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Fact Sheet: Cosmetic Testing

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

Q: What products are considered cosmetics?
A: 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. Oddly, simple soaps that make no claim other than cleansing are not considered cosmetics under the FDA definition.

Q: Is using animals to test cosmetics legally required in the United States?
A: 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. »

Q: Are there countries that legally require cosmetics to be tested on animals?
A: Yes. 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. Brazil also requires that some, but not all, cosmetics be tested on animals.

Q: How can cosmetics companies ensure safety without using animal tests?
A: Companies can ensure the safety of their products by choosing to create them using the thousands of ingredients that have a long history of safe use. There are already many products on the market that are made using such 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 a growing number of non-animal tests that can be used to assess the short-term safety of previously untested ingredients (see "What are the alternatives to animal testing?"). Non-animal tests for longer term safety are under development.

Q: Why do some companies still test cosmetics on animals if it's not required?
A: Some companies choose to develop and/or use new, untested ingredients in their cosmetic products and to conduct new animal tests to assess the safety of these new ingredients.

Q: What animal tests are carried out to test cosmetics?
A: Although they are not required by law, several tests are commonly performed by exposing mice, rats, rabbits and guinea pigs to cosmetics ingredients. This 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; and 
  • 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.

Q: Besides animal welfare, are there other arguments against testing on animals?
A: Yes. Animal tests also have scientific limitations because different species can respond differently when exposed to the same chemicals. Consequently, results from animal tests may not be relevant to humans, under- or over-estimating 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.

Q: What are the alternatives to animal testing?
A: Cosmetics companies can stop animal testing immediately and still produce new and exciting beauty products that are also safe by manufacturing the cruelty-free way. First, companies can use ingredients that are already known to be safe, of which there are thousands. These ingredients have been safely used for decades or have been tested in the past and don’t require new testing. This is how so many socially conscious companies have been able to swear off animal testing. Secondly, companies can use non-animal tests that are already available or invest in the development of new non-animal methods. Nearly 50 non-animal tests have been validated for use, and 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. Since animal testing for cosmetics and the marketing of cosmetics tested on animals have been completely banned in the European Union, there are many efforts underway to find alternatives for all of the common cosmetics tests that use animals. Cosmetic companies in the United States that conduct animal tests will not be able to sell those products in Europe unless they change their practices.

Q: What can be done to end animal testing for cosmetics? 

A: 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 in the U.S. and the import of animal-tested cosmetics. Europe has led the way by banning all animal testing for cosmetic products and 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.

Q: What is the Be Cruelty-Free campaign doing to spare animals from cosmetics testing?
A: 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. and the import of animal-tested cosmetics. We're campaigning to be sure the promised European ban on selling animal-tested cosmetics is enforced without delay, and we're 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 totally new 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.

Q: How can I help?
A: We urgently need your help to end the suffering of animals in cosmetics testing. Here are some ways to get started:

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