Experimentation of cosmetics and household products

Experimentation of cosmetics and household products

Animal testing for the production of cosmetics is one of the fields in which animals are used. It involves the deaths of millions of animals in different countries who are harmed in many different ways in the process. Rabbits, guinea pigs, mice and rats are commonly used for animal testing. They are burned, mutilated, poisoned and gassed, and if they manage to survive the process, they are either killed so their bodies can be studied or else they are subjected to the same torment all over again.

Why does this occur? Animal testing for cosmetics production occurs mainly because every year thousands of new cosmetic and household products come on the market. In a lot of countries, all these new cosmetics are tested on animals. Sometimes it is the final products that are tested, and other times the individual ingredients used in them.

This wouldn’t happen if the products that were sold were already on the market and therefore had been tested before. But companies compete with each other by introducing new options for the public to try every year. So with a continuously changing market, this is a never-ending process, continuing the suffering and death of animals used to test their products.

In the European Union, India and some other places, both using animal testing for cosmetics and selling products that have been tested elsewhere is currently banned. This means that, at least in theory, every cosmetic product you can buy there will not have been tested on animals. People who don’t want to support animal testing can therefore buy cosmetics in those places without having to choose a certain brand. This is important as about half of the global cosmetics market is in the European Union.1 In India the market is much smaller, but the ban is significant given that close to 1/6 of the world’s population lives there, so eventually a big cosmetics market may develop there. Animal testing for cosmetics is a field in which we are seeing progress being made towards ending the use of animals, which is important even though the number of animals killed for this purpose is small in comparison to the number killed for other reasons. Despite this progress, in many parts of the world animals continue to be experimented on for cosmetics testing.

Types of testing

The procedures involving the use of animals vary, but it is common to test products on the mucous membranes, such as the eyes, which may end up burned. In other cases, the skin of the animal is burned, resulting in ulcers, bleeding and other injuries.

The Draize Test

The Draize test is used to measure the toxicity of a substance. An animal is restrained and the substance to be tested is applied to the skin or eye of the animal. Clips may be used to hold the eyes of the animal open. The substance may be left on the skin or eye for up to 14 days as its effects are monitored. The animals are killed if the damage caused to them is irreversible; unfortunately those who do not suffer irreversible injury are simply used again after a “wash out”. Draize tests can cause ulceration, hemorrhaging, cloudiness in vision, and blindness. Some animals, such as rabbits (who are commonly used in Draize tests), produce fewer tears than humans and therefore undergo extreme pain in these experiments.2

Acute toxicity

In acute toxicity testing animals are forced to endure repeated exposure to chemicals for up to three months. This can be to test for the effects of the chemical on organs such as the lungs, liver, heart, or nervous system. During these tests animals may be force-fed the chemical that is being tested, the chemical may be injected directly into them, or the animal may be placed in a tube (as in the case of mice, for example) and forced to inhale the substance. Studies of this kind use mice as well as animals such as dogs. These tests cause a great deal of suffering to the animals forced to endure them due to handling, restraint, force-feeding and the horrific effects of some chemicals. Animals suffer from convulsions, seizures, paralysis and death during such experiments.3

Skin corrosion and irritation

Rabbits are used in experiments to measure the corrosiveness or degree of irritation various substances cause. This can be done by putting the rabbit into a restraint, shaving part of the fur on her back and placing the chemical on this shaved region. This area is then covered with a gauze patch for several hours. The patch is then taken off and the degree of skin damage or irritation is measured. This may continue for as long as 14 days, and during this time painkillers may not be administered to the rabbits. These tests are often not useful, because the measurement of the damage the chemical has caused is highly subjective.4

Skin sensitization

Skin sensitization experiments are used to determine the potential for a chemical to cause an allergic reaction.5 The chemical may be placed on the skin or injected underneath it. These tests cause ulcers, scaling and inflammation. Chemicals are judged by the damage done to the skin which is highly subjective, and often results from these tests are not useful. These tests may also be useless due to the large physiological differences between humans and the animals used in the experiments.


These experiments are used to determine the speed at which toxic chemicals move through the body. Certain chemicals become more toxic as the body metabolizes them. An animal may be dosed with a chemical through force-feeding, inhalation or injection. Blood samples are taken periodically and the animal is inevitably killed. Differences in species physiology and liver enzymes often render the results of these experiments useless for extrapolation to humans.6


Carcinogens are substances that cause, or increase the risk of, cancerous cells growing. In these tests, chemicals are used to induce the growth of tumors in test animals. The chemical that is being examined is placed on the skin of the animal, inhaled or administered orally. After two years the animal is killed and examined. The results of these tests can vary a great deal depending on the species and breeds of animals that are used.

Reproductive & developmental toxicity

These experiments aim to study the effects of a substance on fertility and the reproductive organs of an animal, usually rats, mice and rabbits. The chemical can be administered a variety of routes, depending on how it is expected that humans will come into contact with the substance. The animals are usually dosed before and throughout their pregnancy. Male animals are also dosed before mating.

Pregnant animals are sometimes killed prior to giving birth and their fetuses are examined. In other cases the chemical is administered to the children of the mother as well, and in some tests, to a second generation of animals. Mothers may be forced to have as many as twenty litters of children, which will also be subject to experimentation. Spontaneous abortion, premature delivery and birth defects are common. Studies, which experiment on two generations of animals, can use more than 2,000 animals.

These tests often do not provide useful information for the realm of human medicine due to the large differences in the reproductive cycles and lives of the animals used in these experiments, and due to the genetic similarity of the animals used, which is not reflected in the human population. Positive predictability in rabbits can be just 40%, with a 40% false positive rate as well.7

Companies that do not test on animals

There are now many companies that have given up animal testing for cosmetics production. These include some companies that have an ethical approach and oppose the use of animals for this purpose. They also include companies whose aim is only economic. They decide not to test on animals because they have seen that there is a growing market for products that aren’t tested on animals. This growing market shows that progress is being made in spreading the idea that we should care about nonhuman animals. In addition, there have been companies that have decided to give up animal testing after campaigns in defense of animals have been carried out.

These companies include the following:

Companies that do not test on animals

As we saw above, those buying cosmetics in the European Union and in India will not have to look at this list to find products that haven’t been tested on animals, although they might prefer to buy from companies on this list to support companies that have an ethical approach.

Companies that test on animals

There are also companies that do not carry out animals testing themselves, but nevertheless use ingredients in their products that have been tested on animals by other companies. There are also companies that do not test their products on animals but some of their ingredients are of animal origin.

Some companies that had abandoned animal testing for most markets have begun testing again in order to market their products in China (like Estee Lauder, Avon, L’Occitane, Mary Kay, Yves Rocher or Caudalie). This happened because the authorities in China used to require companies that sell cosmetics there to test them on animals.8 This requirement was banned, though, from July 7, 2014. There now exist methods that are as effective as or even more effective than those that use animals. More importantly, engaging in such a practice requires disregarding the reasons to give moral consideration to animals and the arguments against speciesism.

Some of these companies had not tested on animals for a long time, but began to do so in order to sell their products in China. They now do not need to do so and it remains to be seen what their policies will be in the future. It is interesting to note, however, that some companies actually chose not to sell their products there and put pressure on the Chinese authorities to change the law before the ban on the requirement for animal experimentation was passed. The company LUSH did this.9

As in China, in some other places, such as the United States, there is not a ban on the use of animals for cosmetics as there is in Europe. But, contrary to what is sometimes thought, there is not a legal requirement that products sold in the United States be tested on animals.

In the United States there is often confusion about this because companies that use animals for cosmetics testing often protest that they are obliged to do so. Actually, they are not. The only requirement of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is that the products be tested to certify that they are safe through toxicity tests. There is no requirement that these tests be done on animals.

This is a list of companies that do test on animals:

Companies that test on animals

Methods of testing not using animals

In cosmetics testing there is a great number of standardized methods that do not involve the use of animals in laboratories. There are companies dedicated to that end. This is due largely to the situation in the European Union, where cosmetic companies have had a lot of time to develop their testing methods. Although the permanent ban did not go into effect until 2013, it was decided in 2003 that the ban would go into effect ten years later (after a discussion that lasted from the early ’90s).11

Methods of testing not using animals include in vitro testing, the use of genomic and computer models and the use of human volunteers. Information can also be gathered by the use of population studies, from previous studies and from decades of research that has already been done.

The ban in Europe has not had a negative impact on consumers but it has had a positive impact for animals. This measure could be applied to the rest of the world.

It is mainly speciesism and economic interests that prevent bans on cosmetics testing from happening in other places today. The companies that sell cosmetics and household products lobby so that bans will not be enacted. A ban on animal testing would mean these companies would have to change the way they work, and it would cost them time and money. In the countries in which their lobby is strong enough and there is not significant pressure from the public, legislation to ban cosmetics testing on animals cannot be introduced. In other cases, there is an inertia to keep using existing systems that prevents such laws from being introduced.

It may seem that animal experimentation is particularly unacceptable for testing cosmetics, because this is a goal that many people would deem trivial. But this does not mean that other harms caused to animals in other areas of exploitation are acceptable.

For more information you can check out our list of links with databases and resources about methods for experimenting that do not use animals.

Further readings

Abbott, A. (2005) “Animal testing: More than a cosmetic change, Nature, 438, pp. 144-146.

Basketter, D. A.; Clewell, H.; Kimber, I.; Rossi, A.; Blaauboer, B.; Burrier, R.; Daneshian, M.; Eskes, C.; Goldberg, A.; Hasiwa, N.; Hoffmann, S.; Jaworska, J.; Knudsen, T. B.; Landsiedel, R.; Leist, M.; Locke, P.; Maxwell, G.; McKim, J.; McVey, E. A.; Ouédraogo, G.; Patlewicz, G.; Pelkonen, O.; Roggen, E.; Rovida, C.; Ruhdel, I.; Schwarz, M.; Schepky, A.; Schoeters, G.; Skinner, N.; Trentz, K.; Turner, M.; Vanparys, P.; Yager, J.; Zurlo, J. & Hartung, T. (2012) “A roadmap for the development of alternative (non-animal) methods for systemic toxicity testing”, ALTEX: Alternatives to Animal Experimentation, 29, pp. 3-91.

Dholakiya, S. L. & Barile, F. A. (2013) “Alternative methods for ocular toxicology testing: validation, applications and troubleshooting”, Expert Opinion on Drug Metabolism & Toxicology, 9, pp. 699-712.

Garthoff, B. (2005) “Alternatives to animal experimentation: The regulatory background”, Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology, 207, pp. 388-392.

Pauwels, M. & Rogiers, V. (2004) “Safety evaluation of cosmetics in the EU: Reality and challenges for the toxicologist”, Toxicology Letters, 151, pp. 7-17.

Pfuhler, S.; Fautz, R.; Ouédraogo, G.; Latil, A.; Kenny, J.; Moore, C. & Barroso, J. (2013) “The Cosmetics Europe strategy for animal-free genotoxicity testing: Project status up-date”, Toxicology in Vitro, 28, pp. 18-23.

Pinto, T. J. A.; Ikeda, T. I.; Miyamaru, L. L.; Santa, M. C.; Santos, B. R. & Cruz, A. S. (2009) “Cosmetic safety: Proposal for the replacement of in vivo (Draize) by in vitro test”, The Open Toxicology Journal, 3, pp. 1-7 [accessed on 23 April 2017].

Rice, M. J. (2011) “The institutional review board is an impediment to human research: the result is more animal-based research”, Philosophy, Ethics, and Humanities in Medicine, 6, p. 12.

Robinson, M. K.; Cohen, C.; de Fraissinette, A.; Ponec, M.; Whittle, E. & Fentem, J. H. (2002) “Non-animal testing strategies for assessment of the skin corrosion and skin irritation potential of ingredients and finished products”, Food and Chemical Toxicology, 40, pp. 573-592.

Roguet, R.; Cohen, C.; Robles, C.; Courtellemont, P.; Tolle, M.; Guillot, J. P. & Pouradier Duteil, X. (1998) “An interlaboratory study of the reproducibility and relevance of Episkin, a reconstructed human epidermis, in the assessment of cosmetics irritancy”, Toxicology in Vitro, 12, pp. 295-304.

Speit, G. (2009) “How to assess the mutagenic potential of cosmetic products without animal tests?”, Mutation Research, 678, pp. 108-112.

Ziegler, O. (2013) EU regulatory decision making and the role of the United States: Transatlantic regulatory cooperation as a gateway for U. S. economic interests?, Wiesbaden: Springer VS, pp. 177-210.

Zuang, V. & Hartung, T. (2005) “Making validated alternatives available —the strategies and work of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM)”, Alternatives to Animal Testing and Experimentation, 11, pp. 15-26 [accessed on 29 April 2020].


1 European Commission (2011) Questions impact assessment: 2013 Implementation Date Marketing Ban Cosmetics Directive: Annex 2, Brussels: European Commission.

2 Wilhelmus, K. R. (2001) “The Draize eye test”, Survey of Ophthalmology, 45, pp. 493-515.

3 Walum, E. (1998) “Acute oral toxicity”, Environmental Health Perspectives, 106, suppl. 2, pp. 497-503 [accessed on 12 January 2012]. Yam, J.; Reer, P. J.; Bruce, R. D. (1991) “Comparison of the up-and-down method and the fixed-dose procedure for acute oral toxicity testing”, Food and Chemical Toxicology, 29, pp. 259-263. Garattini, S. (1985) “Toxic effects of chemicals: Difficulties in extrapolating data from animals to man”, Critical Reviews in Toxicology, 16, pp. 1-29.

4 Hoffmann, S.; Cole, T. & Hartung, T. (2005) “Skin irritation: prevalence, variability, and regulatory classification of existing in vivo data from industrial chemicals”, Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology, 41, pp. 159-166.

5 Botham, P. A.; Basketter, D. A.; Maurer, T.; Mueller, D.; Potokar, M. & Bontinck, W. J. (1991) “Skin sensitization—a critical review of predictive test methods in animals and man”, Food and Chemical Toxicology, 29, pp. 275-286.

6 LaFollette, H. & Shanks, N. (1997) Brute science: Dilemmas of animal experimentation, New York: Routledge.

7 Bailey, J. (2008) “How well do animal teratology studies predict human hazard? – setting the bar for alternatives”, AltTox, September 3.

8 Wei, X. & Lei, Z. (2013) “Taking a humane look at cosmetics in Beijing”, China Daily USA, December 20 [accessed on 27 December 2013].

9 This company stated: “We realise that there is huge potential for Lush in China and it is with great regret that we are unable to accept applications to develop Lush in this market. In order to launch into the Chinese market, at the moment the registration process requires that our products would have to be tested on animals. […] Our company does not test on animals and does not work with any company or supplier who tests on animals. As our anti animal testing policy is such a core element to our business we will not do anything that would be a risk to this. As such we have made a decision not to enter China until this law is changed out-right.” Lush (2015) “China”, lushcountries.com.

10 European Commission (2019) “Ban on animal testing”, Growth: Internal Market, Industry, Entrepeneurship and SMEs [accessed on 23 April 2023].