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The EU Is Testing Cosmetic Ingredients on Animals

Despite the EU's ban on animal testing of cosmetics and their ingredients, the EU has been imposing such tests under its REACH regulation. A recent peer-reviewed study found the animal testing has been more extensive than known. This testing is opposed by the entire cosmetic industry, from manufacturers to consumers. Talk of a "turning point," where all align against this testing, leads to hope that this sad discovery may lead to a final end to animal testing.

Here's a summary of what they found, written by the lead author, who is Bunny Army's editor.

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Short answers to important questions

What's happening?

Cosmetic ingredients in the EU are being tested on animals under the EU chemicals law, called REACH, even though a different law, the Cosmetic Regulation, bans animal testing of cosmetic ingredients. (Read more about why REACH affects cosmetics.)

Why is it happening?

The Cosmetic Regulation has loopholes. The EU agency that enforces REACH says these loopholes let the agency require animal testing of cosmetic ingredients for ecotoxicity and for worker safety. The agency maintains that the Cosmetic Regulation ban applies only to tests for consumer safety. (Read the loopholes.)

Why am I just hearing about this now?

The testing is buried in the REACH chemical files. Official EU reports on animal testing list the tests only as "industrial chemicals legislation" tests. There has been no public reporting of these as tests on cosmetic ingredients. An analysis of REACH files, just published, revealed the REACH animal testing of cosmetic ingredients is more extensive than was known and is expected to increase.

How bad is it?

A survey of products at two EU retailers, one high end and one mass market, found about 400 cosmetics that likely had ingredients tested on animals. The products included hair care, skin care, and makeup products. The brands probably do not know about the tests, because there is no current process in the EU to tell them. (Read more about the survey.)

Can this be fixed?

Yes. It must be fixed by the European Commission/Parliament, by amending REACH and the Cosmetic Regulation to ban animal testing of cosmetic ingredients for any purpose.

How can I still be cruelty-free?

Keep buying your cruelty-free brands. These brands have been dedicated to keeping their products cruelty-free for years. The revelations are just as distressing to them, and they need your support as they try to identify affected ingredients. Currently, about 60 of the 400+ cosmetic ingredients in the REACH database are contaminated by animal tests, which means many brands may still have no affected ingredients. The number of contaminated ingredients will grow to include most ingredients if the laws aren't fixed, affecting ingredients globally, so a fix is urgent.

What else can I do?

A coalition of EU groups is planning a large campaign soon, which you will be able to support. Stay tuned. We'll give you the details as soon as we get them.

You can also write your cruelty-free brands to show your support for them and to ask them to check their supply chain. Some may not have heard about the REACH tests, and you may be able to alert them to it. Ask them to share any updates on social media so that we can all keep informed.

Digging in the weeds

This stuff is complicated, and the short answers probably raised new questions for you. Here is extra information to help explain what is happening.

What are the loopholes in the Cosmetic Regulation?

  • It bans animal testing "in order to meet the requirements of this Regulation." This opens a loophole for tests under REACH, because the tests aren't done to meet the requirements of the Cosmetic Regulation.

  • It specifies that environmental concerns will be handled under REACH, opening the door for animal tests for ecotoxicity under REACH.

  • It defines end user as "consumer or professional using the cosmetic product," and it doesn't define worker. ECHA, the agency that oversees REACH, has interpreted this to mean that the Cosmetic Regulation applies only to the safety of consumers and professionals, not of workers on the production lines.

What is REACH and why does it require animal tests for cosmetic ingredients?

REACH requires toxicity information about every chemical made or imported in the EU in a quantity above 1 ton/year.

Under REACH, a cosmetic ingredient is just another chemical. The ingredient must have the required toxicity information, or else it cannot be manufactured or sold in the EU. Any company that manufactures or imports more than 1 ton/year of the ingredient is required to provide the information.

Official guidance for REACH requires using animal methods only as a last resort. In reviewing the chemical information for 400+ cosmetic ingredients, I want to emphasize how impressed I was with how hard most ingredient manufacturers tried to avoid animal tests. But sometimes they ran out of options and were required to test to legally comply.

Here are reasons why:

  • Some alternative methods don't work for all chemicals. For example, one method uses water and works only if the chemical can dissolve in water. Some cosmetic ingredients do not dissolve well in water, so the method won't work for them.

  • Sometimes an alternative method gives uncertain results, which can't be used for REACH. Under REACH, the animal test may then be required, even though animal tests also have uncertainty.

  • Sometimes an alternative method indicates the ingredient has an effect. Under REACH, an animal test may then be required to confirm the effect and determine the amount of the effect.

  • Sometimes there is no alternative method available, especially for tests for systemic effects, like prenatal effects. In these cases, manufacturers often avoid new animal tests by using a method called read-across, where they find similar chemicals that have the required toxicity data and use that data to estimate the toxicity of the ingredient. This method is commonly used by cosmetic manufacturers to assess safety under the Cosmetic Regulation. When ECHA reviews read-across methods for REACH, however, they often reject them and require the animal test, even when the similarities among the chemicals are strong.

  • Companies may anticipate that ECHA will reject an alternative method. For one particular animal test, the alternative method is not yet considered officially valid, and they hear anecdotal reports that ECHA rejects it. They may use the animal test in anticipation of this.

If ECHA rejects a company's alternative method and requires the animal test, the company can appeal to ECHA and to a board of appeals, but it is high risk for the company. If they lose the second appeal, it can be the death sentence for their ingredient. They must start the registration process from the beginning again, and also provide the animal data. They can be banned from manufacturing or importing the ingredient until ECHA approves a new registration, which can take years.

If a product lists an ingredient tested for REACH, does that automatically mean the product was tested on animals?

No. If an ingredient was tested for REACH, it doesn't mean that every supplier of that ingredient tested it or was party to the testing. Only the companies listed in the REACH file for that ingredient are party to the testing. This means that a brand may still have suppliers for that ingredient who do not test on animals.

We must consider this when deciding if a product includes an ingredient that was tested on animals under REACH. In the search of the two EU retailers, where we found about 400 products with ingredients likely tested on animals, we looked only for ingredients that we were reasonably sure were from the companies listed in the REACH file. We looked for:

  • Ingredients patented by the company that registered it in REACH. Since the ingredient is patented, brands must purchase the ingredient from that company.

  • Ingredients for which most manufacturers were listed in the REACH file.

  • Ingredients where the REACH registrant was a cosmetic brand. If one of the brand's products listed that ingredient, we could assume it was the same one the brand registered and tested.

Here's a little more information about that survey.

The survey of the two EU retailers looked for ingredients tested after the EU's testing ban. That was in 2009 for tests for local effects, like skin irritation, and 2013 for tests for systemic effects, like prenatal effects. That survey found about 400 unique products probably had ingredients that were tested after the ban. We also looked at all REACH tests on cosmetic ingredients since REACH testing started in about 2009, including fish toxicity tests that aren't covered under the cosmetic test ban. The number of unique products found at the two EU retailers jumped to about 900.

Although this is a lot of products, it's a small percentage of the overall inventory of these retailers, so we still have time to stop the total train wreck if the EU will stop the testing.

Is there hope?

Yes. In fact, this sad moment may lead to a final end to such testing. The entire cosmetic industry, from manufacturers to consumers, is against this testing. And it is galvanizing industry to push back against it. The main trade group for EU chemical manufacturers published a joint statement with animal welfare groups urging the EU to maintain its promise to promote non-animal test methods. One industry representative called it a "turning point". We can help push it to the tipping point by letting our own legislators know that animal testing is unacceptable, and they must keep it out of any legislation they write, period.

August 17, 2021

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