test on animals, and make sure the cosmetics you buy don’t contain any animal-derived ingredients.
Join us in asking the European Commission and ECHA to suspend all outstanding animal test requests for chemicals used exclusively as cosmetics ingredients.
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