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Why are animals still used to test the safety of cosmetics?

New ingredients that are used in cosmetic products are required, by law, to undergo a range of tests to ensure that they are safe for humans to use and they do not cause harm to the user. Cosmetic products include make-up and skin-care products as well as soaps, shower gels, deodorants, shampoos, toothpastes, some sunscreens and similar products.

Safety assessments are designed to examine the properties of all ingredients contained in the product. A number of key aspects need to be addressed, such as whether the ingredient can cause allergies or whether repeated use of may be damaging to human health. The testing may be carried out by the manufacturer of the final cosmetic, by the ingredient manufacturer, by a contract testing company or the data may be obtained through other sources. Testing is carried out to determine the profile of the ingredient. Once this has been established it is not required to be repeated for each batch or each product. Safety testing us usually carried out early on in the development of a product, around 2 to 3 years before it reaches the market. Testing must comply with the international quality assurance principles and in most cases is based on OECD Testing Guidelines.

In some cases, cosmetic manufacturers can choose to use safe and modern test methods, such as computer models and cell cultures, that don’t use animals to assess the safety of their products. But although alternative methods are available for some types of testing, there are some types of tests where non-animal replacements have yet to be developed and validated.

However, at this point in time, a large number of cosmetic products and their ingredients have now undergone substantial testing regimes and have been found to be safe for human use and are readily available for companies to use in their cosmetic products. There is simply no need to test new products or ingredients on animals to introduce a new product into the market. The use of animals for testing cosmetic products can therefore be avoided by choosing products from companies that follow a ‘cruelty-free’ policy.

It is also encouraging that this issue is receiving attention at the federal political level with two similar Bills being introduced in the past year – the Greens introduced the End Cruel Cosmetics Bill 2014 and the Australian Labour Party introduced the Ethical Cosmetics Bill 2016. Both aim to prohibit the sale, and the importation from other countries, of cosmetics that have been newly tested on animals. Effective political lobbying by the community will hopefully see new laws implemented in the near future.

RSPCA Australia is campaigning in partnership with the UK RSPCA to encourage global cosmetics companies to adopt these policies. If you would like to join the campaign and help end the use of animal testing of cosmetics globally, please take action through RSPCA Australia’s Makeover the World campaign.

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Updated on May 1, 2019
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