Animal Rights

Animal  rights  proponents have been concerned about the treatment of animals in the  production of beauty and  personal care products. This includes the  testing  of beauty  products   and   the   wearing   of  fur   and leather. Lotions, shampoo, mascara, and   other cosmetics are  routinely tested  on  animals to assess  their  effectiveness and  any side effects such as itching or burning. Animal  rights and consumer groups oppose animal testing  on the grounds that  it is ethically wrong  because of the harm imposed  on animal  subjects.

Animal Testing

Animal   testing   is  a  common practice  in  the  cosmetic industry to  test the  safety of products applied  to the human body  for  cleansing or  beautifying. Testing of cosmetics involves evaluating either  a finished product or  its  individual ingredients  by  applying the substance to animals, usually rabbits, but  also  mice,  rats,  and other animals. Ingredients are  typically applied  to the  animals’  mucous membranes, such   as  the  eyes, nose,    and    mouth  to   evaluate  any  adverse  reactions. The Draize  test,  developed in 1944 by  John   Draize,   is  the   most commonly used  test  to  evaluate  eye  damage in  shampoos, deodorants, laundry detergents, and  other soaps.  This  test  requires  the application of the substance to  the  eye of a rabbit. Evidence of irritation is observed  over hours or days, and any  damage to  the  eye area  is scored  numerically. Based  on the  outcome of the  Draize  test and   others,  companies determine  whether a beauty  product is safe for human use.

Regulation of Animal Testing

Animal testing  for cosmetic safety began in the United States in 1933 after an eyelash darkening treatment called Lash Lure blinded a woman. The resulting outcry over this news prompted Eleanor Roosevelt  to campaign for the stricter regulation of beauty  treatments. In 1938,  the  U.S.  Food  and Drug Administration (FDA) passed  the  Federal  Food,  Drug, and  Cosmetic Act to provide  safeguards against such  harmful effects  of cosmetic use. The  United States  and  many  other countries now require testing  to ensure the safety of cosmetic products for human use. While  the United States  does  not  require such  tests  to be conducted on animals, cosmetic companies commonly test their  products on animals to evaluate  toxicity and to test the hypoallergenic properties of cosmetics.

In 1966, Congress passed  the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act, which  governed the  humane treatment of animals, including in relation to animal  research. Subsequent amendments to the act (renamed the Animal Welfare Act) expanded it to include the  treatment of animals in venues besides  experimentation and  created exclusions for mice  and  other animals. One  of the  issues  in regulating testing  is that  beauty  companies contract production of ingredients to third  parties  who, if not  located in the  United States,  may operate in entirely  unregulated markets. Companies that  do  so may label  their  products as “finished product not  tested on  animals.” The  lack  of regulation means that  consumers may  have  difficulty in determining the  amount and/or type  of testing  conducted in the  creation of beauty  products.

There is an international call to ban  animal  testing  entirely. In 1963,  an international organization, Beauty  Without Cruelty  (BWC),  was  formed to  educate people  about the  suffering of animals. The  company works  to eliminate animal testing, including in the  cosmetic industry, and  seeks  a ban  on the  fur and  ivory trades. In 1996  the  Coalition for Consumer Information on  Cosmetics (CCIC), an agglomeration of citizen  groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, developed the Corporate Standard of Compassion for Animals  in an effort to create  an international non–animal testing  standard. The  group designed the Leaping Bunny  Logo,  featured on  the  products of all companies who  pledge  to uphold this standard.

Animal  testing  for cosmetics is banned in the  United Kingdom, the  Netherlands,  and  Belgium,  and  in 2002,  the  European Union banned all animal  testing for cosmetics and the sale of animal-tested cosmetics by 2009. While  L’Oréal,  the world’s largest cosmetic company, has lodged  a legal protest against  the EU’s ban, numerous other beauty  companies promote cruelty-free products.

Reasons for Animal Testing

The  FDA does  not  require animal  testing, but  data from  animal  toxicity tests  are considered the  benchmark for  cosmetic safety.  The  U.S.  National Academy  of Sciences declares  that  toxicity  tests  on  animals provide  crucial  information for evaluating the  hazardous potential of products used  by humans. Data  from  animal toxicity tests  represent the  most  complete set of information regarding consumer products. Advocates  of animal  testing  further argue  that  doing  such  tests on humans could  risk the safety of the human subjects, endangering their  health and  well-being. The  primary reason given for animal  testing  is the  protection of the  health and  safety  of human consumers. Companies argue  that,  given  the enormous pressure to ensure consumer safety, animal  testing  is ubiquitous, and necessary for maintaining a competitive edge in the global market. According to some  proponents of animal  testing, in cases where  significant pain  or discomfort could  be caused to the animal, painkillers should be used.

Arguments Against Animal Testing

The  main  arguments against  animal  testing  concern the ethical  treatment of animals and  the reliability  of tests  performed on animals when  evaluating the safety of a product for human use. Researchers have found that  animal  tests do not reliably predict the risk of cosmetics to humans given the differences in human and animal  tissue, particularly the distribution of fine blood  vessels and skin reactions. Variability  in the  dosage  given to laboratory animals compared with  those  used by humans does not accurately reflect the toxicity for humans. Consumer groups and  animal  rights  activists  argue  that  testing  cosmetics on  animals is inhumane because the cosmetics have severe effects on animals, including allergic reactions, bleeding, and  discomfort. Some  beauty  companies and  activist  groups promote cruelty-free products and  business practices in an  effort  to protect animal  welfare. Cosmetic companies that  have taken  a strong stance  against  animal  testing include Aveda, Avon Cosmetics, Clinique Makeup, Estée Lauder, Urban Decay, and The  Body Shop.

Alternatives to Animal Testing

Alternatives to animal  testing  exist and  are held  up  by critics  of the  practice as evidence that  it is unnecessary. Cell cultures, donated eye tissues, and  computer modeling are examples of alternative animal  testing. Advocates  of alternatives also note  that  companies could  use existing  ingredients that  have already  been  tested for safety. Human volunteers for clinical trials would  create  an additional alternative to animal  testing. Some  activists  call for the United States  to institute a total ban on all animal  testing. Other, less total regulations of the practice include using non-animal alternatives whenever possible, reducing the number of animals used in procedures, and altering procedures to reduce animal  suffering.


While  the main  debate over animal  rights  in the beauty  industry concerns animal testing, there  is controversy over the  wearing  of fur as well. Fur  has long  been  a staple of the fashion industry. Fox, chinchilla, and mink  are just a few of the types of fur that are popular with designers and consumers. Animal rights  groups, such as People  for the  Ethical  Treatment of Animals  (PETA)  have staged  protests and campaigns in an effort to reduce the use of fur in fashion. Most  animals used  for fur are raised  and  slaughtered in factory farms, which  keep animals confined and use electrocution and suffocation to kill them  while keeping fur intact.

Philosophy of Animal Rights

The  debate over  animal  rights  is rooted in a debate about the  ethical  implications  of experimentation on animals. In 1975, Peter Singer  published Animal Liberation, which  offered  a new ethics  for the  humane treatment of animals. Singer posited the  moral  status of animals as sentient beings,  and  his book  provided a foundation for a growing  animal  rights  movement. In The Case for Animal Rights (2004), Tom Regan  argued that  beings  with  inherent value,  that  is, value  independent of their  usefulness or  benefit  for  others, have  rights. For  this  reason, animals, like humans, have rights  as sentient beings.  Animals  have the  capacity to experience pain, and  there  is no ethical  justification for ignoring their  potential for suffering when  evaluating human actions such  as animal  testing.

Those making the  case for the  ethical  permission of animal  experimentation argue  that  animals are not  part  of the  moral  community, and  therefore humans are not  morally  obligated to them. Singer  and  Regan  both argue  against  animal testing;  Singer  on  the  basis  that  it  is wrong  because of its  consequences (the suffering of animals), and  Regan  on  the  grounds that  animal  testing  is wrong  in and  of itself because humans have  an  obligation to  respect the  moral  rights  of animals.

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