On March 11, the European Commission announced that all cosmetics tested on animals can no longer be marketed or sold in the European Union.
The ban did not come about overnight, though. Since 2004, the EU has banned animal testing in phases, first banning the testing of finished cosmetic products in the region, but not the sale of such products.
In 2009, it banned both animal testing for cosmetic ingredients and the sale of cosmetic products which contain ingredients that were tested on animals.
However, animal testing on ingredients with possible complex human health effects were exempted, such as tests on ingredients with potential toxicity that may lead to cancer. Major cosmetic manufacturers had lobbied for this phase to give them more time to come up with alternatives, according to a New York Times report.
The ruling passed on Monday did away with those exemptions.
There are no official figures on the number of animals which cosmetics are tested on each year. But according to animal rights organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, millions are killed each year in American laboratories for chemical, drug, food and cosmetics testing.
Rabbits, rats and mice are commonly used in cosmetics tests. They are often force-fed ingredients or have substances applied on their shaved skin.
The EU ban will not affect Singapore’s rules on cosmetics. A Health Sciences Authority (HSA) spokesman said in an e-mail reply: “The move by the EU arises from animal welfare considerations and is beyond the regulatory purview of HSA.
“The objective of HSA’s regulatory controls for cosmetic products is to protect the health and safety of the public… there is no mandatory requirement for animal testing for cosmetic products.”
Fighting animal cruelty
Brands such as The Body Shop and British brand Lush are known for campaigning against animal testing, but many beauty conglomerates have also long stopped the practice, except under special circumstances.
French company L’Oreal, which owns 27 brands, including Lancome, Shu Uemura and The Body Shop, is one of them.
Mr Christopher Neo, the managing director of L’Oreal Singapore, said the group was able to end animal testing for products as early as 1989, without making its products any less safe.
Reconstructed skin models – which are made of skin samples collected from donors who have undergone plastic surgery – are now used for testing instead (see below).
However, animal testing is still used as a last resort in some cases, such as in predicting how likely a new ingredient would cause skin allergy. The group said this testing represents less than 1 per cent of its safety assessments.
In view of the EU’s latest ruling, Mr Neo added that L’Oreal has prepared for the deadline with research and investment in alternative testing. It is also working towards zero animal testing.
Clarins is another brand which said it stopped animal testing long before the EU law required it to. Its spokesman said the French company has banned the practice since 1987.
But he added: “We do not conduct animal testing on our finished products or ingredients unless in exceptional cases, such as when it is required locally by law.”
Clarins’ position is similar to that of other top global beauty companies. In response to Urban’s questions on their stand on animal testing, South Korean beauty group Amorepacific, Estee Lauder, Procter & Gamble, Shiseido and
Unilever also stated they do not test on animals except when required by the law in the particular country that their products are sold in.
The main country in question is China, which insists on safety reports backed up by animal tests. DrKhaiat, the president of the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Fragrance Association of Singapore, said no other country in Asia has such laws.
But while the EU laws are in conflict with Chinese ones, Dr Khaiat, who is also a scientist and former vice-president of research and development in quality and technical assurance at pharmaceutical and personal care company Johnson & Johnson, said it is not a major issue.
“In China, companies are required to submit samples of the products they want to sell to the authorities. Companies do not sponsor animal testing. If the regulatory agency does test the sample, this is acceptable in Europe,” said Dr Khaiat.
According to his logic, therefore, brands themselves do not need to test on animals, as these tests will be conducted only by the Chinese regulatory authorities.
Some brands, however, are vague about the procedures when it comes to the mandatory animal tests for the Chinese market.
Dr Khaiat added that the Chinese authorities test on animals because their labs currently have not yet been developed to use alternative methods to animal testing and they do not accept data provided by the brands.
Ban may be premature
Some industry players say the ban is premature, especially when there are no substitutes to animal testing for some of the most complex tests.
In a statement released on Monday, Mr Bertil Heerink, director-general of the Cosmetics Europe trade association, said the ban puts the industry’s competitiveness in peril. “By implementing the ban at this time, the EU is jeopardising the industry’s ability to innovate,” he stated.
Mr Colin Mackay, spokesman for Cosmetics Europe, also told The New York Times the move means “consumers in Europe won’t have access to new products because we can’t ensure that some ingredients will be safe without access to suitable and adequate testing”.
For animal activists, however, the EU’s move is a huge step towards a global ban on animal testing for cosmetics. “We believe the EU ban will make change in other markets more likely,” said Mr Paul McGrevy, executive director of Values and R&D of The Body Shop International.
Indeed, Dr Khaiat said China is being pressured to move away from animal testing. He expects this to happen within the next two years.
“There is no need to be afraid that cosmetics will not be safe for use because if a responsible company does not have enough data on a new ingredient, they will not use it,” he said.
How some brands ensure safety without resorting to animal testing
The company has invested 900 million euros (S$1.46 billion) in researching alternative methods to animal testing over the past 30 years.
Ranked No. 1 in the WWD Beauty Inc Top 100 list last year, the company has 27 brands in its stable, including Shu Uemura, Lancome and Yves Saint Laurent Beaute. The group uses predictive tools, such as reconstructed skin models and computer modelling, to test its products.
It has set up a centre for predictive evaluation near Lyon, France, which produces 130,000 skin models a year. The models are made of human skin samples that were banked and grown. These allow L’Oreal to test more than a thousand of its products for safety yearly. It sells its skin models to other companies in other sectors too.
L’Oreal is also working on Asian skin models and has shared its knowledge of alternative methods with the Chinese authorities.
Besides food and homecare brands, the group also owns more than 15 personal care brands, including Dove, Rexona and Sunsilk.
Since 2004, the British-Dutch company has invested 3 million euros (S$4.8 million) a year in alternatives to animal testing. It has also shared its findings with government agencies. Last year, it held a joint workshop with the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration in Beijing on alternatives to animal testing for cosmetics safety assessment.
Its Safety & Environmental Assurance Centre has also published more than 300 scientific articles on the development and application of alternative approaches to consumer safety risk assessments.
Proctor & Gamble
On top of household care brands, the American conglomerate oversees more than 50 beauty and grooming labels. These include SK-II, Olay and Pantene.
P&G is investing more than US$275 million (S$343 million) in developing alternative methods. It is developing and adapting more than 50 such methods and many of these are faster than corresponding ones which use animals and are also more predictive of environmental or health effects.
The Japanese beauty giant announced in February that it will eliminate animal testing in its development of cosmetic products and quasi-drugs from next month, except when required by law.
Its new safety assurance system is a three-pronged approach that comprises comprehensive information analysis; alternative testing methods conducted on cells and artificial skin; and patch tests on human subjects under the supervision of a doctor.
This story was first published on March 15, 2013 on StraitsTimes.com. To read more: http://sph.straitstimes.com/supplements/urban/story/eu-bans-animal-tested-make-20130315.
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