Product testing

Cleaners, cosmetics and outdated data

Testing cosmetic and household products on animals is still legal under UK and EU law.  This is despite overwhelming public opinion that it is not necessary, and medical opinion that it is not relevant.

The good news is that the European Union has stated that it will enable a ban on the practice.  From 11 March 2013 there is scheduled a full ban on all animal testing for cosmetic products and ingredients.  However, this ban is now under threat, as companies lobby for the continued right to continue animal testing in these areas.  They want to continue because animal tests are a useful defence in law against claims of health problems caused by the products.

In 2009 the UK Home Office admitted the use of 37,335 animals in tests on agricultural and industrial chemicals.

The tests conducted on animals are of very limited value for predicting what may happen in humans.  The primary problem is that the tests are relevant for the species used, not the human species.  Secondly, the tests are typically over a short period – a number of weeks at most.  By contrast, humans will be exposed to the chemicals in question for decades.  Thirdly, it is known that the test results in laboratories are routinely affected by factors such as the ages, gender and strain of animal used, and even factors such as lighting, bedding, noise and temperature[1].  You can read more about this here. 

Types of test

Eye irritancy

A much-publicised and much-criticised test involves applying a test chemical to the eye of an animal, typically a rabbit.  This is known to be unreliable for a number of reasons. The rabbit cornea is thinner and structured differently to that of a human. The rabbit has very small tear ducts, so the crying mechanism that automatically results in humans does not apply, and as the rabbit is restrained they cannot try other methods to clean it, as a human would. The damage is assessed by looking at it and scoring it based on opinion, so there is no scientific evaluation.    

Human eyes are 18 times more sensitive to CS gas and 90 times more sensitive to CR gas than rabbit eyes.[2]

There are a number of superior non animal methods available including artificial corneas and cultures of human eye cells, and details of these can be found on this site.

Skin irritancy and allergy tests

Another common test involves shaving or scratching the skin of animals and applying a test substance – guinea-pigs and rabbits are typically used animals.

A major problem is that the animals used are known to be poor predictors of human reaction. [3] Accurate non animal methods are available, including artificial human skin which is marketed under the name of Corrositex[4] .  Another is to use small sections of human skin in cell culture (read more here).

Toxicity tests

These tests evaluate how poisonous something is, and can be short high-level doses or repeat doses.    The LD50 [link] was used for this for years, and although no longer used in the UK, the replacements are in many ways very similar.

Fortunately there are other methods available.  One is the neutral red uptake assay, which estimates the number of viable cells after a test has been conducted.

Another is the silicon microphysiometer test which measures the metabolism of cells. 

Cancer and birth defects

It has been very well documented that animal tests are not effective in these areas, and more can be read here about testing for cancer and birth defects.  Fortunately (as the linked pages show) there are better methods available. 


A pyrogen is a substance that an animal’s body temperature to rise.  Often the subject is a bacteria.  Rabbits have been used for this, although age, gender, and other factors are known to affect results. 

Other methods exist and should be used instead.

More about available methods can be found here. 

Which companies still do animal testing?

Use this link to find companies that do and do not test on animals (UK).

American companies can be seen here.

It is important to distinguish between companies that use the Rolling Five Year rule, and those that use the Fixed Cut Off Date.

Fixed Cut-Off Date means that ingredients haven't been tested on animals after a specific date.  This is a strong policy - stronger ones have earlier cut-off dates.

The Five Year Rolling Rule means the products will not contain any products that been animal tested in the last five years.  As it can take many years for a product to be developed and come to market, this may be only a minor inconvenience. 

1 Gerhard Zbinden, advisor of the World Health Organisation 1981
2 D Swanston, in Animals and Alternatives in Toxicity Testing, Eds. Balls et al, Academic Press 1983
3 KA Stitzel, in Progress in reduction, refinement and replacement of animals experimentation, Eds. Balls et al, Elsevier 2000 p587-600
4 E. Palmer, Chemistry in Britain, May 2000, p32-34