In the late 1960s, a shy teenager in Georgia read an article in her local newspaper about animals being used in laboratory testing. She was outraged. She imagined the agony these animals must have endured and was moved to write a letter to the paper.

“I remember it was sort of a rebuttal to what had been stated in the original article, about how absolutely necessary it was to test on these beautiful, sensitive lives,” she says. “So my question was: Couldn’t we come much closer and wouldn’t one get speedier results for finding these answers using a human volunteer, or human specimen of some sort?”

Noting that she was a bit of a cynic and a “little tenacious fighter” back then, she remembers closing her letter by wondering if the person receiving it “would supply their height, weight, age, sex and a convenient time that they could be picked up” to undergo some testing of their own.

She signed it: “Kim Basinger.”

Indeed, the issue of cosmetics testing on animals has been generating passionate responses for decades now, long before Kim Basinger became an Academy Award-winning actress. Since then, the hopeful wonderings of a teenager—Could we use a human specimen of some sort?—have become a scientific reality. Scientists can now use laboratory models of human skin and eyes, created from human cells, to test the safety of ingredients and products such as mascara and shampoo—rather than testing them on rabbits, guinea pigs, mice or rats.

A growing list of 37 countries has begun to take a stand as well, either outright banning or severely limiting the sale of cosmetics that contain ingredients that were tested on animals. The first domino fell in 2013, when the European Union fully implemented the game-changing decision to ban the sale of all cosmetics and cosmetic ingredients that had been newly tested on animals.

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Three rabbits in restraints in animal testing lab
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And public sentiment too has shifted: A 2013 poll found that 73 percent of American voters would favor Congress passing legislation to phase out cosmetics testing. Yet, nearly 50 years after Basinger sat down to write her letter, nearly 30 years after The New York Times ran the headline “Cosmetics Companies Quietly Ending Animal Tests,” the United States still has yet to take a stand.

“We should be leading the movement,” says Vicki Katrinak, program manager for animal research issues at the HSUS. “We have some of the best scientific minds in this country, and they are all working on these amazing alternatives. And that’s the way of the future. The U.S. should be a trendsetter, not a trendfollower on this issue.”

In September, the HSUS began efforts to encourage L’Oréal—the largest cosmetic manufacturer in the world—to publicly back the Humane Cosmetics Act and similar legislation the HSUS and Humane Society International are working on worldwide.

Introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives in June by Reps. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), Don Beyer (D-Va.), Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Frank LoBiondo (D-N.J.) and Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.), the Humane Cosmetics Act would prohibit animal testing for cosmetics ingredients and products such as perfumes, lipsticks, toothpastes, deodorants, lotions, face washes and shampoos. It would also ban the sale of cosmetics products that were tested on animals in other countries. At press time, the bill has about 100 cosponsors on both sides of the aisle and the support of nearly 230 cosmetics companies.

“This is the time,” Basinger says. “The United States has always been a progressive leader as a humane nation in bettering the lives of all walks of life, and to pass this act would be one giant step closer to putting an end to this kind of suffering forever.”

Industry trends

In the late 1990s, David Bronner was approached by representatives from a new organization, the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (the HSUS and affiliate Doris Day Animal League are founding members). CCIC was in the process of raising awareness about the testing of cosmetics and household products on animals; eventually, the group would launch the Leaping Bunny program to help the public more easily identify brands that don’t test on animals.

The mission aligned with the philosophy of Dr. Bronner’s, the socially and environmentally responsible family soap business founded by Bronner’s grandfather. “I guess that’s when I was made aware that there was systemic animal testing in the cosmetics industry,” remembers Bronner, who serves as the company’s CEO. “I hadn’t actually been that aware until that point.”

Since then, Dr. Bronner’s has become a steady advocate for animal-free testing, joining the Leaping Bunny coalition and supporting efforts to move past animal testing for cosmetics. “It is ridiculous that we’re still in a situation where it’s not outlawed in North America,” Bronner says. “But we’re hopeful that’s going to change pretty soon.”

After generations of use, product developers have a comprehensive understanding of how standard ingredients will impact the human body. Still, Dr. Bronner’s will periodically test each of its products using nonanimal methods, with models based on synthetic proteins that replicate human skin and eyes.

“You observe how they interact with whatever substance you’re concerned about,” Bronner says. “They’re actually more effective at predicting efficacy or irritation than animal models.” Once the European Union made the sweeping decision to ban the sale of cosmetics and cosmetic ingredients tested on animals, companies were forced to incorporate these nonanimal methods.

That’s one of the reasons the HSUS would like to see leading companies such as L’Oréal take a public stand for the Humane Cosmetics Act: They’re already using nonanimal methods to remain in the EU and other markets.

“While their public statements claim that they don’t do any animal testing, unless required by law, they have thus far been unwilling to join our efforts to change the laws,” says Katrinak, with the HSUS. “We really want L’Oréal to get on board. They already have to comply with laws in other countries that prohibit the sale of products that have been tested on animals. So it’s really not a burden on them to extend it to the United States.”

Bronner, for one, is hopeful that there is more progress on the horizon. “It’s inevitable,” he says. “The animal [protection] movement is on fire across the board. There’s a lot of momentum. It’s a matter of sooner versus later. Hopefully it’s sooner and not later. I’m pretty confident that we’ll see movement here before too long.”

A quote from Kim Basinger about her daughter Ireland Baldwin
Ireland Baldwin photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images. Kim Basinger photo by Photo 12/Alamy Stock Photo.

Like mother, like daughter

In another testament to just how long the public has been pushing back against cosmetics testing on animals, a second generation is now taking a stand. Earlier this year, Basinger’s daughter—22-year-old actress and model Ireland Baldwin—teamed with the cruelty-free company Too Faced Cosmetics to launch the brand’s 2017 summer collection, titled “Natural Love.” (She also joined with the HSUS in 2015 to encourage pet adoption.)

“I always told her to speak from her heart and don’t be afraid to stand up for what you believe in,” Basinger says. “Every time I see or hear her do it, it makes me the happiest I will ever be. Her heart is tremendous and she has always loved animals.”

Basinger remembers her daughter writing letters of her own with her best friend growing up—letters to the president of the United States, drawing attention to issues that had angered them. “They used to get truly, truly mad, demanding immediate change.”

She was always open with her daughter about animal issues, “without burdening her with too much of the sordid details.” And in an interview with Us Weekly this spring, Baldwin credited her mother with not only teaching her about beauty tips—“everything from putting on lipstick, to how to wash your face”—but the issues behind the products as well. Her mom, she said in the interview, “would only let me buy cruelty-free brands and makeup that was not tested on animals.”

That’s another way animal lovers can take a stand: voting with their dollars. By looking for the Leaping Bunny logo on products, by researching which brands use ingredients that were tested on animals, the public can support businesses that have gone the animal-free route.

“Read,” Basinger says, passing on her advice to those who want to go cruelty-free and help advance the movement: “Read every label. Ask questions. Call companies. Get lists of those ones that test on animals from animal organizations such as the Humane Society. There are websites you can go to to see who actually does test, or who is in the process of trying to not test anymore and where their status is at any given moment. But be persistent.”

That awareness, she says, is everything.

Basinger is baffled why animal testing would continue when there are more effective models. Still, she is resolute. “Soul searching is a good thing,” she says. “Simply being still and asking your heart: Is all the pain and suffering involved worth these products I’m purchasing, when there are many alternative products available?

“But we are making and can continue to make progress. We just cannot let these issues die, especially right now in this politically tumultuous environment we are living in. We cannot stop fighting and bringing our voices to speak out for the voiceless.”

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This article was written and produced by the team behind All Animals, our award-winning magazine. Each issue is packed with inspiring stories about how we are changing the world for animals together.

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