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Summer 2013 - Act•ionLine


Cosmetic Testing and Non-Animal Alternative Methods

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The testing of cosmetic products and their component ingredients is one of the most obvious examples of unnecessary harm we impose on animals.  The Draize Eye Test, developed in 1944, is used to assess eye irritation caused by various chemicals — often in cosmetics.  Typically, rabbits are used; they suffer from redness, bleeding, ulcers, and even blindness.  Rabbits, rats and mice are also used in skin-irritancy testing, observed for signs of irritation such as swelling, itching, soreness and inflammation.

Using animals to conduct safety testing is flawed science, because differences between species, and even between animals in the same species, lead to unreliable test results due to variances in absorption, distribution, metabolism and excretion of chemicals.

Yet there is an enormous array of alternative test methods to replace live animal tests for cosmetic products and ingredients. 

One alternative developed years ago, and widely accepted by regulatory agencies, is the Bovine Corneal Opacity and Permeability test, which uses cornea tissue, a slaughterhouse byproduct, in place of live rabbits.  The tissue is treated with a sample chemical and then light is transmitted through it.  An undamaged cornea remains virtually transparent, whereas those affected by a test substance will appear opaque. The cornea is also tested to see if a fluorescent compound is able to permeate the tissue. These measurements determine the level of irritation.1

Fortunately, science is now relying more on in vitro methods, including the Cytosensor Microphysiometer test, which measures changes in the cell growth rate after exposure to test substances.  A decrease in metabolism indicates irritancy. 2 Another irritancy test is EpiOcular™, a cornea model consisting of normal, human-derived cells forming a multi-layered structure that closely resembles a normal corneal epithelium. 3 After applying substances to the tissue model, scientists measure the number of cells killed to determine the potential for irritation.4

Will Europe’s Law Have Loopholes?

Due to concern that Europe's new regulations banning animal testing on cosmetics may contain loopholes, The American Anti-Vivisection Society recommends reliance on third-party cruelty-free certification through

For more information on these regulations, please visit LeapingBunny  

iPhone and Android apps are available.

There are also reliable skin iritation and corrosion testing models.  For example, cosmetic giant L’Oreal teamed up with SkinEthic to develop Episkin, an in vitro reconstructed epidermis made from normal human cells collected from consenting donors during plastic surgery.5 Another human cell culture, EpiDerm, replaces animals in skin irritation tests.  In both models, test substances are placed on the culture and observed to see if the chemicals penetrate the outer skin and if so, how many cells die in the process.6  This determines the level of potential skin damage or irritation.

The availability and use of alternatives that spare living animals in cosmetic testing has grown largely due to consumer and company demand.  Moreover, new regulatory requirements in the European Union established a ban on the sale of cosmetics (and their ingredients) that have been tested on animals.  In today’s global economy, companies based in other countries depend on profits from European markets.  This dependence will inevitably require these companies to more aggressively pursue non-animal alternatives for cosmetic testing.



  • 1. Rodger Curren,  “Reducing Animal Testing: Progress Continues” - AV Magazine 118 (2010), at 17.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. MatTek Corporation: “The EpiOCular Model”; retrieved 5 Apr. 2013 
  • 4. See “Reducing Animal Testing: Progress Continues” (note 1 above).
  • 5. SkinEthic Laboratories: “EpiSkin”; retrieved 5 Apr. 2013
  • 6. MatTek Corporation: “Skin Irritation Test”; retrieved 5 Apr. 2013

Act•ionLine Summer 2013

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