The use of animal testing in the cosmetics industry is neither mandatory by law, nor the only approach to the development of safe products. Although testing cosmetic products and their ingredients on animals has been common practice, and remains so in jurisdictions such as Canada, alternatives are out there and available.
Several cosmetic companies, such as LUSH, Burt’s Bees, and Dermalogica, develop cosmetics without using ingredients tested on animals and without testing their final products on animals. These companies provide products that comply with Canadian safety standards without animal testing by utilizing some of the many alternative options available. Companies such as these prove on a daily basis that it is possible to create beautiful cosmetics without animal testing, demonstrating that there is no legal or moral excuse for others to continue testing their ingredients or final products on animals (i).
The movement against animal testing began in North America around 1980. Peter Singer wrote Animal Liberation in 1973, Henry Spira founded Animal Rights International the following year, and on April 15, 1980, Spira released an article in the New York Times entitled “How Many Rabbits Does Revlon Blind For Beauty’s Sake?” (ii). Many consumers were, and still are, unaware that for a single everyday product several animals are subjected to tests. Shining the light on animal testing for commercial products marked the beginning of the movement to search out alternate methods of testing products and phasing out animal testing.
The United Kingdom officially banned animal testing in regards to cosmetics in the late 1990’s, the European Union announced in 2003 that they planned to have a near total ban by 2009. EU’s executive body that oversees consumer policy, the EU Commission, established a timetable for the phasing out of cosmetic animal testing. However, cosmetics tested on animals outside the EU were still imported and sold until March 2013. This means that, as of March 2013, the EU has banned the sale of all cosmetics produced, ingredients included, that have been tested on animals. This ban applies to all domestically sold and imported cosmetics (iii). Other countries have imposed similar bans or are considering a similar policy change including Israel, Croatia, Norway, India and South Korea. There are some countries, such as China, where cosmetics animal testing is still a legal requirement for both the ingredients that go into cosmetic products as well as the final product. In many other countries, such as the United States and Canada, the government still requires animal testing for drugs and certain other consumer products; however, there is no legal requirement for animal testing of cosmetics (iv).
Currently, there are alternative methods to animal testing for ingredients and cosmetics, but these alternatives are expensive and relatively new. The three Rs of animal testing; reduction, refinement and replacement, were proposed by English scientists William Russell and Rex Burch in 1959 (v). In their book, The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique, Russell and Burch proposed that all research using animals should be evaluated to see if the three Rs could be applied. Over the past four decades the three Rs have become widely accepted ethical principles in animal-based science.
First, Russell and Burch described replacement as the use of an inanimate system as an alternative. It can also mean the replacement of sentient animals with less sentient animals, or the use of cell and tissue cultures. Second, reduction means a decrease in the number of animals used with no loss of useful information. Finally, refinement means a change in aspects of the experiments that would alleviate or minimize potential pain, suffering or distress to the animals (vi). There have also been technological alternatives to animal testing. Most of these new alternatives emerge from the fields of biotechnology, hi-resolution scanning, and computer science. There are ingredients already known to be safe that do not require any more testing to meet the legal requirements set by Canadian law. Also, there are other tests which can be conducted to prove product safety that do not include testing the ingredients or the final product on animals.
Still, it is common Canadian practice for commercial products, including cosmetic and beauty products, to be tested on animals. Testing on animals has been common practice in the cosmetics industry and is ostensibly used to identify hazards and determine adverse effects to human health that may result from exposure. In Canada, testing on animals is not legally required to prove the safety of a cosmetic product, yet animal testing is still used as the primary method to comply with the safety standards imposed by Canadian law.
Animal testing was originally developed for use in biomedical research; however, toxicology testing has become much more prevalent. Toxicology testing is the study of substances that are harmful or toxic to living creatures (vii). Commercial and pharmaceutical products are tested on animals ostensibly to ensure product safety for consumers, while medical procedures are practiced on animals for research and training purposes. In the cosmetics industry, the range of tests includes irritancy tests, toxicity tests, ingredient testing and final product testing.
According to Health Canada, a cosmetic is defined as a product which cleanses, improves or alters a person’s complexion, skin, hair or teeth. Canada’s Cosmetic Regulations are mandatory for the protection of the health and safety of the public. Only ingredients that do not pose an unreasonable health and safety risk, when used according to directions, are allowed in cosmetic products (viii). All cosmetics sold in Canada must meet the requirements of the Food and Drugs Act, the Cosmetic Regulations and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act.
By promoting a degree of self-governance for corporations and institutions in regards to testing on animals, particularly in the cosmetics industry, Canadian legislation nurtures ambiguity. Canada’s Food and Drugs Act prohibits the sale of any cosmetic that may cause injury to the health of the user, but does not require that animal testing be conducted to demonstrate the safety of the product (ix). Regardless of actual legal obligations, many cosmetics and ingredient companies still utilize animal testing to satisfy safety requirements.
The legislative and regulatory power specifically in regards to animal testing and research in Canada lies primarily with provincial governments. The Canadian Council on Animal Care (CCAC) was established in 1968 with the purpose of acting in the interest of Canadians to ensure that the use of animals for research, teaching and testing employs optimal physical and psychological care according to acceptable scientific standards and to promote an increased level of knowledge, awareness and sensitivity to relevant ethical principles. CCAC is the national organization responsible for setting and maintaining standards for the care and use of animals in science in Canada.
CCAC came into existence at the recommendation of the National Research Council, for the purpose of providing independent oversight of animals used in science across Canada. CCAC is accountable to the general public and is responsible for the distribution of information on the use of animals in science to Canadians. In addition to guidelines, documents and policy statements, CCAC develops comprehensive annual statistics on the number of animals used for scientific purposes and produces an annual report to publicize information to its constituents and the general public (x). CCAC publishes guidelines on the ethical use and care of animals in science. Specific guidelines published by CCAC that apply to cosmetic animal testing include CCAC Guidelines on the Euthanasia of Animals Used in Science (2010), Guidelines on Laboratory Animal Facilities (2003), and the Guide to the Care and Use of Experimental Animals (1993) (xi). CCAC is not a government agency and and lacks any legislative or judicial authority, meaning that its recommendations and guidelines are non-binding and are only considered voluntarily.
All Canadian provinces have some legislation addressing animal welfare; however, only certain provinces have specifically addressed the field of animals used for research, teaching and testing purposes. Some provincial governments have not subscribed to CCAC guidelines. At the same time, many private and provincial government agents have embraced CCAC guidelines, recognizing the various benefits that a monitored animal care brings (xii). Change is still required in Canada’s approach to cosmetics testing, however, the success of the UK and the EU in banning animal testing for cosmetics sets an example for Canada, and the rest of the world, and shows that it is possible to have a working and profitable cosmetics industry without using animals to prove product safety.
Written by Stefanie Stamm – BA, JD – Articling Student for Animal Justice Canada
This blog and the contents herein are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. Readers are advised to seek legal counsel prior to acting on any matters discussed herein. The opinions expressed are those of the author.
i. Lush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, “Fighting Animal Testing” (2014), online: <http://www.lush.ca/Still-Fighting-Against-Animal-Testing/about-animal-introduction,en_CA,pg.html>.
ii. Stephen Crowe, “The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics & The Leaping Bunny Logo” (2007) IR/
PS CSR Case 07-08, online: <http://irps.ucsd.edu/assets/020/8413.pdf> at 9.
iii. Karl Kofmel, “Europe’s Ban on Animal Testing for Cosmetics Could Affect Canadian Industry” (19 March 2013),
online: Ottawa Citizen <http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/national/Europe+animal+testing+cosmetics+could
iv. Noah Lewis, “Testing Cosmetics on Animals: An Idea Who’s Time Has Gone” (2004), online: LEDA at Harvard
Law School <http://leda.law.harvard.edu/leda/data/740/lewis05.html>.
v. George Divorsky, “Can Technology Help Us Put an End to Animal Experimentation?” (9 May 2012), online:
vii. Stacy E Gillespie, “A Cover-Girl Face does not have to begin with Animal Cruelty: Chapter 476 gives Legal Force
to Alternative Testing Methods” (2001) 32 McGeorge L. Rev. 461 at 461 (HeinOnline).
viii. Consumer Product Safety (2013), online: Health Canada <http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/cps-spc/cosmet-person/indust/
ix. Food and Drugs Act (RSC, 1985, c F-27) at s 16, online: Government of Canada <http://laws.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/F-27/page-5.html#h-7>.
x. Guide to the Care and Use of Experimental Animals, online: (1993) 1 at preface, Canadian Council on Animal
xi. Standards and Guidance, online: (2014) Canadian Council on Animal Care <http://www.ccac.ca/en_/standards/guidelines>.
xii. Ibid at s XI. A (1).