Cosmetics - safe and cruelty free?

What's the progress on cruelty free cosmetics?
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  • Updated:4 May 2007

01.Cosmetics - safe and cruelty free?


Even if wearing lipstick isn’t your thing, you probably use a number of toiletry products — from soap, shampoo and toothpaste to deodorant, moisturiser or shaving cream. All of these are generally safe if used as intended. Some of them, though, might have been tested on animals in order to establish that.

A recent article in Nature magazine concludes that chemical toxicity tests are ‘stuck in a time warp, and are largely based on wasteful and often poorly predictive animal experiments’. And the Australian Association for Humane Research believes non-animal testing methods are ‘certainly more dependable and produce more accurate results’ than tests on species that differ from humans in certain aspects.

Please note: this information was current as of May 2007 but is still a useful guide today.

But how can consumers work out what has been tested on animals and what hasn’t? And what are the alternatives to animal testing?

Labelling loopholes

No Australian, EU or US regulations specifically require that cosmetics (the finished products) are tested on animals, as long as suppliers can provide evidence for their ingredients’ safety.

And while labelling claims on cosmetics must comply with various state and federal laws, the use of terms such as ‘not tested on animals’ or ‘against animal testing’ on cosmetics packaging isn’t specifically regulated. As most of the testing occurs during the supply chain, not while making the finished product, it’s possible for manufacturers to take certain liberties with the interpretation of such claims.

However, there are a few actions you can take to tell relatively cruelty-free products from the rest. And there is news to report on the current state of play with animal testing.

Towards animal – testing alternatives

Late last year EU governments and industry groups reached an agreement aimed at refining, reducing and replacing animal use, and speeding up the development and validation of alternative safety tests.

The industry agreement followed EU legislation introduced a few years back that will see the use of animals in cosmetics testing gradually phased out — acute toxicity tests will be banned from 2009, those testing for long-term effects from 2013.

The cosmetics industry here is ‘watching with interest’ the developments in Europe, according to the industry association Accord Australasia.

So what are the alternatives?

There are many ways to establish a product’s safety without the use of live animals, such as using:

  • In vitro techniques involving donated human tissue or cell cultures.
  • Donated human corneas from eye banks, or synthetic or reconstructed human skin.
  • Human volunteers.
  • Computer modelling and maths simulation programs, for example to predict a chemical’s toxicity or irritancy and likely interaction with other compounds, based on what’s known already about substances with a similar structure.

How to buy 'cruelty – free' products

Various animal welfare organisations produce lists of ‘cruelty-free’ brands and products. These include:

  • The Choose Cruelty Free (CCF) Preferred Products List (PPL). For CCF accreditation, manufacturers must sign an official declaration. The list also indicates which brands’ products are suitable for vegans. For a free copy, phone (03) 9328 1377 or download it at
  • The US-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). To get on the list, companies must sign a statement that they, and their suppliers, don’t conduct or commission any animal tests on ingredients, formulations or finished products. Go to:

Favourite product not listed?

  • If you can’t find a product on a 'cruelty-free' list, check with the manufacturer or Australian distributor.
  • Ask for answers to specific questions: don’t just accept a generic ‘our products are cruelty-free’ statement.

Other ways to make a difference

  • Apply pressure: if you decide against buying a product because of the brand’s involvement in or lack of transparency about animal testing, let the company know.
  • Avoid products with 'new' or 'improved' ingredients if you can’t establish that they haven’t been tested on animals.


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