Most commercially available cosmetics contain lard, gelatine and various forms of pig fat, lanolin (from sheep), carmine (that beautiful red stain, obtained by crushing cochineal beetles), beeswax, and other animal-derived substances. These typically help in easy transfer of product to the skin, lend them creaminess, and also help in preservation. These are all commonly available and bulk-traded items for production. Also, up until a few years ago, most products in the beauty industry were tested on animals under controlled lab conditions. This helped in establishing safe formulation before clinical trials.
When producing cruelty-free cosmetics, however, you have to rethink everything from ingredient sourcing to testing. The animal-derived ingredients have to be replaced with potent substitutes from plants – for example, pig fat and gelatine must be replaced with oils and butters like olive oil, coconut oil, or shea butter. This requires additional research and at times work out to be more expensive than animal-derived ingredients. Even certain formulation processes, geared towards working with animal ingredients, need to be remodelled – from ingredient pairings, proportion of raw material, temperatures and also stability, all of it needs revision when moving to cruelty-free cosmetics. Moreover, while animal testing was relatively cost-effective and easy, and without legal and financial ramifications, testing on human volunteers is a tougher process. It involves consent from the volunteers, a detailed understanding of their individual health status, and documentation, and may also take time and incur significant costs when using technology like human-on-a-chip. While the knowledge and wisdom from past formulations usually allows for a slimmer margin of adverse reaction, there is still a risk involved when testing prototypes on live human subjects.
Reasons why testing on animals should stop
Animals have traditionally been used for testing in the formulation of drugs and cosmetics, as well as in neuroscience research and toxicology testing in various fields. One of the main reasons for animal-based studies is that the product strains already contain animal-derived enzymes, hormones or other chemicals, and the effect, if adverse, will be more pronounced in non-human subjects. Yet, fact is that animal testing delivers results of only 70%”80% accuracy so far as humans are concerned. On the other hand, combination methods of chemistry and cell-based alternative methods can deliver accurate results of 90% or above.
Animals cannot speak; they cannot explain the physical and psychological effects of the substances being tested on them. There can be no 100% reliable feedback from them. The results based on observation and viscera testing are at best tentative and do not guarantee the same effect in humans (case in point – various cancer drug tests done on rats were successful but showed no results when delivered to human subjects). Often, drug trials on animals deemed successful have failed spectacularly when replicated for humans.
Testing on non-human subjects, besides having obvious scientific flaws, is unethical and wasteful. The fact is that when you test a substance on an animal, you are not taking its consent and are subjecting the animal to fear, loneliness, sickness and eventual death.
Alternatives to animal testing
Using lab-culture techniques, it is now possible to grow groups of cells from those extracted from different parts of the human body such as skin, lung, gut and kidneys. These are then linked together as a lab culture to literally resemble ‘human’, but on a chip. This human-on-a-chip helps to analyse toxicity, stability of ingredient as well as side effects.
For cosmetics companies, scientists and biologists are now able to create a tissue in the lab from human skin cells which mimics human skin. This helps to understand the efficacy of makeup and skin-care products without animal testing. Computer-based modelling and testing software now exist, which in combination with cell-culture methods help to significantly establish safety and efficacy of the formulations and products being tested.
Human volunteer studies form an important part of validation without animal testing. The difference is that due to advancement in detection and monitoring devices and substances like dyes and biomarkers, even exposure to a micro-quantity of the ingredient or product in question can be tracked for effects without being fatal or damaging to the subject. This also has the main advantage of these people being able to tell scientists exactly what they are going through and how they feel.
To sum up, there is absolutely no excuse now for companies to continue animal testing, at least in production of everyday items like makeup, skin care and hair care products. The scientific breakthroughs made by humans should be used to also safeguard other species and gradually bring an end to all animal testing.
Mauli Teli is CEO & managing director, IBA Cosmetics.