When most Canadians hear the words, “Animal testing”, we think it to be something of the past. After all, for years we have been seeing symbols and references to “No animal cruelty” on our shampoos, shower gels and makeup products. Surely the beauty industry has not been lying to us and making false statements about how their products are made and what effects these products have on animals, right? Wrong. According to research, beauty companies have been keeping mum regarding their testing practices – even though packaging and promotion of their products would lead consumers to believe their merchandise is ethically and humanely produced. But why is the beauty industry pulling the wool over the public’s eyes when it comes to animal testing? Is it possible to create animal-friendly beauty products, and are some companies stepping up to the plate?
Animal testing for cosmetic purposes first began in the 1920’s and continued until 1989. That year, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) began a campaign against product testing on animals that revealed the appalling horrors that resulted in animal testing. Disturbing video footage was released of rabbits, dogs and cats who had been badly injured or killed after having damaging chemicals used on them by cosmetics companies to test their products. PETA published reports that Avon, a well-established and seemingly reputable company, alone had killed more than 52,000 animals between 1981 and 1987 using animal tests to determine whether or not Avon products were safe for human use. The public was finally exposed to the realities of the beauty industry, and appalled customers demanded ethical products. Benetton Cosmetics was the first to act, announcing a permanent ban on all use of animals; Avon and Revlon were quick to follow.
Today, PETA lists hundreds of cruelty-free companies on their website, but still states that “No specific laws exist regarding cruelty-free labeling of products, so companies can take liberties. While it is unlikely that a company would put blatantly false information regarding its animal-testing practices on its products, the statements it does make may not be fully informative and may indeed mislead consumers”. For example, though Clairol Herbal Essences shampoo is not tested on animals, other Clairol products are. It can be confusing for consumers to comprehend which products are, in fact, cruelty-free.
Shockingly, highly regarded beauty companies continue to test on animals to this day. Culprits also include beauty giants such as Johnson & Johnson (who own Aveeno, Clean & Clear, Lubriderm, Neutrogena, and more) and L’Oreal Paris (makers of Garnier, Lancome and Maybelline, among others). I was recently assured by a cosmetics representative that the company did not test on animals, yet said company fell under the umbrella of another company that does test on animals. When faced with this puzzlement, I asked a former representative of a large skincare company, for an explanation. Company X, as we will call it, claims to use high quality, natural ingredients in their cosmetic products, but is owned by a large company that does test on animals. Company X, I was told “does not test the end product on animals, and so they claim to be cruelty-free. But the ingredients in the products were outsourced, so it was unclear if the entirety of the merchandise was free of animal testing. For example, we didn’t know where the stearate used in our skin creams came from – and it’s very likely it came from a facility that was not cruelty-free.”
Why do cosmetics companies test products and chemicals, unnecessarily and cruelly, on animals? Many companies are fearful of lawsuits from consumers who have been injured using their products. Companies would much rather test on animals than lose money from consumers in lawsuits. And although non-animal chemical testing has been proven to be far superior than testing on animals, many companies are still reluctant to change methods they have been using for decades.
And why should companies change their testing procedures in order to provide consumers with a more ethical product? Unlike the European Union, who is in the process of phasing out all cosmetic animal testing, Canada has no laws banning the abuse of animals in the beauty industry. While there are regulations regarding the treatment of animals in medical testing environments, the guidelines are unclear for the testing of cosmetics.
So, how can we discourage the use of animal testing on beauty products while still using reliable products? As consumers, we have the power to demand quality, ethical products from the cosmetics industry. In order to see a change in companies usage of animal testing, the public must stop buying products from companies that are not cruelty-free. Though many products boast labels claiming to be “cruelty-free” and “not tested on animals”, the opposite is often true. PETA has a reputable online database naming and shaming companies that test on animals. And not to worry, the list of real “cruelty-free” companies is not only ten times bigger than the former, it is also growing quickly. Who said beauty couldn’t be pain-less?