What You Should Know about "Cruelty-Free Companies", Labeling and Cosmetic Regulations
In an effort to let our supporters know which companies do and do not test their products and ingredients on animals, we publish the Personal Care for People Who Care shopping guide and update the NAVS website with the most accurate and up-to-date information we have to help you choose cruelty-free products. Purchasing products from cruelty-free companies is one way of showing your commitment to ending animal suffering, and because of the power of the almighty consumer dollar, boycotting companies that do test on animals may compel the “testers” to change their policies in order to keep consumer business.
Being a cruelty-free company is actually somewhat complicated these days, for a number of reasons. Avon, Mary Kay, and Estée Lauder, long-standing cruelty free companies, were recently demoted to “testers” on the NAVS website based on animal testing that is conducted on their products overseas. Because this news came as a surprise to many of our supporters and the general public, we want to provide you with more information on product testing and the difficulty that arises when labeling a company as cruelty-free vs. tester. Below are a few frequently asked questions on product testing to give you an appreciation of the complexity of the subject.
What does it mean to be a cruelty-free company?
A cruelty-free company is one that does not test their products or ingredients on animals.
If I see a “cruelty-free” or “not tested on animals” label on a cosmetic product, can I be assured the product doesn’t contain any ingredients that were ever tested in animals?
Because there aren’t legal definitions for the phrases “cruelty-free” or “not tested on animals,” it is possible that companies may use the terms inappropriately. Some companies may truly rely on non-animal testing strategies to validate product safety. However, it is possible that other companies may have contracted out safety tests on animals when screening their ingredients and products, but labeled only their finished cosmetic product as cruelty free. Because many of the raw materials used in cosmetics have at some point been tested on animals when they were first introduced, it is possible that some companies are using ingredients that have at some point been tested on animals. But if they themselves haven’t performed animal tests with those ingredients, they may claim their products are cruelty free.
Are cosmetics required by law in the U.S. to be tested on animals?
No. In the U.S., cosmetic manufacturers are responsible for validating the safety of their ingredients and products before they hit the market. However, the use of animals in this testing process is not required, and it is perfectly acceptable to use scientifically-valid alternative methodologies to conduct these tests.
Are cosmetics required by law to be tested on animals in other countries?
Yes, some countries, like China, conduct animal tests on any imported cosmetics product, as well as on products manufactured in China, even if these products have already been found to be safe for human use in other countries.
When companies choose to capitalize on the global market, they are subject to the laws of that country. Many companies see the financial gain from the global market as a higher priority than maintaining their cruelty-free status. However, there are a few companies that are actively working to change the regulatory policies in countries that currently require animal tests (see below).
What kinds of animal tests are performed on cosmetics products in countries that require testing?
The animal tests that are performed depend on the type of product you are testing. For example, skin irritation assays can be performed on rabbits, as is the Draize test to examine eye irritation. Skin sensitization assays are often conducted on guinea pigs. Light sensitization studies are often performed on mice. Keep in mind that these animal tests for product safety are unnecessary given that effective, scientifically-valid alternative methodologies have already been developed and are continually improving.
What is being done to change the policies about animal testing in other countries?
Some companies are extremely frustrated because they have worked hard to establish cruelty-free methods for product safety, but because animal tests are performed on their products overseas, by definition they are “testers.” Companies like Mary Kay say 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. For instance, Mary Kay is funding a lab for alternatives in China to build a scientific basis for acceptance of alternative technologies. They want Chinese regulatory agencies to adopt alternative methodologies and eliminate the animal tests that are currently being performed and are supporting the development of in vitro testing methods there. As recently as February 2012, the China State Food and Drug Administration has begun the process of accepting non-animal testing methods for cosmetics ingredients. It is encouraging to see that regulatory change is possible in countries that still require animal tests as part of their safety testing requirements.