From unethical labs to your makeup bag, cosmetics remain an animal rights issue

From unethical labs to your makeup bag, cosmetics remain an animal rights issue

Photo Credit: Noun Project

by Charlotte Siohan, Freelance Writer

In the 2021 short film-mockumentary “Save Ralph,” stars such as Taika Waititi and Ricky Gervais spread a powerful message regarding the inhumane practice of cosmetics testing on animals. The animated film’s monumental impact prompted new discussions of why the cruelty of these animal tests is still largely legalized and in effect. But even with improving conversations, mainstream cosmetics companies continue to utilize animal testing while consumers continue to buy into these unethical brands en masse.  

The concept of using animals as helpless victims of lab experimentation for the sick benefit of beauty brands is in no way breaking news in fact, the various tests date back half a century, with credit to the mad scientists of the mid-1900s, namely John Draize who developed the famed Draize test. The name is likely unfamiliar, but Dr. Draize can be thanked for the haunting images of rabbits with syringes prodded into their glossy eyes; perhaps you have seen visuals of these rabbits after, with irritated, bloody eyes. 

Captured for eternity in all their pain and suffering, it is difficult to acknowledge the eerie reality that these animals were likely killed moments after their injuries were observed. While it surely causes unease, it remains a vital ethical code for consumers to not become desensitized to the suffering of such innocent creatures at the expense of alluring products. It is unfortunate that some require graphic visuals to be convinced of the morally unacceptable nature of cosmetic testing on animals, and even more displeasing that some continuously turn away from more ethical alternatives. And the fact that alternatives are included in the vernacular surrounding the debate makes it seem like there’s nothing to debate at all; if animal testing is not the sole option, why continue to support an unnecessary evil?

As animal tests are becoming recognized as less effective and less comparable to the reactions of humans to cosmetic ingredients, in vitro studies propose a humane, accurate method of cosmetic testing. According to Cruelty Free International, scientists have developed tests using human cells to mimic the structure and function of different organs (“organs-on-chips”), and can test eye irritation by dropping chemicals onto cornea-like tissue structures. By using human cells and cultures, scientists can complete more realistic tests which produce more reliable results than those using rabbits or mice, and there is no harm done in the process. Cosmetic companies such as Lush have utilized in vitro testing to push out cruelty-free products. While brands like Lush deserve to be celebrated for their ethically adaptive policies, consumers should also avidly criticize companies who will relentlessly continue animal testing until they are forcefully pushed to change– and this forceful push needs to come through way of legislation.

In 2013, the European Union banned the sale of animal-tested cosmetics, and in the years since then, the United States has made little progress in following their footsteps. However, Democratic senator Cathleen Galgiani introduced the Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act in 2018, set to effectively ban the sale of animal-tested cosmetics in California starting Jan. 1, 2020. The bill was passed in late 2019 and this progressive piece of legislation increased the pressure on other states to do the same. Even more so, advocates for the prohibition of animal testing are betting on federal legislation to put a stop to the cruel practice. 

As the country awaits a federal ban on animal-tested cosmetics, in the meantime the inhumane cosmetics companies can be discouraged and deplatformed through a strict boycott. 

The call for an inflexible boycott of these products is necessary- especially considering consumers who are against animal testing seem to still purchase unethical cosmetics. A 2011 survey by Lake Research found that 67% of Americans believe companies shouldn’t test cosmetics on animals. It is not reaching to infer that this number has likely increased as the atrocities behind animal testing have become further recognized. So why do so many Americans simultaneously continue to buy products that are not cruelty-free? Why continue to act in this state of cognitive dissonance?

The path of consumer consciousness is certainly not an easy one to take; however, this does not excuse bypassing opportunities to invest in responsible brands and opting for immoral companies instead. So, when tempted by alluring eyeshadows and vibrant lipsticks, consider the reason those products hit the shelf in the first place.