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Animal Testing in the Cosmetics Industry

Michelle Thew from Cruelty Free International explains why animal testing of cosmetics is still going on and what you can do to campaign against it.

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 below). 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”.

Global report – ending animal testing for cosmetics

For over 50 years, animals have been used in tests in an attempt to measure the safety of some chemicals found in cosmetic and household products. Many animals are still subjected to cruel and painful tests across the world to bring a new eyeshadow or cologne to the market. That’s why, for over 20 years, Cruelty Free International has been working tirelessly to end the cruelty and suffering. 

Image: Animal testing

Over the last few years we’ve seen great progress globally as more and more governments introduce legislation that will put a stop to the suffering and death of animals for the testing of cosmetics in particular.

The big breakthrough came in 2004, when – thanks to the 20-year campaign we led in Europe – the European Union introduced a ban on the testing of finished cosmetic products on animals. 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. 

Internationally, over 600 companies are now certified with the Leaping Bunny, making it easier than ever for shoppers to find and buy products that are not animal tested. Cruelty Free International Leaping Bunny-certified companies such as The Body Shop, Liz Earle and the Co-operative have pioneered this move towards cruelty free cosmetics and toiletries. 

Since a Cruelty Free International campaign for a global ban on animal cosmetics testing, the number of animal testing bans that have come into force or been placed on the table continues to grow:

  • Norway now has a testing ban on finished products and ingredients as well as on marketing.
  • Last year, Switzerland announced it would ban the marketing of cosmetics that have been tested on animals abroad, bringing it closer to the EU ban. 
  • Israel was one of the first countries outside the European Union to introduce testing and marketing bans.
  • In August 2015, a bill was introduced in the Russian parliament that would phase out all animal testing for cosmetics and their ingredients by 2020. The Cruelty Free International team is lobbying for its passing.
  • As of January 2016, Turkey banned (apart from in exceptional circumstances) the sale of cosmetic products tested on animals or containing ingredients developed through animal testing.
  • In North America, the USA has legislative proposals for a ban on the table. Cruelty Free International is currently lobbying for the reintroduction of the Humane Cosmetics Act by the Republican-led Congress and Senate.
  • Last December, the Canadian Cruelty Free Cosmetics Act passed its second reading in the senate and will now be considered in parliamentary committee – a very welcome step forward.
  • In South America, the Brazilian lower house voted, in 2014, to ban many cosmetics tests on animals. Discussions on the future of that bill are ongoing and the Cruelty Free International team is working hard to progress it.
  • In Asia, things have also been moving on. In 2014, India banned the testing of cosmetics on animals and, in the same year, Vietnam banned the use of the Draize rabbit eye and skin irritation tests. 
  • South Korea, one of Asia’s largest cosmetics producers, is working towards a partial ban on animal testing of cosmetics by 2018. 
  • In Thailand, the Ministry of Public Health has agreed to look at ending cosmetics animal testing, while in Taiwan, the parliament recently voted to end testing. The legislation will enter into force in October 2019.
  • Whilst China’s policy has traditionally meant animals are used in cruel tests for imported cosmetics, in January 2017, new regulations were issued which will potentially mean some cosmetics will not now be subject to this requirement. This could be a huge step forward for cruelty free cosmetics.
  • In 2015, New Zealand passed into law a ban on testing cosmetics ingredients and finished products and, in Australia, the federal government has also pledged to ban cosmetics cruelty by July 2017.
Logo: Cruelty Free International

Until we know that cosmetics animal testing cannot happen anywhere in the world, it is just as vital as ever that ethical consumers look for the Leaping Bunny to ensure your cosmetics and toiletries are cruelty free. 

With our collective determination, together we will end animal testing and make the world a better place for animals.

Michelle Thew took part in our Brexit Debate at our conference.

The EU and REACH, and Brexit

Unfortunately, the EU's ground-breaking ban has been under threat from the EU's regulations on household chemicals (REACH).

With the UK now out of the EU, the picture is even more confusing for companies and citizens. Read more about REACH in our feature article.

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