In keeping with the current conscientious audience, you have probably done your part to live a healthy, green lifestyle. You eat as much plant-based food as possible, compost food waste and opt for sustainable packaging products. But these terms can often be deceiving. Take labels like “organic” and “cruelty-free”. These buzzwords are coveted by many consumers, but are not regulated by authority. Meaning, you may not be getting what’s been marketed to you, despite the message on the label.
In recent years, consumers are making increasing demands for complete transparency from brands. This has called for progress in non-animal testing methods and cruelty free manufacturing processes. Unyielding work of activists, researchers, the media and the beauty community at large, has led to animal testing slowly reach its logical conclusion. Products that are formulated by putting animals and their wellbeing at risk will soon be a minority.
Society as a whole and it’s attitude towards cruelty free testing is rapidly evolving. More and more countries ban animal testing with overwhelming support from the public. This includes the likes of the UK, EU, Australia, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland, Turkey and most importantly India as well. Other countries too have laws up in the process of approval to ban tests on animals for cosmetics. These cruel and archaic testing methods have to make way for the industry to reinvest time and resources to develop non-animal testing methods.
The motivation behind moving away from animal testing stems from ethical, scientific and financial factors. Specially in times like today when Covid 19 has been linked as an animal borne virus, there is an increased incentive to end animal testing. Cruelty-free companies make use of sophisticated technology that use human cells and tissues, advanced computing and studies done on human volunteers. These processes are more accurate in predicting the potential of a product to cause adverse harm and take less time and money to undertake.
Cruelty-free doesn’t refer to just one avenue of production. PETA and other animal protection groups have different standards of ethical conduct. The scope of purview extends not only to the manufacturer of skincare and makeup, but even to the supply chain. When suppliers undertake animal testing, even though the brand doesn’t, having a cruelty-free label can deceive consumers. In this context, the term needs to extend to individual ingredients as well and not just finished products post-formulation.
For example, the persistent use of squalene by the beauty industry is detrimental as it’s primary source is from sharks. However a number of brands that use Squalene from sharks still market their products as cruelty-free. With the increased attention that is being paid to the origination of ingredients, the focus has shifted to using Squalane, which is derived from olives, sugar, corn or formulated synthetically.
Then there’s the question of the aftermath of manufacturing a product. Even when testing doesn’t take place in labs on animals, it doesn’t qualify that it won’t in the future as well. Everything we consume ends up in landfills and water bodies, making its way into marine life. A great example of this would be the number of safe, biodegradable and environment friendly sunscreens in the market.
Let’s look at a few alternatives that cruelty free brands use to test out their products.
1. In Vitro Human Tissue
Using reconstructed human tissue to put an end to animal testing and create a more accurate representation of medical standards has been researched for decades. By harvesting human skin tissue and isolating and growing them in laboratories, it can actually mimic all the characteristics of normal human skin.
2. Computer Derived Predictions
When a new ingredient needs to be used in formulations, instead of carrying out animal testing all over again, its toxicity can be predicted using the information we have already from similar ingredients used in the past. This is done using a method called read-across, where the mutual similarities are cross referenced between ingredients that have the same chemical composition.
3. Human Organs-on-Chips
These are artificial organs that are grown synthetically to mimic human organs. Since they are characteristically and structurally the same to actual organs, they form a reliable and accurate base for testing. This can extend to the heart, lungs, kidneys, bones and skin.
4. Human Volunteers
Human volunteers can be used to replace animal testing to decipher skin sensitivity and toxicity barriers. This is done on a micro level, where small doses of an ingredient are introduced to the human body to measure safety and efficacy.
It’s exceptionally easy for brands to purchase vegan and cruelty-free trademarks and place their logos on every product, which makes it possible to still involve animal cruelty in sourcing ingredients or the remaining life cycle of the product. A holistic definition that should be covered under cruelty-free should extend to ingredients, packaging and formulation.
As a consumer you can do your bit by supporting small-scale homegrown brands that use clean ingredients which aren’t animal-derived. Animal rights can be more effective when consumers are made aware of their rights and demand transparency. Holding brands and suppliers accountable is more efficient when policy is implemented, enforced by governments but policed by consumer choices. The future of beauty and skincare must be regulated, simplified, sustainable, waste-free and emphasizing on nutrition and wellness.