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The animal testing of cosmetics and toiletries — will it ever be banned? 

For years, campaigners have been calling for a ban on the animal testing of cosmetics and toiletries and the ingredients inside them. So could a full ban ever be achieved and how could we go about it? 

For decades, animals have been used to test the effect that products might have on humans and the environment. Almost all of the ingredients that go into our cosmetics have been tested on animals at some point, even water. 

Why do some companies still test on animals?

Most companies say that animal testing in relation to cosmetics is conducted to test for the safety of finished products or their ingredients.

Animal testing on finished cosmetic products is relatively uncommon, but ingredient testing is still commonplace. Those ingredients go on to be used in various industries, including cosmetics and household products.

Animal testing is primarily driven by safety and environmental laws. For a product or ingredient to be sold in a given market (for example the EU) the company must “prove that it is safe” and sometimes this must legally be done through testing on animals.

Is animal testing effective? 

Animal rights campaigners and many scientists say that animal testing is unreliable and cannot accurately predict reactions in humans: animals’ biology is just too different to our own.

Around 90% of drugs which appear to work in animals go on to fail in clinical trials with humans. As early as 1962, scientists began to show that tests in rats and dogs did not effectively predict responses in humans – and that any correlation was “essentially random chance”.

And yet, the campaign group Humane Society International (HSI) estimates that 500,000 animals are used for testing in the cosmetics industry every year.

The vast majority of these animals are likely to be tested on in China, the only country in the world that has legal requirements for animal tests to be conducted on all finished cosmetic products that are entering the market.

Government requirements for animal testing

Around 40 countries have banned animal testing for cosmetics, according to advocacy group The Humane Society, including the EU member states.

On the face of things, the EU appears to be leaps and bounds ahead of the curve when it comes to stopping animal testing for cosmetics. It banned animal testing on finished cosmetic products back in 2004 and went on to ban testing on the ingredients that make those products in 2009. And, in 2013, it went even further and banned the import and sale of any cosmetics that had been tested on animals abroad.

However, the EU’s chemical safety regulation known as REACH majorly undermines these efforts.

Introduced in 2006, REACH regulation requires all chemicals used in the EU to be tested for safety. Some cosmetic companies, mostly larger ones, have been actively involved in organising and funding safety testing research for REACH, which, in some cases, has included commissioning new animal tests. Companies might also use ingredients that were tested on animals, but rely on the excuse that the tests were carried out by suppliers for other reasons, not for their cosmetics products.

Although the guidelines for these tests state that companies should avoid animal testing where possible, the animal rights organisation PETA estimates that more than a million animals were used in tests for REACH in the legislation’s first decade.

After Brexit, in 2021, UK REACH was introduced – essentially transferring the EU laws into UK legislation. The UK lost access to EU data about chemical safety, with experts warning that it could lead to a “surge in animal testing” if tests had to be replicated for the UK market. 

Could we ban animal testing?

There is hope: technological advances in safety testing are increasing researchers’ ability to artificially simulate the impact of any particular chemical compound on the body.

Scientists can, for example, use extremely advanced computer modelling of the human body to predict the effects of an ingredient or drug. They can grow human cells in a laboratory and use these for testing. They can even create miniature three-dimensional organs on a computer trip to stimulate the effects.

Advances in this field, as well as through other scientific avenues, are extremely promising and are paving the way to a future without animal testing.

What can consumers do?

  • If you’re based in the UK, why not sign PETA’s petition calling for a long-term for the UK to end animal testing. 
  • You can also support companies who have clear policies on no animal testing and fixed cut off dates. Our shopping guides to products like shampoo and make-up provide more information on this. 
  • Also read more about the different certification schemes available and buy products with the appropriate logos 

Some governments are making plans to phase out animal testing

Animal rights campaigners have begun placing pressure on governments to introduce long-term plans for phasing out animal testing – building on the success that the climate movement has seen by pressuring states to introduce realistic time bound goals.

A number of countries and agencies have produced roadmaps to accelerate innovation towards animal-free research and testing methods.
One of the first, and most eye-catching, of these was the Dutch 'Transition Partner Program to Accelerate Animal-free Innovation' (TPI) which began life in 2018. It set out to completely phase out animal procedures in regulatory safety research by 2025. Although the deadline was dropped after intense lobbying, a number of positive initiatives have grown out of the TPI programme that continue to have impact.

In the USA, similar roadmaps have emerged from the Environmental Protection Agency and the Food and Drug Administration.
In Europe, after more than 1.2 million citizens signed a petition calling for an end to animal testing, the European Parliament called for an EU-wide Action Plan for the active phase-out of the use of animals in experiments. The European Commission has now begun to consult on these plans.
In the UK, PETA has begun a new campaign for the government to introduce a similar plan.

Which cosmetics brands are really ethical?

To find out which companies score well and which score badly in terms of animal testing, take a look at our ethical shopping guides.

We have guides for deodorant, soap, shampoo, shower gel, skincare, toothpaste and make-up that are all available on this website.

Find out about vegan health and beauty products

The ingredients list on your cosmetics could be hiding all manner of animal products. In this article, we discuss what vegan beauty means and how to find vegan products, as well as listing some of our favourite vegan brands.

A quick guide to vegan health and beauty products