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Do Cosmetic Companies Still Test on Live Animals?

A brief history of Draize testing, and an update on its use today
bunny eye



cpkatie, courtesy Flickr

Dear EarthTalk: Is the “Draize Test” using live animals still used to test cosmetics?
-- Jim M., Bridgeport, CT

The Draize Test was devised back in 1944 by U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) toxicologist John H. Draize to evaluate the risks of normal short-term exposure to new cosmetics and other personal care products. Still used today by some companies, the test involves applying a small amount of the substance under study to an animal’s eye or skin for several hours, and then observing whether or not irritation occurs over the following week or two. In most cases the animal subjects—usually albino rabbits bred for the lab—are put to death after the sometimes maiming and often painful test.

Of course, animal rights advocates have long opposed the Draize Test, which they consider cruel to the lab animals used as subjects. According to the non-profit National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), the Draize Test causes “extreme discomfort and pain” to the animals involved. In the eye version of the test, rabbits are placed in restraining stocks and their eyelids are held open with clips—in some cases for days at a time—to keep them from blinking away the test solutions.

As for the skin version of the test, animals’ fur is shaved and then several layers of skin are removed with sticky tape before technicians apply test substances and cover over the abraded area with plastic sheeting. NAVS reports that either version of the test can cause “intense burning, itching and pain” and can leave subjects “ulcerated and bleeding.”

According to the Johns Hopkins Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT), a major protest campaign in the 1980s raised awareness among consumers and within the cosmetics industry about how harsh and inhumane the Draize Test could be for its unwitting subjects. Many cosmetics companies swore off the Draize Test as a result in intervening years, though other similar albeit less draconian forms of animal tests remain prevalent throughout the cosmetics and personal care products industry.

NAVS maintains that not only is animal testing of any kind inhumane, but it’s also more expensive and less reliable than other methods which do not rely on inflicting pain and suffering on rabbits and other furry friends. “The results of non-animal tests tend to be more consistent, and better predictors for human reactions,” reports the group. “In addition, companies are spared the expense of breeding, caging, feeding and disposing of animals that are used in testing laboratories.” Some of the leading non-animal tests are conducted on cell cultures, human and animal corneas from eye banks, corneal tissue cultures, and frozen corneas supplied by hospitals.

Another reason many companies are moving away from the Draize Test is that considerable information has already been yielded and recorded from past testing. Many companies are taking closer looks at the results of tests done years ago to glean information on how safe similar ingredients in their new products are without having to carry out new tests on new generations of lab animals. NAVS hopes that with the continued development of alternative methods, “animal tests, like the slide rule, will someday be made obsolete by advancements in technology.”

CONTACTS: NAVS, www.navs.org; CAAT, http://caat.jhsph.edu.

SEND YOUR ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTIONS TO: EarthTalk, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php. EarthTalk is now a book! Details and order information at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalkbook.

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