Why are Cosmetics Still Being Tested on Animals?

Ask any beauty fanatic whether their cosmetics are tested on animals, and you'll get a surprised face for a response. In 2022, most people believe animal testing for cosmetics and personal-care products is just Not A Thing anymore – for a good reason, as 2013 saw the EU ban on marketing and selling cosmetic products tested on animals come into force. To the joy of animal rights campaigners everywhere, countries such as India, Australia, and over 40 other nations followed suit to either completely ban or partially restrict these procedures.

By Sascha Camilli: writer, speaker, activist and vegan fashion expert.

For many of us, this was it. A done deal. Animals were never to be mistreated for beauty again. Unfortunately, the reality is far from that simple: animal rights organisation PETA estimates that approximately 300,000 animals are used every year in China alone for testing cosmetic products, and the global figure is likely to soar above that.

So what is actually done to animals in tests? Aside from living in a barren cage, animals including include rabbits, rats, guinea pigs, mice and dogs are subjected to nightmarish procedures: pregnant rabbits are force-fed harsh ingredients, then killed along with their unborn babies. Substances are dropped into animals' eyes or rubbed into their skin. Alternatively, animals are made to ingest ingredients to monitor reactions. Sometimes, animals bred for tests aren't used because they are the wrong sex or other incompatible characteristics – and in those cases, they are killed along with those used for tests.

Dr Julia Baines is Science Policy Manager at PETA UK. She joined the organisation after having worked in a laboratory that performs animal testing, and has shared her experiences:I’ve seen mice torn apart by cagemates who had been driven insane and made aggressive by the stress of confinement. I’ve visited laboratories where dogs are experimented on, and I’ll never forget the anguished cries of the beagles there, who were vying for attention, longing for someone to play with. I’ve observed primates imprisoned in cramped, almost barren cages – which have no ropes for them to swing on – who are given no opportunity to socialise. They’re so desperate for affection that they reach out to passing visitors, hoping for someone – anyone – to stop and notice them.”

But how can all of this be happening in a territory where animal testing for cosmetics is proclaimed to have been banned? Many of us believe that living in countries that have a ban on selling and marketing products tested on animals means that we can shop away without a care in the world and choose any brand we please. The reality is more complicated. In the EU, under the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) legislation, ingredients that are intended only for cosmetic use can be tested on animals if there is any risk of workforce exposure during the production process – which there often is, so this is one loophole that means that often, ingredients are still tested on animals.

And this ban, which is already imperfect, is now under even further threat. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) has recently introduced new requirements calling for new tests of ingredients that have been safely used for many years. Despite available data on the safety of these ingredients, ECHA is now putting animals back in laboratories for more tests. But animal protection groups aren't giving up without a fight. PETA, Cruelty Free International, and many others, alongside cruelty-free beauty brands Dove and The Body Shop, have launched a European Citizens' Initiative calling for the vital bans to be saved. They are aiming to get one million signatures in order to save the legislation and encourage the EU to work towards phasing out all animal experiments.

"Testing beauty products and their ingredients on animals is ugly, full stop,” says PETA Science Policy Manager Dr Julia Baines. “PETA is joining forces with compassionate companies to demand a kind approach to cosmetics testing that spares sensitive animals’ lives and involves non-animal tests only, as required by law.” Director of Public Affairs for Cruelty Free Europe Kerry Postlewhite echoes that sentiment, saying, “European citizens and their representatives in the European Parliament fought hard for these bans, which have been a model for many other markets. They must be upheld as intended so that animals do not suffer for cosmetics in Europe.”

Outside the EU, one of the biggest beauty markets in the world is China, where cosmetic products that will be sold in the country are required to be tested on animals. This effectively means that any brand which sells its ranges in China effectively forfeits their right to be called cruelty-free – and it also means that it's not enough for your favourite brand to say “we don't test on animals” in order to put your mind at ease. Brands that do engage in animal testing are likely to say, “we never test on animals...unless required by law.” It is required by law in order to be able to sell the products in China. If a brand sells their products there, they aren't likely to be cruelty-free (although there are exceptions to this).

What about changing the situation in China? There is progress going on in the second-biggest beauty market in the world: in 2020, China ended its mandatory requirement for animal testing for many types of cosmetic products, including most makeup. Does this mean that the requirement for animal testing is now scrapped and all of the above doesn't apply? Hardly. The RSPCA notes that the change does not include “special-use cosmetics”, such as hair dye, sunscreen, and more. Brands aiming to avoid testing on animals also have to through a lengthy application.

Testing cosmetics on animals will one day come to an end – and we're on our way there, due in part to the overwhelming public support for ending this practice. The Humane Society has commissioned public-opinion polls in countries such as the US, Brazil, South Korea, Canada, and Japan, finding that approximately 70% of consumers globally want to see an end to testing cosmetics on animals. But before our wishes are heard and we can truly rest assured that no mouse, rat, dog, or other animal has suffered and died for mascara and body lotion, there is only one sure-fire way to ensure we don't pay for the torture of animals: only buy from brands that are certified as cruelty-free.

The main certifications are Cruelty Free International's Leaping Bunny (often used in Europe), PETA's Beauty Without Bunnies programme (global, with a big US presence) and Choose Cruelty Free's rabbit (the main Australian accreditation, which has recently become part of Cruelty Free International). Some companies use their own rabbit symbols and logos, but to be completely certain, it's best to go with these programmes – their verification process is rigorous, allowing for no loopholes. That way, you can trust that everything you buy and use was truly made without cruelty.

By Sascha Camilli

About Sascha

Sascha Camilli is a vegan fashion writer, speaker and activist. Her book Vegan Style is out now on Murdoch Books. For more about Sascha, you can read our interview with her. You can also follow her on Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Cover image by Julia Koblitz via Unsplash. Second photo by Pablo Martinez via Unsplash.

For more great content like this in your inbox, sign up to our newsletter, and save 10% off your next purchase, plus great savings throughout the year.

Immaculate Bestsellers

"A superb experience from beginning to end... I have three items, each high quality, beautifully presented... the first place I look for luxurious classic pieces for my wardrobe.”

Victoria, 5 Star Trustpilot Review