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Fact Sheet: Cosmetic Testing

  • The Be Cruelty-Free campaign is working to end cosmetics animal testing—forever. iStockphoto.

Cosmetic testing on live animals is an outdated, inaccurate and cruel method of determining products' safety for human use. Despite this, animal testing is still surprisingly common in the United States, where it isn't mandatory to develop or sell products. Still other countries require animal testing, despite the disadvantages it poses over modern testing methods. The HSUS actively opposes animal testing and leads the fight in pushing for alternatives with the Be Cruelty Free campaign.

In this basic overview, you will learn about animal testing, its alternatives and how you can be a mindful consumer of cruelty-free products.

What products are considered cosmetics?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines cosmetics as "articles intended to be applied to the human body for cleansing, beautifying, promoting attractiveness, or altering the appearance without affecting the body's structure or functions." Examples include skin cream, perfume, lipstick, nail polish, eye and facial makeup, shampoo and hair color. Any ingredient used in a cosmetic also falls under this definition. Products normally labeled as cosmetics are classified as drugs when a medical claim is made. For example, toothpaste is sometimes classified as a cosmetic, but toothpaste that advertises cavity protection is a drug. The same is true for deodorants advertised as antiperspirants, shampoos that make anti-dandruff claims and lotions that contain sunscreen.

Is animal testing legally required for cosmetics sold in the United States?

No. The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (regulated by the Food and Drug Administration) prohibits the sale of mislabeled and "adulterated" cosmetics, but does not require that animal tests be conducted to demonstrate that the cosmetics are safe.

You can help end cosmetics testing on animals in the U.S. »

Where is animal testing mandatory?

The Chinese government conducts mandatory animal tests on all cosmetic products imported into the country. The government may also conduct animal tests on items pulled from store shelves. Therefore, even if a cosmetics company does not test their products or ingredients on animals, if they sell their products in China they cannot be considered cruelty-free.

While some countries continue to insist on animal testing, others are changing for the better. In 2013, India erased any legal code mandating cosmetics animal testing, paving the way for cruelty-free production there.Animal testing for cosmetics and the marketing of cosmetics tested on animals have been completely banned in the European Union, paving the way for efforts to find alternatives for all of the common cosmetics tests that use animals. Cosmetic companies in the United States and abroad that conduct animal tests will not be able to sell those products in E.U. member countries unless they change their practices.

Can legislation help end animal testing for cosmetics?

One approach is through legislative and policy initiatives that prohibit the testing of cosmetics on animals. The Humane Cosmetics Act was introduced in the United States and, if enacted, would prohibit animal testing for cosmetics made in the U.S. and the imported from other countries of animal-tested cosmetics.

The European Union has led the way by banning all animal testing for cosmetic products and ending the sale of all newly animal-tested cosmetics. A longer-term approach is to develop non-animal tests that provide a broader range of human safety information—including information about cancer and birth defects—that would provide complete evaluation of new products. Until that time, an effective approach is consumer pressure; companies will get the idea if consumers show a strong preference for cruelty-free cosmetics and support an end to cosmetics animal testing.

Why do some companies still use animal testing?

When choosing to develop or use new, untested ingredients in their cosmetic products, some companies will t conduct new animal tests to assess the safety of these new ingredients. This practice is both unnecessary and inaccurate, and the HSUS actively opposes the choice to unnecessarily use animals in these cruel tests.

What cosmetics tests are performed on animals?

Although they are not required by law, several tests are commonly performed that expose mice, rats, rabbits and guinea pigs to cosmetics ingredients. These can include:

  • Skin and eye irritation tests where chemicals are rubbed onto the shaved skin or dripped into the eyes of restrained rabbits without any pain relief
  • Repeated force-feeding studies lasting weeks or months to look for signs of general illness or specific health hazards such as cancer or birth defects
  • Widely condemned "lethal dose" tests, in which animals are forced to swallow large amounts of a test chemical to determine the dose that causes death.

At the end of a test the animals are killed, normally by asphyxiation, neck-breaking or decapitation. Pain relief is not provided. In the United States, a large percentage of the animals used in such testing (such as laboratory-bred rats and mice) are not counted in official statistics and receive no protection under the Animal Welfare Act.

Are there other arguments against testing on animals?

Yes. Animal tests have scientific limitations, as different species respond differently when exposed to the same chemicals. Consequently, results from animal tests may not be relevant to humans, as they can under- or overestimate real-world hazards to people.

In addition, results from animal tests can be quite variable and difficult to interpret. Unreliable and ineffective animal tests mean consumer safety cannot be guaranteed. In contrast, non-animal alternatives can combine human cell-based tests and sophisticated computer models to deliver human-relevant results in hours or days, unlike some animal tests that can take months or years. Non-animal alternatives are also typically much more cost-effective than tests that use animals.

What are the alternatives to animal testing?

There are already many products on the market that are made using thousands of ingredients that have a long history of safe use. Companies can ensure safety by choosing to create products using those ingredients. Companies also have the option of using existing non-animal tests or investing in and developing alternative non-animal tests for new ingredients. There are nearly 50 non-animal tests that have been validated for use, with many more in development. These modern alternatives can offer results that are not only more relevant to people, but more efficient and cost-effective. Advanced non-animal tests represent the very latest techniques that science has to offer, replacing outdated animal tests that were developed decades ago.

What is the Be Cruelty-Free campaign doing to stop animal testing?

The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International are committed to ending animal testing—forever. Through our Be Cruelty-Free campaign, we are working in the U.S. and around the globe to create a world where animals no longer have to suffer to produce lipstick and shampoo. In the United States, the Humane Cosmetics Act was introduced, which if enacted would prohibit animal testing for cosmetics in the U.S. , as well as the import of animal-tested cosmetics. We're also reaching out to legislators and regulators in the U.S., Canada, Asia and South America to achieve lasting progress for animals. We are also building unprecedented partnerships with scientists from universities, private companies and government agencies worldwide to support and push for a 21st-century approach to testing that combines ultra-fast cell tests and sophisticated computer models to deliver human-relevant results in hours, unlike some animal tests that can take months or years.

How can I help?

We urgently need your help to end the suffering of animals in cosmetics testing. Here are some ways to get started:

  • Sign Up
  • Take Action
  • Urge your legislators to end cosmetics testing on animals act now