UNCOVERING... Cruelty Free

Updated: Jan 29, 2019

Before we start, here are some definitions:

“An animal test is any scientific experiment or test in which a live animal is forced to undergo something that is likely to cause them pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm.”

Cruelty-free” simply means that a product and its ingredients were not tested on animals.

What is the problem?

Source: Factual Facts

  • The definition of an animal is already problematic.

According to Cruelty Free International, only vertebrate animals or animals with backbones, such as mammals, birds, fish and amphibians, and some invertebrates, (e.g. octopuses) are defined as ‘animals’ by the European legislation. Rats, mice, fish, amphibians and birds are not defined as animals under the United States animal experiments regulations. Those not defined as ‘animals’ do not require legal permission to experiment on and are not included in statistics.

  • Many animal experiments subject them to ‘moderate’ or ‘severe’ suffering.

In the United Kingdom, 35% of animal experiments involved moderate or severe suffering in 2016. In the cosmetics industry, ingredients are tested on small animals (rats, mice, guinea pigs, and rabbits) by rubbing or dipping chemicals on the shaved skin and eyes on rabbits to test for skin and eye irritation without pain relief. The animals are also subjected to “lethal dose” tests, where they are forced to swallow test chemicals to determine the dose that causes death.

  • Animals used for experiments are often bred for the purpose of experimenting only. They are often denied freedom and can be housed in poor and cramped living conditions

When these animals have served their purpose, they are usually killed by asphyxiation, neck-breaking or decapitation with no pain relief.

Since animal testing is often done in experiments to develop and test the safety of new drugs and products, particularly in the pharmaceutical and cosmetics industry, there is constant debate over how ethical it is.

Source: First Things; News

There are two main camps:

1. Against animal testing

This group believes that animal testing is not acceptable and never justified since:

  • Animals are forced to suffer

  • Experiments done may not necessarily be beneficial for humans

2. In favour of animal testing (only if):

  • Animal suffering is minimised

  • There are human benefits that can only be gained through animal testing, and not through other methods

Assuming that animals are considered to have rights like humans, animal testing would be classified as a violation of morality. Unfortunately, there isn’t exactly a clear cut answer as to whether animal testing is right or wrong.

Why should I pay attention to it?

An estimated 115 million animals are used in laboratory experiments every year, out of which 100,000 to 200,000 includes those are tested for the cosmetics industry. Typical experiments include allergic reaction and eye irritation tests.

For allergic reaction tests, the test substance is applied to the surface of the skin or injected under the skin of a guinea pig or applied to the ear of a mouse. Animals' skin may show signs of redness, ulcers, scaling, inflammation, and itchiness. In eye irritation tests, the test substance is applied to the rabbits' eyes. Their eyes may show signs of redness, bleeding, ulcers, blindness, and/or other signs of damage.

Furthermore, as the cosmetics industry continue expanding, and the number of brands entering the Chinese market growing, the number of animal experiments will continue to increase.

Legislation in China requires imported beauty and personal care products to be tested on animals before being sold in the Chinese market for safety purposes. Check out the infographic below for a clearer idea of China’s animal-testing law:

Source: The Ethical Elephant

Although there have been updates from international news sources highlighting China’s move into cruelty-free testing in response to the rise in demand of such products by local consumers and the growing beauty and personal care industry ($26 billion as of 2017), it might still take a while before this regulation is revoked.

Again, we have to ask ourselves- who are we to decide that animals have to suffer for us, and how justified these experiments are.

How can I play a part?

  • Understand some misconceptions:

Vegan vs Cruelty-free products

When a product states that it is “vegan”, it means that a product does not contain any animal products or animal-derived ingredients. It describes the ingredients, rather than the production process.

When labelled as “cruelty-free”, it means that a product’s ingredients and the final product are not tested on animals. Since it refers to the testing process, a product that is cruelty-free can be non-vegan if it is made up of ingredients such as honey or gelatin. Similarly, it is also possible for a company that does animal testing to still state that they are vegan.

However, note that a product that claims to be vegan and cruelty-free does not necessarily mean that its ingredients are safe or natural.

If a product has been tested on animals, it is safe for consumption

Not necessarily. Just because a product has been concluded as safe or effective after tests on animals, it does not mean necessarily mean that it would be so for humans.

According to Cruelty Free International, 90% of drugs fail in human trials despite promising results in animal tests – whether on safety grounds or because they do not work. Animals and humans are different. They do not suffer from some diseases that we do, for example, HIV. Drugs such as aspirin are also toxic to many animals, making it impossible for them to be sold in pharmacies if they have been tested according to current animal testing standards.

Testing on human skin is ideal in determining the human toxicity of a product. However, since it is considered unethical and is expensive, animal testing is often used instead.

Leaping Bunny vs PETA

Here are the cruelty-free logos you can look out for:

However, it is also important to note the different procedures a company has to go through in order to get certified. This is to better understand the accuracy of what they mean by labelling their products “cruelty-free”.

For example, there have been arguments that a Leaping Bunny verification is more accurate than PETA’s caring consumer logo. The former requests a thorough investigation on all stages of a brand’s manufacturing process, while the latter only requires a written agreement from the company. Furthermore, since brands have to apply for the certification on a voluntary basis, brands without the certifications can also be cruelty-free. You can check out the brand’s website to determine if they are cruelty-free.

  • Supporting cruelty-free brands

Some popular cruelty-free brands include Catrice, Colourpop, Elf, First Aid Beauty, Tarte, Tata Harper and Sunday Riley. You can check out the leaping bunny approved cosmetic brands here, or here for more brands.

What is being done?

1. 3Rs principle in animal research

Source: Speaking of research

To reduce the impact of research on animals, the 3Rs - Replace, Reduce, and Refine - were introduced.

  • Replace animal experiments with alternative methods such as using computer models and experimenting on cells cultures and voluntary human volunteers

  • Reduce the number of animal experiments by improving experimental and data analysis techniques and the sharing of information between researchers

  • Refine experiments to reduce animal suffering through the use of less invasive methods, providing better living conditions and medical care

2. Developing alternatives

  • Cell cultures

Many types of human and animal cells can be laboratory grown. Harvard's Wyss Institute

has created “organs-on-chips” that contain human cells and can function as human organs. Testing on them can be more accurate when comparing the results to that when tested on animals since they are human cells.

  • Computer models

Sophisticated computer models can stimulate human biology and the progression of disease development. These models can help predict how humans will react to new drugs.

  • Human tissues

Healthy and diseased human tissues can be donated from surgeries to create skin and eye models that can replace rabbit irritation tests. Companies such as Episkin, Mattek and CellSystems GmbH produce these tests in kits, giving companies a substitute to test their cosmetics and other substances. Even after death, human tissues can be used to replace animal experiments for research on diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease.

  • Human volunteers

There are guidelines and protocols for cosmetic testing on human volunteers. These tests are carried out when there is evidence that the product is safe for use, and when risks are minimal or absent. Simultaneously, safety should always be “co-tested” as an objective even when its primary objective is to test for the effectiveness of a cosmetic product.

This ethical dilemma of animal cruelty is something many researchers and scientists have faced for decades in which some have argued that animal testing is necessary despite its implications while others are strongly against animal testing. Although the 3Rs principles have been embedded in national and international legislation with regards to animal experiments in attempts to reduce the need of such experiments, going entirely cruelty-free would likely take a long time given the many obstacles which include the lack of funding and suitable technology.

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