What Does 'Cruelty-Free' Skin Care Mean and Why Does It Matter?

What Does 'Cruelty-Free' Skin Care Mean and Why Does It Matter?

What Does Cruelty-Free Skin Care Mean and Why Does It Matter?

Although touted by some as the most reliable way to test skincare products, animal testing is not only cruel and inhumane but actually less safe than we originally thought. For this reason, cosmetics companies are taking a vow to become “cruelty-free.”

However, is that just a marketing term, or are there concrete standards a skincare brand must meet in order to be able to claim the label? 

Let’s find out exactly what cruelty-free skincare is and what makes it so important.


Are Skin Care Brands Required to Test on Animals?

Animals have been experimented on for thousands of years to improve our understanding of anatomy and physiology. But due to the ramped-up production of cosmetics, animal experimentation has become especially common in the past century. 

Today, millions of animals are experimented on to test the safety and efficacy of skin care products. 

There’s much debate over the ethics of animal experimentation. Some animal welfare activists believe that it is acceptable to test on animals only if there aren’t any alternatives to testing necessary products, such as life-saving drugs. 

Others believe that testing on animals is always unacceptable because it causes suffering. But none of these positions support testing skin care products on animals. 

So why do so many skin care companies continue to test their products on animals? The reason for this is that skin care products must be proven safe for humans, animals, and the environment. If skin care brands can’t prove that their products are safe, then their products won’t go on the market. 

Unfortunately, it is hard to find testing methods that don’t involve animals. Many scientists prefer to use animal experimentation, even though other approaches may be available. In addition, there are many procedures and regulations that were developed using this method, so switching things up can be difficult. 

However, skin care brands definitely do not have to test on animals. Many regulatory agencies across the world do not specifically require the use of animals in testing skincare products for safety and actually support other approaches. Many countries have even completely banned animal experimentation. However, the practice still remains common in many parts of the world. 


Why Testing on Animals is Cruel

Even though we typically associate animal experimentation with rodents, many other animals are also tested on, including rabbits, dogs, cats, monkeys, and even sheep! 

The exact tests that are performed vary, but the basic goal of testing products is to see if they can cause eye or skin irritation, brain toxicity, hormone disruption, or damage to DNA. This involves exposing animals to potentially harmful ingredients. 

One prominent product test is called the Draize eye test, which tries to assess if a product can cause injury to the human eye. Irritation to the eye would be reversible, while a permanent effect is considered eye corrosion. 

To perform the Draize eye test, the product being tested is placed directly into the eyes of the animal that is being experimented on. It is left in there so that the scientists doing the experiment can observe and record any effects. The animal is often restrained so that it can’t paw at its eyes to relieve the discomfort. 

The Draize test for skin irritation uses a similar method. A product is applied to the shaved skin of the animal that is being experimented on to see if it causes pain, burning, or itching. Once again, the animal is powerless to relieve any pain because they are restrained. 

Although the Draize test is the most used, many other tests exist to assess the effects of a product. Sometimes an animal is even forced to swallow a potentially toxic product. Many animals sustain injuries as a result, and if their injuries are too great to be treated, they are put to sleep. 


Is Animal Testing Really That Effective? 

Considering the cruelty of testing on animals, you might be wondering if there’s a legitimate reason  this method of analysis has stuck around for so long.

Animal experimentation is typically defended as being reliable, providing a good model of human biology, and being important for human safety. Sadly, this is not always so. On the contrary, animal experimentation is unreliable in many ways and does not always predict human outcomes. 

The first reason for this is that animal testing is conducted in a laboratory, which influences the experiment’s results. Laboratory conditions — captivity, artificial lighting, and restricted environments — influence the physiology of the animals being experimented on. 

A rise in stress hormones, blood pressure, and heart rate all influence how an animal will respond to certain products, even if they are only applied to the skin. For instance, increased redness and swelling that comes from elevated cortisol levels can cause allergic reactions to skincare products that would not do the same in human populations. 

In addition, animals are genetically and physiologically different from humans. As such, it is not always possible to predict human reactions to certain products based on how animals react to them.


Alternative Approaches to Animal Testing

Science has greatly advanced since the times when animal experimentation was considered the only option for testing product safety. There are now a variety of non-cruel testing options which can be even more effective than animal experimentation. Some of these include:

  • In Vitro Methods: This test uses reconstructed human skin or eye tissue. Same as with animal experimentation, the product is applied to see its effects. It can be used to assess the safety and toxicity of a given product, in addition to impacts on hydration, sebum management, and hyperpigmentation.

  • Cell Culture Testing: In this method, cells from human tissue are grown artificially and then experimented on. This method can assess cellular-level effects, such as cell health, oxidative or chemical stress, energy metabolism, and cell signaling pathways. This allows us to answer questions about toxicity, irritation, cellular metabolism, and even impacts on aging.

  • In Silico Methods: These tests are performed via computer simulation using the chemical structure of the product being tested to see their effects on human organisms. There are currently various computer models that can perform this kind of testing.

There are many options available for testing skin care products, which makes animal experimentation extremely unnecessary. For this reason, companies are taking the initiative of not product-testing on animals.


What Does it Mean to be Cruelty-Free?

Unfortunately, there is no legal definition for the term as government agencies typically do not regulate claims that companies can make about being cruelty-free.

In theory, cruelty-free products cannot be tested on animals. However, some companies can apply this claim to their finished products, while using individual ingredients that have been tested on animals or even collaborating with suppliers that use animal testing.

Nonetheless, “cruelty-free” is not an empty marketing term. In order for a cosmetics company to be considered cruelty-free, their finished products cannot be tested on animals. 

This means that before going on the market, cruelty-free skincare brands use testing methods that don’t harm animals to verify the safety and efficacy of their products.

In addition, these companies will be commonly certified by animal rights organizations, such as Peta, Choose Cruelty Free, or Leaping Bunny. 

When you buy “cruelty-free,” you are making a statement about the cruelty of animal experimentation. 

While more activist organizations, governments, and companies are seeking alternative ingredients and fighting against animal experimentation, a large portion of the world is still testing cosmetics on animals. 

When you buy cruelty-free, you are voting for a more humane world. 

As you can see, animal experimentation is cruel, wasteful, and sometimes, not even the most effective way of testing skin care products for human safety. This is what makes buying cruelty-free so important. If you are dedicated to animal welfare and a more just world, make sure that the companies you support are committed to the same goal. 


Animal Testing & Cosmetics | U.S. Food and Drug Administration 

“Cruelty Free”/“Not Tested on Animals” | U.S. Food and Drug Administration 

The Flaws and Human Harms of Animal Experimentation | Cambridge Quarterly of Healthcare Ethics 

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