While animal testing is sometimes necessary, more and more cosmetics and personal care brands are looking for new ways to ensure the safety and quality of their products. What does “cruelty-free” really mean, and how does it work? 

When is Animal Testing Required?

The EU’s 2004 Cosmetics Directive (explanatory brochure in PDF) prohibits animal testing for cosmetics, and, in 2009, prohibited the marketing of cosmetic products that contain ingredients that have been tested on animals. 

However, animal testing is still sometimes required and may be necessary for the testing of certain chemicals, medicines and medical procedures, and for basic research. 

In the EU, animal testing can only be done under the following conditions:

  1. When there is a convincing scientific justification
  2. When the benefits of the research outweigh the harms of animal suffering
  3. When the scientific objectives cannot be achieved using non-animal alternative methods

Laboratories wishing to perform animal testing must obtain approval beforehand, and share their data openly, to prevent unnecessary repetitive testing. 

In 2020, cosmetics and personal care giants Dove, Unilever, and The Body Shop protested new animal testing requirements for specific cosmetic ingredients in Europe. The companies argued that these ingredients have been in use for years, have already been proven safe and effective, and that new testing may subject them to the EU’s marketing ban under the Cosmetics Directive. However, the European Chemicals Agency Board of Appeal rejected their objections and called for a new round of animal testing. This decision may seem counter-intuitive, but the new testing is required to ensure the long term safety, not of consumers and end users, but of workers in manufacturing facilities, who are exposed to substances under different conditions than consumers. So animal testing may be occasionally required when there are questions about a chemical’s safety not just in the end product, but throughout the supply chain.

Alternatives to Animal Testing

In 2013, the EU applied Directive 2010/63/EU, a directive on the protection of animals used for scientific purposes, considered one of the most stringent and ethical animal welfare standards in the world. 

The aim of the directive is not just to regulate and improve the care of animals used in research, but to eventually replace animals in research altogether. The EU has established the European Union Reference Laboratory for Alternatives to Animal Testing, which supports laboratories in developing methods of reducing or replacing animals used in research. As of 2016, there were 38 test facilities throughout Europe participating in this program. 

Some of the most effective alternatives to animal testing include:

  • Computer models. Specialized software can run simulations that suggest the possible biological effects of a drug candidate, predicting probable receptor binding sites and identifying the most promising molecules for further testing. Other software can be used to predict the possible mutagenicity of drug candidates, identifying potential carcinogens. Computer models have been shown to be very effective, with lower cost and time investment than many traditional practices. 
  • Cell and tissue cultures. Cells and tissues can be removed from a living organism and kept living outside the body for months or even years. They can be used to test the toxicity and efficacy of certain drugs and chemicals, identifying allergens and irritants without causing pain or distress.
  • Using lower organisms. Brewer’s yeast, fruit flies, nematodes, and other organisms can be tested to understand cell growth and regulators, leading to many medical insights into degenerative diseases that don’t rely on testing on vertebrates. 
  • Human volunteers. In many cases, humans have successfully volunteered to be test subjects, and techniques like skin patch tests, microdosing, and other non-invasive methods can be used to establish safety and efficacy. 
  • Cell-bio chips. While microfluidic chips have not yet been used widely as an alternative to animal testing, these 2 cm chips have a series of small chambers which contain different tissue samples. A fluid flows through channels in the micro-chambers, simulating how blood supply works in the body, while microscopic sensors extract data from the tissues. These systems have incredible potential to reduce or replace animal testing in a wide range of applications. 

What Does a Cruelty-Free Label Mean?

The term “cruelty-free” was first adopted in 1959 for the fake fur industry. A cruelty-free product is one that has not harmed or killed animals anywhere in its supply chain. However, this is not a legal term, so there are no third-party standards or verification for when companies can use the cruelty-free label. To date, Leaping Bunny is the only international independent certification for cruelty-free products.

Cruelty-free and vegan are also not the same. Cruelty-free means that a product has not been tested on animals, and contains no ingredients that have been tested on animals, but does not mean that the product contains no animal-derived ingredients. Cruelty-free products may use casein, paraffin, and other animal-derived ingredients. On the other hand, products that are certified vegan contain no animal-derived ingredients, but may have ingredients that were tested on animals. 

Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Brands

It can be difficult for a big beauty brand to be entirely cruelty-free. Perhaps a company has only certain product lines that haven’t been tested on animals. Or the company sells products in mainland China, where animal testing is required. Or it uses a certain ingredient with a history of animal testing. However, there a number of cosmetics and personal care brands that are entirely free of animal testing throughout their product range, and here are a few of the biggest:

Grapefrute supports businesses that uphold high standards for quality, and know that quality doesn’t require compromising on your ethics. We are excited about the researchers, scientists, and innovators who are making a world without animal testing possible.