As I sit down to write this piece, I think about all the skincare and beauty products I have bought over my life and I wonder how many of them were tested on animals. Is animal testing sometimes necessary? This is a practice that has been so ingrained in an industry that it is seen as the norm or the gold standard, but there is a group of people from an individual to a structural level breaking out with new, better, and safer alternatives for both us and our earthling counterparts.
Skin care product animal testing
While the war rages on between synthetic and natural skincare, another ethical war is being fought within the skincare industry worldwide: animal testing. While some countries have moved away from animal testing, others continue to test skincare products on animals. Some consumers may think that by purchasing organic or natural products, that the products are not tested on animals. Consumers may also think that animal testing increases the product safety. In fact, the words organic and natural have nothing to do with product testing, and animal testing gives no indication about product safety. In part 2 of On Skincare I will explore the harsh reality of product testing, new developments and the legal requirements in Australia.
Some readers may think why is this an ethical debate, isn’t this just about product safety? In ethics and philosophy there is an attempt to resolve arguments with one sound, unifying idea. It enables us to make reliable decisions and perform consist actions. Animal testing is considered unethical by many because it discriminates against living beings unable to consent to painful (and sometimes fatal) procedures. This is an ethical debate that is often described as speciesism, where the needs and desires of one species enforced over another.
There is evidence to suggest that animal testing has been conducted for around 2000 years; however the strongest evidence tells us that animal testing was happening in the 1700’s. Just because it has always been done this way for hundreds of years doesn’t mean that it should stay that way. Tradition is a great resistor to change, but at the core it is not the tradition that resists the change, it is us. We compartmentalise why we do things, allowing the suffering of one species to justify the safety of another. Even the animals that are used in laboratory tests are compartmentalised- bred or selected for that grim purpose- as if by creating them to suffer makes it somewhat okay.
Is this so that we can be at peace with ourselves, if not with the animals we harm? Are we so caught up in our perpetual strife for beauty that we allow corporations to destroy another life; yet so many people claim to be against animal cruelty? Cognitive dissonance is the psychological mechanism by which people are able to live with two competing beliefs. Within the discussion of this topic, that is to say that we cannot condemn animal cruelty and praise the animal suffering that is animal testing. It is the exact opposite of what philosophy tries to teach us; if we are living lifestyles bound by cognitive dissonance and speciesism we cannot be living philosophically sound or ethically just lives.
Why is animal testing wrong?
Aside from the insurmountable suffering that is endured by non-consenting living beings, on the most basic level animal tests could never satisfactorily guarantee human safety because it is a false dichotomy: it is comparing apples with oranges. I certainly do not claim to be a professional philosopher, but let’s pretend for just a while that I am.
Examine the philosophical argument (one conclusion drawn from stated premises) in favour of animal testing
Premise 1: Rabbits have fur.
Premise 2: Humans have skin.
Premise 3: A new product designed for humans needs to be tested for safety.
Conclusion: Therefore, testing a product on rabbits will prove product safety on human skin.
Premise 1 + Premise 2 + Premise 3 =/= Conclusion
This is not a sound argument. Therefore claims that it is the best way to guarantee safety are false.
Let’s examine an argument that works
Premise 1: Humans have skin.
Premise 2: A test medium accurately simulates human skin.
Premise 3: A new product designed for humans needs to be tested for safety.
Conclusion: Therefore, using the test medium will demonstrate safety on human skin.
Premise 1 + Premise 2 + Premise 3 = Conclusion
Therefore, this is a sound argument.
What are we turning a blind eye to?
Animal testing is also referred to as vivisection. There are several tests carried out on dogs, cats, rabbits, rats and monkeys every day across the globe that are considered the industry standard and best practice. They were popularised to protect organisations from litigation.
These tests are painful, torturous and even lethal to the animals forced to endure these procedures:
The Draize Test
The most well known tests is the Draize Eye Irritation Test. Chemicals are forcefully dripped into the eye of an albino (white) rabbit. The test is very distressing: the animal is restrained and shocked to prevent it from rubbing the substance from its eye. The test also isn’t very accurate (or scientific) because the results are only estimates based on observation of the rabbit’s eye.
This is a common test for skincare products. A percentage of the animal’s skin is covered in a product and observed for 14 days. Animals involved include rabbits, guinea pigs and rats.
Lethal dose testing is usually reserved for pharmaceutical products. These can be done via ingestion, injection, and inhalation. Death can be slow and painful for the animals involved. There is absolutely no need to use this for cosmetics and skincare.
What is apparently obvious is that these tests are not only painfully cruel, but they do not test safety in humans. If any other scientific study was taken from one specific population group, it could not be generalised to another and be considered sound.
Then why are companies still testing on animals?
There are non-animal alternatives to animal testing. In-vitro and in-vivo testing are available and are far more reliable and cheaper than animal testing. They involve petri-dish and simulation testing to ensure the highest standard of product safety.
Some of the following non-animal test alternatives have even been pioneered by companies who have returned to animal testing to break into the multi-million dollar Chinese market (read more about this issue under Further Reading). All anti-vivesection groups deem this inappropriate and these companies (who use non-animal testing in one country and animal testing in another) do not meet the basic cruelty free standards.
This vegetable protein alternative has been designed to replicate the Draize Eye Irritation Test, and is far more accurate. Choose Cruelty Free states: “Like the cornea of the eye, this clear protein gel becomes cloudy when in contact with an irritating substance… In the Eytex test, the degree of cloudiness (“damage”) can be measured by a machine, a spectrophotometer, which is much more reliable.”
Reconstructed human epidermis
Human skin cells are grown in a laboratory, and the reconstructed human epidermis test is the alternative to traditional dermal toxicity tests. As the skin is viewable in real time, it is more accurate because can be observed under a microscope for inflammatory markers— whereas animal tests only observe redness and swelling.
Petri dish testing such as microphysiometry is used to examine changes in the function of cell. The test observes for changes to pH levels and cell respiration and metabolism when exposed to a product or ingredient.
Quantitative Structure-Activity Relationship, or QSAR is modelled and compared in against a database of known chemical structures. It finds similarities to other known results, and is looks particularly at the chance of product irritancy.
Human tests are the most reliable. Patch testing is conducted on a small patch of skin, and is monitored and recorded for 48 hours. It produces the best results for product safety of skincare products.
As you can see, there are many alternatives to animal testing for cosmetics and skincare. There is no reason why animal tests provide a better safety guarantee.
Legal requirements in Australia
There are no legal requirements in Australia for any skincare products to be tested on animals. Furthermore, animal testing is not required by law by most countries, including large markets such as the United States of America [USA] and the European Union [EU]. Some regions have even moved to outlaw animal testing, and more countries look to follow soon. The EU, India and New Zealand has recently banned all cosmetic and skincare products that have been tested on animals forcing companies who voluntarily perform vivisection to use more reliable, cruelty free alternatives.
In the future, hopefully all companies will be cruelty free and no animal testing will be used. If animal testing concerns you, contact your favourite companies and get involved with anti-vivesection campaigns.