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 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.