Last updated: February 2017
Cosmetics and Toiletries
A cosmetic product – as defined by the EU Cosmetic Regulation – is “any substance intended to be applied to external parts of the body with a view to changing [a person’s] appearance.”
These products are often described in wonderful terms by companies, such as “helping you achieve beauty” or reducing “the look of fine lines, wrinkles, blemishes and dark spots.”
See our ethical shopping guide to Make Up.
In 2015, cosmetics companies in the UK spent over £50 million on advertising. While wearing make-up is a personal choice, the ambition of companies to sell their products has received criticism for claiming unrealistic expectations of their products and leading women to feel less attractive if they do not wear make-up. More worryingly, this has had an effect on how young girls view themselves.
In 2013, a study revealed that approximately 20% of girls between 8 and 18 who wear make-up felt “unappealing, undesirable and simply not confident when they are not wearing make-up.” Simon Birch discusses cosmetic marketing and the impact this has on young girls on our blog.
We have focused on three major issues that crop up in this industry; the use of palm oil, toxic chemicals, and animal testing. You can read more on these issues by clicking on the links below.
The animal testing of cosmetics & toiletries
The European Union introduced a ban on the testing of finished cosmetic products (shampoo, make-up, toothpaste, etc.) on animals in 2004. Five years later, it also ended the testing of ingredients, following this up with a ban on the import and sale of new cosmetics tested on animals abroad, in 2013.
But there is also conflicting legislation within the EU which makes the ingredients test ban a bit of a con. The Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and restriction of Chemicals (REACH) – an EU chemical safety regulation – has been requiring all chemicals used in Europe to be re-tested for safety by June 2018. While the guidelines ask organisations to use available non-animal tests where possible, some of the chemicals that are used in cosmetic products will have been tested on animals for REACH.
Other countries outside the EU have also implemented bans (see the Global report on test bans). But 80% of the world still allows cosmetics to be tested on animals.
According to Humane Society International, as many as 500,000 animals are being tested on across the world each year with the largest proportion of these animals – more than 375,000 in 2015 – being used to meet test requirements in China alone. While many of the brands featured in this guide have a commitment not to test on animals, many, like L’Oréal, have a caveat which states “except when required by law”.