Cruel Beauty

October 20 2011 | by

DID YOU know that the mascara you use can cause blindness to hundreds of animals during the process of testing? The Draize tests, for example, involve the application of solutions of products directly into the eyes of conscious rabbits over a minimum seven day period and then the results are observed. Skin irritancy tests consist of immobilising an animal while test substances are applied to shaved skin. Ultimately, the animals are killed in order to determine the internal effects of the toxic substances. Much of this is done in laboratories in the US.

Every year, thousands of new cosmetics and personal care products are introduced into the marketplace. Most have been animal-tested at various stages of their development in a complex testing process that leaves animals mutilated, burned, and poisoned. The list of companies that test on animals is long and the brand names are surprisingly familiar. According to PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the world’s largest animal rights organisation, it includes Clairol, Johnson & Johnson, Max Factor, and L’Oreal.


Alternative methods


Animal testing in the cosmetic industry is especially done for make up and soaps. Rabbits are commonly used for such processes. Guinea pigs are used to test sunscreen products, to gage various reactions and allergies. A large number of rats and mice are also used for testing. Mice are preferred due to their size and also because they are available at a relatively low cost. Animal welfare groups in the US contend that millions of animals are used in their country in such tests each year, but no one knows for sure. Unlike rules covering animals used in medical research, there are no federal reporting requirements for mice and rats in cosmetic research.

Manufacturers claim to test on animals to ensure the safety of their products for humans, but a key reason is to limit the company’s liability to its customers in case of a lawsuit. In the US, the law does not require animal testing on cosmetics, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does urge companies to conduct whatever toxicological tests are appropriate to substantiate the safety of their products. Some scientists argue that animals provide the most reliable way to gauge the effects of toxins on humans. However, others contend that animals are not reliable substitutes for humans, and that newer tests take advantage of advances in biology and computer science, offering a potentially richer array of safety data. “The reason we use animal tests is because we have a comfort level with the process, not because it is the correct process”, says Melvin E. Andersen, director of computational systems biology at the Hamner Institutes for Health Sciences near Raleigh, North Carolina. “Animal tests are no longer the gold standard,” he adds; “it is a marvellously new world”.


Human cells


One result of the delay in producing alternatives to animal testing is that companies are still required to perform animal tests to meet regulatory requirements. Companies report that regulators tell them: “You still have to prove to me that it’s safe using an animal”. Recently, however, three agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Toxicology Program and the National Institutes of Health, signed a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ to develop and implement the new methods, but the process could take at least a decade to make a significant difference. These new methods use human cells grown in test tubes and computer-driven testing machines. They allow the scientists to examine potentially toxic compounds in the lab rather than injecting them into animals. A few hundred human cells grown in a test tube – such as human corneal cells – go into each well. Then, guided by a computer, the testing machine drips a different chemical into each well. After a while, the machine shines a laser through each well to see how many cells remain. A computer analyzes the toxicity of each compound based on how the cells react.


Botox: Lethal Dose 50


Each year, US doctors inject more than three million doses of Botox to temporarily smooth their patients’ wrinkles and frown lines. But before each batch is shipped, the manufacturer has, until now, put it through one of the oldest and most controversial animal tests available. To check the potency of its product under federal safety rules, Allergan Inc, a California-based company, has injected mice with Botox until it found a dose at which half of the animals die – a rough gauge of potential harm to humans. It is known as the ‘lethal dose 50’ or LD50 test. Allergan reported they had no choice; that without a federally approved safety test that did not use animals, LD50 “is by default the required test”.

However, the Humane Society of the United States and animal welfare groups applauded Allergan in August this year when it announced that the company had developed – and received federal approval for – a new procedure that avoids using animals in testing batches of Botox products. According to an Allergan press release, the company spent more than 10 years and $65 million conducting research to develop the new test, and has secured approval from the US Food and Drug Administration. The company expects the new method will reduce its use of animals in Botox testing by 95 percent within three years. The controversy over the Botox test highlights the slow pace of US government efforts to replace or reduce the large numbers of animals used for testing. In 2010, a decade after Congress created a panel to spur the development of non-animal tests, only four such tests had been approved out of 185 reviews, according to the panel’s records. Clearly, that situation is gradually changing.


European Union ban


Europe began moving away from animal testing more than 20 years ago, after the European Commission voted in 1986 to require the use of alternative tests wherever possible. The European Centre for the Evaluation of Alternative Methods, or ECVAM, was created in 1991. It has more than 60 employees and a budget of $25 million, about 10 times the size of its American counterpart. Another important difference is that the European panel is proactive in developing non-animal tests.

The testing of cosmetics and their ingredients on animals had been outlawed in the UK since 1998, but the sale of products tested elsewhere had not, and many EU countries such as France still had active animal testing programs. However, an EU ban on the sale of most cosmetics tested on animals came into force in March 2009, with exceptions for products subject to three specific toxicity tests for which no effective non-animal testing methods were available. The cosmetics industry was warned it had four years – until March 2013 – for the marketing ban to be extended to cover such products too. There are plans for a total EU-wide ban from 2013, although the cosmetics industry has lobbied for a five-year postponement in introducing the ban. Now some cosmetics sectors want more time to find alternative testing methods for the most complicated tests – possibly postponing tougher animal welfare laws until 2018.


Unethical practice


Dr Barry Phillips, senior scientific officer for the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), said recently that, “the industry has known for years that this ban was coming and more should have been done to find alternatives to tests on animals”. He added that, “if companies can’t make new cosmetics ingredients without causing animal suffering, they will just have to make do with the 10,000 ingredients they already have available to them”. Humane Society International’s UK senior policy adviser Emily McIvor agrees, commenting that, “consumers and politicians recognize that it is unethical to cause animal suffering for products like lipstick and eye shadow and we urge the British Government to do everything it can to safeguard the ban to ensure that in 2013 the EU becomes the world’s first cruelty-free cosmetics zone.”


Beauty without crueltry


George Bernard Shaw once said, “You do not settle whether an experiment is justified or not by merely showing that it is of some use. The distinction is not between useful and useless experiments, but between barbarous and civilised behaviour.” There are some medical problems that can probably only be cured by testing on unwilling people, but we don’t do it because we recognise that it would be wrong. Perhaps we need to extend this same concern to other living, feeling beings, regardless of what species they may be.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has produced a ‘Cruelty-free’ list of companies that have signed PETA’s statement of assurance or provided a statement verifying that they do not conduct or commission any animal tests on ingredients, formulations, or finished products and neither do their ingredient suppliers. The list is long and includes The Body Shop, Organics Hair and Revlon. Clearly, there are alternatives to products which are produced using animal testing. 

Church action

On the whole, few in the Church extend its vision of social justice to the total Earth community. This is rather surprising since a tradition of creation-centred theology has been present within the Church over the centuries. For St Francis of Assisi, every creature in the world was a mirror of God’s presence. St Basil prayed that God “enlarge within us the sense of fellowship with all living things”. Hildegarde of Bingen spoke of the entire world being “embraced” by the kiss of the Creator. Too often, perhaps, the use by a tiny minority of animal rights campaigners of aggressive strategies to challenge animal experimentation has alienated many people, or maybe the secrecy which surrounds animal experiments ensures public ignorance.

In 2009, Bruce Friedrich, the Catholic vice-president of PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) reflected, “We all know that animals have a capacity to feel pain, just as humans do; all animals have behaviours, wants, needs, desires, and so on. Anyone who has shared his or her life with a dog or a cat knows that animals are interesting and interested beings with personalities. It seems to me self-evident that, regardless of whether a person has a religious faith, people of integrity should make kind rather than cruel choices.”

Updated on October 06 2016