In recent decades, using animals to test ready-made cosmetic products, such as lipstick, has fallen into disuse, according to Victor Enfante, a doctor in Pharmaceutical Sciences from USP in Ribeirão Preto, with an emphasis on cosmetics.
This is because it is now possible to analyze the impact of a product on the skin without having to remove the affected area, in a biopsy. This makes it easier for humans to participate in the final tests, to see, for example, whether a cream actually reduces skin wrinkles or causes any irritation.
“The sector has been defending for many years the elimination of testing on animals for finished products,” stated, in a note, the Abihpec (Brazilian Association of the Personal Hygiene, Perfumery and Cosmetics Industry).
The entity, however, filed an unconstitutionality request to overturn the state law in Rio de Janeiro that prohibits the use of animals in experimental tests of cosmetics and personal care and cleaning products. Legislation prohibits all testing on animals at any stage of the product.
Abihpec claims that it did not go to court to question or discuss the need for animal testing, a fact that was expressed in support of the entity’s lawyer at the trial, but to preserve the legal order and federal legislative competence to deal with the issue.
He also said that, in search of a definitive solution to the issue, he is working with NGOs, authorities and the scientific community for the approval of a federal law banning animal testing.
The animals most used by the cosmetic industry in tests are rats and rabbits, says Enfante. Pigs were also popular, but today their use is more restricted to parts of the animal that have already been sacrificed in refrigerators, such as the ears. Pig skin has an absorption capacity similar to that of humans.
Rabbits have been used in tests for comedogenicity (how much a substance clogs the pores of the skin), but this can now be tested directly on humans.
The most emblematic test in rabbits is the Draize one. It is used to find out if a substance can come into contact with the eye region, and what are its effects there. For this, the tested product is placed in the eyes of the rabbit, which cannot be sedated. “It involves animal suffering”, says Enfante.
Sedation would compromise the test result, as anesthetics dilate blood vessels.
“This test came about because there was a mascara used in the early 1920s that left many people blind”, explains the researcher, who claims that an alternative to Draize already exists today. Instead of rabbit eyes, the substance is tested in chicken eggs with embryos that have not yet developed the neural tube, that is, they are unable to feel pain. These embryos already have blood vessels formed, and you can see how they behave when they come in contact with the product.
It remains a test with animal use, but without suffering. “Vegan is one thing, animal suffering is another,” says Infante.
Another test that involved animal suffering and that today also has alternative methods is the effectiveness of sunburn products. The researcher says that before, rats of a hairless species were used, on which a light with power similar to that of the sun was focused. Then, the effectiveness of the product was tested on the burn that had been caused in the laboratory.
For tests on the skin, reconstituted skin, left over from surgeries, and artificial skin, manufactured in the laboratory, are already used.
Other alternatives are to test cell cultures. The improvement of the technology involved in the tests also allows to reduce the number of guinea pigs.
The creation of these alternative tests depends on scientific research, carried out by companies in the sector and also by universities.
Abihpec, also in a statement, stated that it reinforces “the sectorial support for the development and implementation of alternative methods to animal tests”, which finances their development and validation, and that “commits to use them in cases where they exist and are validated by the competent authorities and bodies”.
As cosmetic tests usually involve the most superficial layers of the skin, they are simpler to be replaced by alternative methods, compared to drug tests that need to measure the substance’s impact on several organs at the same time.
Nine Brazilian states prohibit cosmetic testing on animals, including São Paulo, as well as the Federal District. But there is a federal law, the Arouca, which allows experiments, for scientific use, in some situations.
According to Enfante, the future of scientific research must have fewer and fewer animals, even for the sake of cost. Keeping the guinea pigs is expensive, demands special food, intense care and space. After the tests, they must be euthanized, pain free, and incinerated.
“It’s complicated to work with laboratory animals, getting a cell culture from the freezer is much easier”, says the researcher.
The case of beagles is an example of the inconvenience that research on animals can cause in another sphere, that of corporate image.
In October 2013, a group of animal rights activists invaded a research institute in São Roque, in the interior of São Paulo, to collect around 178 dogs of the beagle breed that were used in research. Reports about the state of the animals generated a strong public commotion.
At the time, activists claimed that the dogs were exposed to suffering in cosmetic tests. The laboratory, however, stated that it was doing research with medications, following all the protocols provided for by law, to check whether the medications produced adverse reactions such as vomiting, diarrhea, loss of coordination or seizures. Alleging serious loss to the image, however, the laboratory announced the closure of activities in the city shortly after.