Reform the Safe Cosmetics Act FAQ

The Physicians Committee

Cosmetics Testing: End the use of animals in personal care product testing


Cosmetics Regulation Reform FAQ

Cosmetics Regulation Reform | Cosmetics Regulation Reform FAQ | Cosmetics Regulation Reform Resources

Are cosmetics currently regulated?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently regulates cosmetics through the Federal Food Drug and Cosmetics Act (FFDCA). Under the FFDCA, cosmetics manufacturers are responsible for verifying the safety of their products through various testing methods, but they are not required to perform particular safety tests or gain approval from the FDA prior to marketing their products. This concerns many who desire greater oversight of consumer products.

What kinds of animal tests do cosmetics companies conduct?
Animal testing usually involves applying cosmetics to animals’ shaved skin or eyes. In one of the most commonly used tests, researchers put chemicals into rabbits' eyes and record the state of the injured eye for 21 days. Another commonly conducted test involves forcing animals to inhale large amounts of chemicals to test fragrances.

What are the problems with animal testing?
Results from animal tests don’t necessarily apply to humans. Each species reacts to chemicals differently. When scientists don’t understand why an animal had diarrhea, convulsions, problems breathing, or developed a tumor, they can’t predict whether that would happen in humans. Animal tests are also time-consuming and costly. Millions of guinea pigs, rabbits, rats, and mice continue to be used and killed just to bring the latest scent of shampoo or antiwrinkle skin cream “breakthrough” to store shelves.

How do animal tests give misleading results?
Animal tests are performed using very high doses of chemicals to maximize the likelihood that there will be an effect. This results in misleading information. Humans would never be exposed to such high levels of a chemical in the environment or in the products they use. These misleading results often lead to more animal testing in order to determine whether the animal data is relevant to humans.

Are there ethical implications of animal testing for cosmetics?
Yes. Despite the questionable information provided by animal tests, millions of animals suffer unalleviated pain and death as a result of testing for these products.

What are the alternatives to animals?
Cell- and computer-based methods quickly provide a more accurate picture of how a chemical acts and its impact on human health. As an example, scientists can grow skin from leftover surgeries in the laboratory; these reconstructed human skin models can mimic the potential dangers a new cosmetic or personal care product might pose to human skin more accurately than animal tests. The National Research Council’s report Toxicity Testing in the 21st Century: A Vision and a Strategy recommends a complete shift from animals tests to cell- and computer-based methods.

Are nonanimal methods available now?
Cell-based methods are available now and being developed. Pharmaceutical companies use these methods to choose which drugs should be developed. The federal government and private and public research institutes are also using nonanimal methods. The EPA’s ToxCast program demonstrates the usefulness of nonanimal tests for assessing chemicals. The same approaches can be used for cosmetics.

Does new legislation require nonanimal methods?
Both H.R. 4262 Cosmetics Safety Enhancement Act of 2012 and H.R. 4395 Cosmetics Safety Amendments Act of 2012 do not mention nonanimal methods. H.R. 2359 Safe Cosmetics Act of 2011 requires the use of nonanimal test methods where practical, but contains loopholes that allow animals to be used.

The eventual legislation should include explicit support and funding for the development and implementation of modern methods. Legislation should also provide much stronger incentives for the use of nonanimal methods and other strategies that reduce the use of animals. Until a ban can be implemented, testing that does occur should be tailored to specific cosmetic ingredients, instead of all ingredients. Testing every single cosmetic ingredient and product could kill millions of animals.