While the UK was a pioneer in “cruelty free” cosmetics, its government has just authorized again animal testing in some contexts. This decision echoes the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) regulation, which introduced rules in 2020 requiring companies to test their products on animals to ensure workers' health. However, in the face of grumbling from animal rights groups, cosmetics companies and the public, ECHA is already looking for “in silico” alternatives to avoid animal testing.
The history of cosmetics testing on animals
The Draize test, developed in 1944 by toxicologists John H. Draize and Jacob M. Spines, was designed to test the toxicity of a substance before offering it for human consumption for cosmetic or pharmaceutical purposes. This method consisted of applying the substance to the eye or shaved skin of a rabbit, and then observing whether irritation occurred. Over time, this test has been criticized for its cruelty to animals and lack of efficacy. At the same time, other equally cruel tests have emerged, prompting researchers to seek cruelty-free alternatives.
The rise of cruelty-free products
There are about 15,000 ingredients already tested and recognized as safe for use in cosmetics. Thanks to this, cruelty free products have emerged. The United Kingdom was one of the first countries to ban animal testing, quickly followed by the European Union, Mexico, Colombia, Norway and Israel, among others. However, some countries, such as China, required that products marketed in their territory be tested on animals first, forcing many European brands to comply in order to sell in China. Fortunately, this requirement no longer exists in China, allowing most European brands to be cruelty free.
In silico testing to avoid cruelty to animals
ECHA insists that animal testing should be a last resort. Effective alternatives to test for short-term effects such as eye irritation or skin sensitization already exist. However, animal testing may still be necessary to study medium and long-term effects, such as reproductive effects. Research is underway to develop in silico alternatives, i.e. computer simulations of chemical molecules or living environments, to replace animal testing. These models make it possible to study the pharmacological effects of certain substances, their interaction with other molecules and possible adverse effects on human health. We are even beginning to print artificial skin to test the effects of new ingredients. Artificial intelligence therefore has an important role to play in this field.
UK abandons cruelty free status
The UK's decision led Cruelty Free International to publish a letter signed by over 80 makeup brands condemning the move. Despite research into alternatives in Europe, the British government plans to maintain its decision, which it considers perfectly legal.
Times change, but sometimes it seems like we're taking a step backwards instead of forward. It is crucial that we continue to look for alternatives to animal testing and support companies that are moving in this direction to ensure a more ethical and animal-friendly future.