Animal Testing on Cosmetics: Unveiling the Cruelty and Advancements

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Updated: Aug 22, 2023
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The Tragic Thalidomide Event and its Consequences

The tragic thalidomide event that took place around 1960 was caused when the drug, thought to be a “mild sleeping pill,” was primarily administered to women experiencing morning sickness. Unfortunately, no one foresaw the terrifying results leading to the malformed limbs of infants across nearly 50 countries. In response, authorities began to implement animal experiments to prevent history from repeating itself. Despite this, animal testing has lingered with only trivial regulations, resulting in blatant misuse that cost the lives of countless animals.

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Unquestionably, our current scientific understanding wouldn’t allow animal experimentation to cease in one day; it has to start somewhere. In the early 1960s, the principle of the 3 Rs was established to embody Replacement, Reduction, and Refinement concerning animals in experimental procedures. Now that technology has made great strides, modern testing has changed.

Transitioning Towards Alternatives: The Evolution of Animal Testing

To this end, there are now alternative methods that can substitute animals. In this paper, I will delve into the contentious issue of animal experimentation, especially within the cosmetics industry. My thesis aims to reveal the unnecessary mistreatment that animal testing represents. Presently, the only law that protects research animals is the Animal Welfare Act, first enacted in 1966. However, this legislation provides minimal standards for feeding, handling, health status, and overall care for animals. Some argue that animal experimentation is indispensable for educational and medical purposes to further our body of knowledge. However, there are far fewer reasons to defend animal testing in cosmetics and personal care products since these don’t contribute to advancements in science for health benefits, but rather for personal use.

The Ethical Debate: Necessity and Purpose

Consequently, animals are no longer the only subjects that cosmetics can be tested on. In 2003, the EU banned animal testing for cosmetics and the purchase of animal-tested cosmetics produced in other countries. Since then, scientists have been concentrating on developing substitute methods for animals in testing procedures. In the intervening 16 years, considerable progress has been made in this area. Therefore, a question arises: is it justified to continue exploiting numerous animals for testing, especially considering that their biological systems are significantly different from ours? What alternative methodologies have been made available to replace animal experimentation in cosmetics? My introduction is designed to help readers understand my argument and its roots. The annotated bibliography will support my argument and research by providing textual evidence about alternative methods, why animal testing should be phased out, and other data to further authenticate the facts supporting my argument.

Analyzing Arguments Against Animal Testing in Cosmetics

In Abbot’s “More than a Cosmetic Change,” she puts forth convincing arguments about why animals are no longer necessary in the cosmetics industry. The author starts by alerting readers to everyday products that contain potentially harmful chemicals of which we are often unaware. She continues by revealing, “But the toxicological tests… used to gather this information… are largely based on wasteful and often poorly predictive animal experiments.” The author’s claim underscores the worry that experiments performed on animals are futile. Not only are cosmetics irrelevant to the evolution or wellbeing of humans, but they also misuse animals. Additionally, she expands, “Most animal tests either overestimate or underestimate toxicity, or simply don’t reflect toxicity in humans accurately.” This statement emphasizes the notable differences between lab animals and humans, challenging the efficiency and the very purpose of animal testing. This also reinforces the principles of the 3 R’s particularly now that there are viable options for “replacement”.

Strides Towards Alternative Testing Methods

The authors of this article advocate for change in animal testing. They emphasize the necessity for in vivo experimentation to ascertain the toxicity of cosmetics. Like other references, they acknowledge the progress of alternative methods. Their list comprises “…cell-based (in vitro) methods (such as stem cell technologies, tissue engineering, and organs-on-chips), next-generation sequencing and ‘omics technologies (including genomics, epigenomics, and proteomics), and computational (in silico) modeling techniques.” It’s worth noting that these methods are tremendously significant to the EU, as they have prohibited animal testing on cosmetics. The authors suggest a temporary collaboration of both methods for the advanced development of alternative testing in lieu of futile debates and assays.

In their article, they assert, “It is important to recognize that using these tools alongside each other is a vital first step towards the commonplace use of alternatives and will allow for comparisons to be made between the traditional and newer approaches.” Essentially, they are champions for alternative methods with the future aim of eliminating animal experimentation. Nonetheless, they consider the reality that there isn’t enough information or validated methods to completely eradicate animal testing. Therefore, they propose methods that will eventually end animal testing.

Exploring Specific Alternatives: Chemical Sensitization Testing

In this article, the authors propose that the current data on biological mechanisms with sensitizers are fitting for alternative methods to animal testing. The article gives initial explanations on chemical sensitization, which is the objective for in vitro methods. The author asserts that Genomic Allergen Rapid Detection (GARD) is a refined in vitro model that comprises dendritic cells. Interestingly, dendritic cells display antigens that play a crucial role in our immune system. Furthermore, when our skin is subjected to harmful chemicals, our immune system reacts appropriately. Consequently, with an in vitro method involving dendritic cells, we are capable of gaining a comprehensive understanding of how our skin would respond to these chemicals.

The authors back their argument with, “These genes, referred to as a predictive biomarker signature, are associated with various inflammatory processes that are described as activated by chemical sensitizers, including PRR signaling, oxidative stress responses and cellular mechanisms for the recognition of foreign substances.” Therefore, the in vitro model would serve as an sophisticated detector for chemical sensitization with the immune reactants in mind. Similarly, “The predictive performance of the assay was recently evaluated using 37 chemicals as test substances in three in-house pre-validation studies, revealing an overall accuracy of 89%.” Altogether, the authors provide evidence for GARD’s accuracy and demonstrate it is a practical approach for an alternative method of chemical sensitization for cosmetics.

The Ethical Dimension: Embryotoxicity Testing

The author of this article presents how animals are used as subjects to conduct various experiments. These can affect their offspring, and are primarily carried out to test the toxicity of several chemicals used in everyday products. These tests — aimed at observing chemical reactions in an animal’s offspring — are known as embryotoxicity. The author constructs statements to highlight the misuse of animals in these experiments. In one of Kolar’s case studies, he comments on the necessity of animal experimentation for cosmetics vs the ethical reasoning for non-life-changing or threatening products. For instance, he cites the opinions of others who disagree with his rebuttal, “…the marketing of these substances requires the suffering of thousands of laboratory animals, it would be indispensable to assess the justification for this suffering”.

Such a claim prompts one to ponder whether cosmetics are an essential necessity, comparable in importance to medical purposes. Fortunately, over the recent years, alternative methods have been developed and validated. These alternatives serve as an excellent substitute for animal experimentation. After suggesting stricter and more enforced regulations, the author adds, “The second approach is a scientific one, and it aims at replacing all animal use in science and research with alternative methods”. This statement serves as a catalyst to explore alternatives to in vivo testing. 

Shifting the Paradigm: 3D Reconstructed Human Epidermal Models

In the article “Non-animal sensitization testing: State-of-the-art,” Loveren and Vandebriel delve into 3D reconstructed human epidermal (RHE) models as alternative methods to animal testing. They vouch for the efficiency of 3D models over most conventional in vitro methods. For example, “Several RHE models are commercially available, and three of them (SkinEthic et al.) have been validated for skin irritation testing…and were recently accepted by the European Commission”. These authors offer excellent alternative methods that simulate human skin. They support their claim by stating, “Next to RHE, which consists of keratinocytes and dermal matrix, so-called skin equivalents or cultured skin substitutes are also available. In these, the dermal matrix is populated with fibroblasts”. The model consists of skin cell-producing protein, soft tissue replacement, and main connective tissue cells, proving reliable in reacting similarly to human skin when exposed to chemicals.

Flaws in Existing Testing Methods: The Case of Draize Eye Irritancy Test

In Nigam’s “Adverse Reactions to Cosmetics and Methods of Testing,” the author reveals the testing methods now utilized for cosmetics. They mention the Draize eye irritancy test and its association with rabbits. The Draize test was designed in 1944 when cosmetics were causing permanent eye damage. However, the author comments on the effects of the test, “Reactions to the irritants can include swelling of the eyelid, inflammation of the iris, ulceration, hemorrhaging (bleeding), and blindness…and does not adequately reflect the degree of irritancy in humans”.

Besides the process of immobilizing conscious rabbits and forcing their eyelids open, the test itself isn’t accurate. This once again readdresses and strengthens the issue of how distinct animals are from humans in this aspect. The author recognizes the in vitro tests that are being acknowledged in the testing field. They state, “In vitro methods have been validated for use in prescreening for severe irritancy, screening of phototoxicity, evaluating percutaneous absorption, and studying for mutagenicity/genotoxicity.” The author has stated alternative methods—including the acclaimed Episkin test—for toxicity testing that are renowned. It is no coincidence that multiple authors on this subject include in vitro methods when discussing toxicology.

This scholarly journal further delves into alternative methods, claiming that in vitro reconstructed skin models are more biologically similar to human skin. The authors highlight the innovative EPISKIN® models. They mention it as “a predictive model leading to good concordance with in vivo data on animal and clinical data on skin irritation has been established.” They proceed with support for these alternative methods, which have been used and continue to develop. They analyze that the use of these kits would require industrial scale production for reproducibility so they could be widely used. The kit would serve as a reliable account for data on cosmetics and their chemicals. They further support reconstructed human epidermis kits when they claim, “The ability to test cosmetics in vitro, by topical application in real conditions of use, makes them a tool of choice in this field.” Evidently, these models receive strong support for the best alternative method choices. Therefore, this article proves there are available options cosmetic companies can apply to test their products other than on animals.

Simple and Cost-Effective Alternatives

From another perspective, this article includes undergraduate authors Thomas and Montages, who claim they can create an inexpensive in vitro test for mascara irritation. They begin by expressing their support for in vitro testing by describing, “In vitro testing provides an alternative to the Draize test, employing non-animal models, animal/human cell lines, and lower-animal development stages (e.g., bacteria, protozoa, human skin cells, frog embryos) to indicate toxicity.” This comprehensive list of methods provides a foundation for the authors to conduct their experiment and the best option to pursue.

They eventually chose protozoa, an animal-like, single-celled, eukaryotic heterotroph that does not identify as an animal. Their protozoa subjects consist of Paramecium caudatum and Blepharisma japonica, the growth rate of which would determine the toxic effect of the mascara. After conducting their experiment, they revealed, “Combining species data (see Materials and methods) revealed which brands had the greatest inhibition on growth rate and which resulted in growth rates similar to those in control, suggesting no toxic effect (Fig. 3C).” To elaborate, the authors detected the toxicity of mascara products by analyzing whether it halted the growth of the protozoa or had no effect on its regular growth rate. It emphasized that inexperienced staff with basic training can conduct this simple and competent experiment just as well. It is also noted that this procedure is cost-efficient and does not require expensive equipment. Nevertheless, alternative methods are developing and can eventually reduce or replace animal experiments in the field of cosmetics.


  1. Abbot, A. (2007). More than a cosmetic change. Nature, 446(7136), 148–150.
  2. Loveren, H. van, & Vandebriel, R. (2016). Non-animal sensitization testing: State-of-the-art. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 91, 252–259.
  3. Nigam, G. L. (2018). Adverse Reactions to Cosmetics and Methods of Testing. Skin Pharmacology and Physiology, 31(6), 309–313.
  4. Thomas, R., & Montages, M. (2019). Inexpensive in vitro test for mascara irritation. Undergraduate Journal of Science, 5(1), 15–20.
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Animal Testing on Cosmetics: Unveiling the Cruelty and Advancements. (2023, Jun 21). Retrieved from