Animal Testing: What's the Alternative?

Doing away with traditional animal experiments
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In the last few decades, the public has become far more aware of the cruelty and unreliability of testing cosmetics on animals. Although not required by law in Canada or the United States, some beauty brands stubbornly refuse to kick their animal testing habit, and continue with this obsolete and inhumane practice to this day.

Among those still placing pressure for an end to animal testing is Lush. Our founders have been actively involved in animal campaigning and lobbying for more than 40 years, and we consistently refuse to buy raw materials from any company that tests any of their materials on animals for any purpose.

Already the European Union, Israel, Norway and India have gone cosmetics cruelty-free, but despite greater public awareness and key legislative changes, alternatives to animal testing are yet to be fully embraced here in North America.

The key to an alternative future

After more than four decades of campaigning without an end to animal testing, and feeling frustrated at the continuing entrenchment in animal data, Lush launched an initiative called “The Lush Prize”. This research award is a £250,000 incentive towards finding a ‘eureka moment’ – an innovative solution that will end animal testing for good.

Lush has begun to work with previous Lush Prize winners, XCellR8. They provide scientifically advanced and ethically sound alternatives to animal tests for the cosmetics industry, providing complete replacement tests for cosmetics companies and their raw material suppliers. They also train researchers and young scientists so they can adopt these alternative technologies and take them forward. It is this educational work that secured them the Lush Prize for Training in 2013.

The lab is currently working with Lush to develop even more advanced animal-free tests for cosmetics, some of which involve growing three-dimensional models of artificial human skin to see how a cosmetic would affect the human body.

“It’s a very powerful tool for doing away with the traditional animal experiments,” observes Dr. Carol Barker, founder of XCellR8. “One of the major advantages of these models is that, because the models are 3D, they contain all the critical layers that human skin contains including our skin barrier, which is very important in assessing cosmetic function and cosmetic safety. You can apply a finished formulation to the skin barrier and see exactly what would happen in the body.”

Dr. Carol Barker, winner of the LUSH Prize 2013 and founder of XCeller8 Labs

LUSH Valentine's Day range

The challenges

The challenge for those producing or hoping to use non-animal alternatives is that to be accepted by government authorities, both nationally and at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), they must be scientifically validated. This means consistent results have to be produced within and between laboratories. According to the Humane Society International, this is “a slow and expensive requirement, sometimes taking more than 10 years and a million dollars for a single alternative method.”

The answer, believes Lush UK’s Director of Regulatory Affairs Karl Bygrave, is to lead by example. “We don’t have all the answers, but we’re asking the questions. We’re helping fund breakthroughs and discovering what is truly safe and what isn’t. We look at what is being asked for by European chemicals regulators and we can show alternatives that have been validated and agreed by the OECD. We’re building up our own bank of tests, and we’re in preparation stage to start using the alternatives.”

These alternatives are often more reliable than what many view as outdated animal tests, and are quicker, cheaper, and more practical.

A former director of the US National Institutes of Health, Dr. Elias Zerhouni, believes that researchers have over-relied on animal data. “We have moved away from studying human disease in humans. We need to refocus and adapt new methodologies for use in humans to understand disease biology in humans.”

The future

Is it possible for cosmetics to go from a concept through to a shop shelf without ever needing to be tested on animals? Dr. Barker thinks this can and should be happening: “We have enough scientific advances in place now so the ingredients or final product can be screened purely in a human-based system without using any animal components at all.”

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