Spreading Clean Beauty

Alternatives to animal testing for cosmetics and why they matter

The increasing interest to find alternatives to animal testing for cosmetics is rooted in the deep transformations taking place in the current context. Today, consumers prioritize animal welfare across various industries, including food, textiles, and cosmetics. 

A shift reflecting a growing concern for ethical practices, it’s mainly led by younger generations (particularly Gen Z and Millenials) and influenced by the rapid spread of information across social media platforms.

In the food industry, this increased awareness takes the shape of a preference for plant-based products, as well as labels like “cage-free,” “free-range,” and “organic”. In the textile industry, sustainable and ethical fashion has taken center stage, with consumers prioritizing brands that are transparent about their supply chains and faux fur alternatives.

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For the cosmetic industry, the implications of a growing awareness around animal welfare are mainly shown in the preference for cruelty-free products. But labels are not enough:  transparency regarding ingredient sourcing has become crucial and so have fact-checking practices such as vegan cosmetics certifications.

It’s precisely in this context of heightened animal welfare concerns where the quest to find the right alternatives to animal testing for cosmetics can be framed. As consumers seek brands that opt for these practices, cosmetic companies are meeting these demands by relying on increasingly sophisticated and tech-aided testing procedures. 

What alternatives to animal testing for cosmetics are there?

In vitro testing

In vitro testing involves testing performed at a cellular level in a controlled environment using human cells and tissues. In order to do so, it’s possible to cultivate human cells or tissues in a controlled environment, creating a simulated system that mimics human biological responses. 

As such, in vitro testing provides human-relevant results, which means the obtained data can be directly applicable to humans, thus potentially improving the accuracy of assessments.

These cell cultures can be derived from various sources (skin, eyes, or other relevant tissues). However, today, technological advancements are allowing testing on 3D structures, like synthetic skin.

For instance, in vitro testing can employ cell culture models such as reconstructed human epidermis (RHE) to simulate the human skin’s response in a wide range of testing procedures, including skin corrosion testing protocols. Then, parameters such as tissue damage or inflammatory responses can be measured. 

In vitro represents a pivotal shift in the realm of alternatives to animal testing for cosmetics, and a scientifically advanced approach to assessing the safety and efficacy of cosmetic products.

In silico testing

Next in the list of alternatives to animal testing for cosmetics comes in silico testing. This term refers to virtual experimentation testing by using computer modeling to simulate human biology. In other words, advanced computer models are used to predict body reactions to cosmetics.

This type of computer-based simulation offers several benefits as an alternative to traditional animal testing for cosmetics. They allow for rapid screening of cosmetic ingredients, can predict their potential toxicity and allergenicity and can provide insights into molecular interactions between cosmetic ingredients and biological tissues. 

As such, these methods are gaining acceptance as valid alternatives for regulatory bodies, while also being subject to regulations themselves to ensure data integration aligns with data privacy laws.

Human volunteers

In this case, cosmetic testing employs post-surgery or post-mortem donations of human tissue samples. 

This widely accepted practice involves the voluntary donation of human tissue samples, and is facilitated by companies like Episkin, CellSystems GmbH, and Mattek, which provide testing kits utilizing human tissues. 

This approach to testing is valuable as it provides an accurate representation of human physiology, metabolism, and response to cosmetic products. 

At the same time, strict regulations have been implemented to prioritize the protection of individuals’ rights, dignity, and consent when involving human volunteers for cosmetic testing.

As such, a series of controls and balances are involved. For living volunteers, informed consent is crucial while, in the case of post-mortem sampling, consent may be obtained from the deceased person’s next of kin or through prior arrangements made by the deceased person.

Furthermore, research involving human participants is typically subject to review by ethics committees. However, most ethical guidelines typically emphasize the use of alternative methods (such as in vitro testing or in silico testing) before resorting to human testing.

The foreseeable future for alternatives to animal testing for cosmetics

Driven by consumer demands, regulatory changes and scientific advancements, the foreseeable future of alternatives to animal testing in the cosmetics industry looks promising. 

On the one hand, the alliance between science and technology in cosmetics is bringing major developments, such as advanced imaging techniques, increasingly extensive databases and algorithms or 3D bioprinting technology, among others.

On the other hand, the public’s commitment to look for valid alternatives to animal testing for cosmetics is reflected in regulatory bodies and action by public authorities. For instance, the European Union saw the full ban of animal testing for cosmetics in 2013, and committed more than 1 billion in funding for research and innovation initiatives in this field. However, advances continue being made in this field, with citizen initiatives such as the European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) ‘Save cruelty-free cosmetics – Commit to a Europe without animal testing’ in 2023. 

While Europe has paved the way for a bright future for alternatives to animal testing for cosmetics, global efforts are needed to eliminate animal testing in other parts of the world. 

At the same time, increasing awareness in cosmetics companies also means an effort must be made to ensure alliances throughout their supply chain, advancing towards developing a more ethical cosmetic industry.

At Provital, we’re committed to providing high-quality, sustainable and ethical plant-based ingredients for our clients. This has led us to develop highly advanced testing methods in a new era of biocosmetics where scientific efficacy and ethics come together.

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