The Beauty Industry's Dirty Laundry
There is not an animal that lives on the earth, nor a being that flies on its wings, but they form communities like you.
If you’re one of those human beings fortunate enough to afford and house a pet, look them in the eyes.
Faultless, benign eyes free of guile and malice. Look deeper, and you just might find traces of trust laced with fractured moonlight.
Well, that is if you've managed to feed your furry companion and answered to their every whim and whistle in the past hour or so. In light of not having abided by their often particular routine, be prepared for the daggers of sass those benign eyes dart towards you. Adorableness can prove fatal.
Now imagine a syringe with questionable liquid forced down their throat and into their stomach. Shears and a scalpel ripping through tufts of matted hair. Restraints binding limbs and paws to a metal tray as a saccharine smoke steals away at delicate lungs.
Imagine the moonlight sputtering into darkness as they endure this time and again⏤if they’re unfortunate enough to survive.
What you’re imagining is the reality of innumerable animals around the world.
What is animal testing and why is it done?
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) defines animal testing as “the practice of performing unnatural and often painful experiments on animals being held captive in stressful laboratory settings, often in the misguided belief that the results of these tests will be applicable to humans.”
In the history of biomedical research, animal testing has been used repeatedly to analyze and further advance our understanding of human anatomy and pathology, with the practice reaching its peak in the twentieth century.
Animal testing isn’t a novel phenomenon, nor is it uncommon in present times, even though alternate methods such as in vitro testing and computer modelling exist.
The global beauty industry is a giant that boasted a market value of approximately $380.2 billion in 2019, and is projected to reach $464 billion by 2027. With companies like Esteé Lauder, L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and Unilever exhibiting an undying spirit to expand their business empires across continents, we must ask at what, or whose, expense they thrive.
Cosmetic testing is performed on animals like rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, rats and mice to ensure the safety and efficiency of individual ingredients or a finished product. These animals are chosen due to desirable husbandry practices, familiar operating procedures and handling protocols, and an ever-present well of data detailing expected variations. However, various factors come into play when deciding which specimen a particular component is to be tested upon. Laboratories seek animals that are cost-effective, anatomically suitable, useful for both acute and chronic studies, and able to answer questions regarding efficacy.
The extent to which cosmetic testing ravages their bodies is unsettling. The infamous Draize skin irritancy test, which became a governmentally endorsed gold-standard method to detect eye irritants in the 1980s, shows just how cruel these tests can get.
Medically described, the Draize test entails the instillation of a test liquid into the lower conjunctival sac. Observations are taken at specified intervals, and thorough examinations require further treatment of the eye that may include a slit-lamp observation to better assess the cornea. Rabbits are the chosen test subjects due to their large eyes and unambiguous anatomy. Though this test has been widely criticized for its unreliability, it remains the official model for eye irritation tests worldwide.
Countries including the UK, India, New Zealand, Turkey, Norway, Switzerland, and members of the EU have banned animal testing for cosmetic purposes, but their chemical regulators continue to prefer animal test-based data.
Although manufacturers might adopt non-animal testing methods to check their products, suppliers aren’t bound by such restraints. Fashion director and sustainability advocate Sarah Jay notes that “it is important to understand that cruelty-free is a designation that relates to finished products post-formulation, not to individual ingredients, the majority of which have been tested on animals at some point.”
Industry-leading brands such as Esteé Lauder, MAC Cosmetics, and L’Oréal claim to be cruelty-free while subsequently selling their products in mainland China where testing on animals is required by law. As a result, these mother-brands and their subsidiaries cannot truly be considered vegan or cruelty-free.
How can you ensure that your consumer choices don't feed into the chain of animal cruelty?
A simple way to free yourself of guilt while browsing through the beauty/hygiene aisle is by checking for the little rabbit symbol. As mentioned before, this only signifies that the final product wasn’t tested on animals and cannot speak for individual ingredients, but it is a step in the right direction. Researching the brand and product prior to purchase is also a good habit to develop if you want to save some furry friends. Switching up your daily essentials with items from clean beauty labels or independently-owned local businesses that sport a cruelty-free certificate is another hassle-free method.
Humane Society International’s accolade-winning mockumentary, starring spokes-bunny Ralph, limns the harrowing reality of what life is like for a test animal⏤a living, breathing creature that is bred into a lifetime of isolation and remorseless maltreatment. Their ability to look into the eyes of humankind and wish for a better tomorrow is a testament to what they were created for: Freedom.