"Cruelty-Free" Cosmetic Companies Demoted to "Testers"
How international regulatory mandates affect companies' cruelty-free status
March 1, 2012
Dr. Pam Osenkowski, NAVS Science Advisor
Many people visit the NAVS website to learn about which companies do and do not test on animals. We make every effort we can to provide you with the most up-to-date and accurate information we have on these companies to help you choose cruelty-free products. In this week’s Science Corner, I would like to talk about some of the difficulties that arise with assigning the label of “cruelty free” versus “tester” to the companies in our database.
Many companies, including those we consider “cruelty free” in the U.S., are interested in selling their products internationally, to profit from a larger market. As there is a huge market for cosmetics and toiletries around the world, this makes a lot of sense from the financial perspective. One of the fastest growing markets outside of the U.S. is China, where cosmetics sales are booming. In fact, China is thought to be the third largest market in the world for cosmetics and toiletries. While there are upsides to marketing globally, one downside is that companies are required to follow the regulatory rules within the country that they are selling their products. And in China, one big problem is that the government requires that animal tests be performed for safety studies on products that are imported into China or directly manufactured there. China requires that companies who want to import or manufacture products in their country pay a registration fee that is then used by China to test those products for safety.
What kinds of animal tests are performed in China on these products? Well, it depends on the type of product you are testing. Skin irritation assays are performed on rabbits, as is the Draize test to examine eye irritation. Skin sensitization assays are conducted on guinea pigs. Light sensitization studies are performed on mice. These tests are conducted on any imported product and on products manufactured in China as required by law there.
So what does that mean, especially for companies that we consider “cruelty free” in the U.S.? It basically means that companies that have adopted animal-free methodologies to perform their safety tests in the U.S. still MUST test their products in China if they choose to market there. Products that have been found to be safe in animal-free pre-clinical trials and already approved in clinical trials will still need to be tested in China. And while this must be extremely frustrating for companies who have worked hard to establish cruelty-free methods for product safety, the fact that animal tests are performed on their products overseas does, by definition, make them a “tester.” This unfortunately means that the status of companies we believed to be cruelty-free for a long time, like Avon, Estée Lauder, and Mary Kay, has been demoted from “cruelty free” to “tester” as a result of the compulsory testing of their products in China.
We made an effort to contact Avon, Estée Lauder, and Mary Kay regarding this issue to better understand their perspective on the matter. While Avon and Estée Lauder simply sent us their animal testing statements and did not answer any questions specifically, Mary Kay did take the time to address our concerns on this matter. Mary Kay indicated that their policy has always been to follow the law regarding animal testing, and that their commitment to using animal-free methodologies in the safety testing process has not changed. Mary Kay is trying to make a difference in China by funding a lab for alternatives there to build a scientific basis for acceptance of alternative technologies. They are working with scientists in China and in other parts of the world to develop and gain confidence with in vitro testing methods so that the Chinese regulatory agencies can adopt these methodologies and eliminate the animal tests that are currently being performed.
So while it is disappointing to have to change the status of companies regarding whether or not they test on animals on our website, it also is important to recognize that the issue of product testing has become more complex and some companies are trying to make a difference and attempting to facilitate regulatory changes in countries that still require animal tests as part of their safety testing.
NAVS recognizes your desire to support companies that do not test their products or ingredients on animals. Unfortunately, this may be more difficult for all of us now due to international regulatory mandates. We will make every attempt to keep you updated on the progress being made to incorporate in vitro methods in other countries’ testing policies.