Come Clean: Ending Cosmetics Skin Irritation and Corrosion Tests on Animals

The Physicians Committee

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Kristie Sullivan, M.P.H., PCRM scientific and policy adviser, gives a brief description of the Come Clean campaign.

Come Clean: Ending Cosmetics Skin Irritation and Corrosion Tests on Animals

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Thousands of rabbits suffer excruciating skin irritation and corrosion tests for cosmetic products and their ingredients each year. But nonanimal alternatives—which are, faster, more accurate, and can be cheaper—are already widely available. No cosmetic ingredient or product is required by law to be tested on animals and the skin irritation and corrosion tests are no exception, but companies may choose to conduct them.

Animal Use in Cosmetics Skin Irritation and Corrosion Tests

Skin irritation and corrosion tests involve placing chemicals on an animal’s skin to test for rash, inflammation, lesions, or other signs of skin damage. A chemical is applied to the shaved, bare skin of the restrained rabbit and left for four hours. The skin is then observed for up to 14 days for irritation, which is reversible damage, or corrosion, which is irreversible skin damage.

But these painful tests are not the most effective way to test cosmetics. Each species reacts differently to substances, so animal tests do not accurately predict how a chemical will affect human skin.


Nonanimal testing methods are essential for public health because they more accurately predict the way a human will respond to an ingredient or product. Reconstructed human skin models—grown in the laboratory from skin cells left over from surgeries—can mimic the potential dangers a new cosmetic or personal care product might pose to human skin more accurately than animal tests.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) coordinates the development of chemical testing protocols which are adopted by more than 30 of the world's industrialized countries. The OECD has validated four models to be used instead of animals: Corrositex, EpiDerm, CellSystem EST1000, and EpiSkin. PCRM is Secretariat of the International Council on Animal Protection at OECD (ICAPO), which was formed to incorporate alternative methods that can replace, reduce, and refine animal use in OECD guidelines and programs.

Innovations such as these have already helped end skin irritation and corrosion tests on animals in the EU. In 2009, an EU law went into effect that bans animals from being used for these tests on EU soil. It also bans products from being sold in the EU if these tests were conducted on animals anywhere in the world.

PCRM’s Survey of Cosmetics Companies

In 2012, PCRM began a survey of U.S. companies that produce cosmetics and personal care products. PCRM requests these companies certify that they do not use or commission animal tests for skin irritation and corrosion for any of their products or the ingredients in them, and reminds them that animal testing is not required by law for any cosmetics. If a company does use animal tests, PCRM experts will work with companies and advise them on how to integrate nonanimal methods into their program in order to provide safer products for humans and to spare animals from suffering. Because of the large number of companies involved, the survey is ongoing.