There are two sides to the beauty industry: the glamorous façade – fuelled by advertising, fashion shows and YouTube makeup tutorials – and the darker truth bubbling underneath. A side where pain and death occur daily and annually in the millions. We’re talking about the murky world of animal testing.
Whether you are vegan or not, most consumers and industry professionals agree that animal testing of cosmetics is horrific and inhumane. Animals eat animals, that’s a fact, but nowhere in nature will you find one animal torturing another in order to create something purely used for vanity purpose – a purely human-oriented pursuit. No matter how much companies claim they try to “minimise the suffering of animals”, it is impossible to ethically poison living beings, apply irritants to their skin and drop harsh chemicals into their eyes. These are just a few of the things that animals get subjected to in cosmetics testing.
What consumers don’t always realise is that some cosmetics companies that claim to be cruelty free aren’t being completely honest. It is predominately the multimillion-dollar highly visual cosmetic brands that are getting away with sugar-coating the truth about their animal testing involvement.
The murky “cruelty-free” claim
Some companies are still testing on animals themselves, yet they wax on about how they are ‘all for alternative non-animal testing methods.’ Other companies are singing their own praises about how moral and ethical they now are, due to the fact that they personally, no longer test their products on animals, yet they are willingly selling their products into countries requiring animal testing. For example, many cosmetic brands are happy to export their products into China with the knowledge that when their products enter China, it is mandatory that they will undergo animal testing before being allowed to be sold in Chinese stores. Consumers are misled into believing the company must therefore be cruelty free – but when looking closely, we discover that the truth behind those claims is “we never test on animals…unless required by law”. This refers to the Chinese market, where animal testing is still largely required for cosmetics (although there are developments on that front, too).
What actually happens in animal tests?
Three of the most commonly used methods for testing cosmetics on animals are:
Lethal dose test – animals are forced to ingest ingredients, usually through a tube in their stomachs, until a percentage of them die from poisoning.
Draize skin test– animals have their fur shaved off and sometimes also the top layer of skin will be deliberately scraped. Ingredients are then applied to their raw red skin.
Draize eye test – animals are restrained and the ingredient is repeatedly dropped into their eyes.
These tests cause the terrified animals extreme pain and suffering, and at the conclusion of all these experiments all the animals are killed.
Who tests on animals – and why?
A quick search on Google for a list on companies that still test on animals (whether directly or indirectly) unearths popular, iconic beauty brands such as; Estee Lauder, MAC, Sephora, Max Factor, Shiseido, Shu Uemura, NARS, Clinique, L’Oreal, Giorgio Armani, Lancome, Bobbi Brown, Maybelline, Clarins, Elizabeth Arden, Benefit O.P.I , La Mer, Avon and Revlon – many of these claim to be “against animal testing”. You will also see listed many popular, personal care, haircare, fragrance and household cleaning brands.
The big-name beauty labels face constant competition with each other to bring out new products that will supersede their competitor in sales. This is why withdrawing from the lucrative Chinese market is such a dilemma for brands – but there have been inspiring examples of brands, such as Urban Decay, that have chosen to forgo China to stay on the cruelty-free lists.
Some of the ingredients used by brands are classed as, “multipurpose ingredients”. These are ingredients not designed solely for cosmetic use. They are often derived from industrial chemicals and these types of ingredients are still required by law to undergo animal testing to deem their safety. It pays to remember that these companies do not have to use these ingredients – alternatives exist that are already proven safe for cosmetic use and thankfully no longer require animal testing.
Many cosmetic companies are using loopholes and clever wording to hide the fact that they are directly, or indirectly, testing on animals. For example, a cosmetic company doesn’t themselves test on animals, but source ingredients that are still being tested on animals, to use in their formulations. These companies use cleverly worded slogans; e.g. “we don’t test on animals”, or “this product is not tested on animals”. The product in its entirety isn’t, but the ingredients are.
Another case may be that a company does not test on animals but is owned by a much larger parent company that do still test on animals, so the profits are indirectly feeding back into the parent company, which some vegans have an issue with. A good example of this was when Body Shop – a prominent voice for the cruelty-free movement – was owned by L’Oreal. Body Shop was recently bought by vegan parent company Natura.
So, what can a consumer do to ensure they are not unwittingly buying from brands that are being less than honest regarding their animal testing policies?
The answer is to look to respected, established non-profit organisations that have strict requirements in place for accrediting and listing companies on their cruelty-free shopping guides. As well-meaning as vegan beauty bloggers are, the truth about their cruelty-free lists is that they can be unreliable – bloggers don’t always have the expertise or contracts in place to ensure their lists are completely correct.
Another issue could arise with any cruelty-free list where the application process for companies to get accredited and listed is simply to sign a waiver. A simple waiver allows companies to mislead and misconstrue the facts. The truly trustworthy databases are the ones that have a very stringent and thorough criteria for listing companies. Two such trusted guides are the Leaping Bunny, curated by Cruelty-Free International, and Australian organisation Choose Cruelty Free’s bunny logo, which has international as well as Australian brands listed.
It’s worth noting that costs to join the programmes are typically on the low side. Choose Cruelty Free for example, only charge a once only fee of $100 for administration to get accredited and then officially listed.
Another thing to watch out for is logos featuring rabbits. Any brand can add a generic rabbit logo to their packaging to suggest it is cruelty free. Once again, no legal body seems to be monitoring this. How cruelty-free that brand actually is remains to be seen. Rabbit logos that are trademarked by reputable, ethical, non-profit organisations such as the ones by Leaping Bunny and Choose Cruelty Free, are the ones that are trustworthy and reliable. Even with a reputable rabbit logo, cross-checking might be necessary the product to ensure it is actually listed on one of these cruelty free lists, as some companies use these logos illegally.
An important note: “cruelty-free” and “vegan” are not mutually interchangeable. A cruelty-free product can have animal-derived ingredients and a vegan ingredient can still be tested on animals.
At a time when information is readily available, consumers have the power of choice – and choice has never been so plentiful. Vegan consumers now have a varied supply of ethical cosmetics available to them – and space to ask more questions about the provenance and story of what they put on their faces.
Words: Nicole Groch
Photography : Michael Teo
Hair & Makeup: Nicole Groch
Model : Natasha Maymon
Only vegan friendly, Choose Cruelty Free-accredited brands were used to create this editorial