In 1933, a mascara called Lash Lure caused women to develop massive ulcers leading to blindness and even death for one unlucky woman. After that incident, the safety of makeup was strictly regulated. Animal testing has been used to test the safety of these products, but it is becoming unnecessary as accurate and cruelty-free methods are being developed instead. Many countries have already banned this practice, but China still requires animal testing for makeup that is sold in the country. This requirement is fuelling animal testing worldwide.

The scoop on animal testing

When a cosmetic company wants to use a new ingredient, they need to test it to make sure that it is safe for human usage. Over the past century, animal testing has been primarily used to see to test ingredients. No, it doesn’t involve giving a mouse a makeover. Chemicals are rubbed on shaved skin or dripped into eyes to test for irritation responses. The animals are conscious and given no form of pain relief during this treatment. These tests can result in blindness, sores, bleeding and death for the animals. When the test has been finished, all animals are killed.

Rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, rats, and hamsters are most commonly used for these tests. Image credits: Wikimedia Commons

Does it even work?

These tests are controversial because they inflict pain on the animals and the tests are often not applicable to humans. Since a mouse or rabbit is not the same as a human they often do not have the same response to chemicals. For example, allergy tests on guinea pigs can only predict the human reaction 72% of the time.  Alternative (animal-free) methods are now being developed and used for testing new ingredients.  These methods include using cultured human cells or donated human skin. Advanced computer modelling and studies with human volunteers are also used. Allergy tests are 90% accurate and other alternative tests are also more accurate than animal testing. There are also many already approved ingredients that can be used in makeup without testing on animals.

Guinea pigs do not have the same reactions to chemicals as humans. Image credits: National Cancer Institute

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China: the black sheep

More and more countries are banning animal testing for makeup. The list includes the EU, Norway, Israel, India, Turkey, New Zealand, and South Korea. Most other countries don’t have bans but do not explicitly require animal testing. There is one exception. China requires animal testing for all cosmetics that are sold in the country.

Sometimes post-market tests are conducted on makeup without consulting the importing company. Therefore no product sold in China can be deemed animal testing free. This law is in place because the new methods for testing products are not recognized in China. Approximately 300,000 animals a year are used for cosmetic testing in China.

China’s beauty market is the 4th largest in the world, and makeup companies want to get a slice of this profit. Many companies that were previously against animal testing have switched their practices to be able to sell their goods in China. For example, Avon was cruelty-free since 1989 but permits testing again in order to sell to China. All Estée Lauder brands, Burt’s Bees, Mary Kay Cosmetics, and Yves Rocher have also allowed animal testing to enter the Chinese market. However, some companies, like Lush, the Body Shop, Urban Decay, have not entered China for this very reason.

A guide to China’s animal testing laws. Image credits: Ethical elephant

Not all that glitters is gold

The major beauty companies that sell worldwide have to create different product lines for China and the countries that ban animal testing. These companies still test on animals, but the products that you buy in a country where animal testing is banned should not be tested on animals.

However, earlier this year PETA UK discovered that nine major beauty companies were selling the same products in Europe and China. The products were tested on animals to be sold in Chinese stores, but they were illegally placed on the shelves in Europe too. Benefit, Bliss, Caudalie, Clarins, Clinique, Dior, Estée Lauder, and Gucci were all implicated.

Are these lipsticks cruelty-free? Image credits: aleksandra85foto

China’s law is causing companies to take a step backwards and continue to test on animals. This also makes buying cruelty-free products more treacherous for consumers. However, it’s still possible to buy makeup that is certified as animal testing free. The Leaping Bunny is the only internationally recognized certification for cosmetics, personal care products, and household cleaners. To be certified, companies must prove that they do not test on animals and their entire supply chain is audited. Here is another list of cruelty-free makeup brands. It’s still possible to look good without causing any animals to suffer.