SA Forum is an invited essay from experts on topical issues in science and technology.

On April 15, 1980, animal rights advocate Henry Spira took out a full-page ad in The New York Times to decry the use of animals in the safety testing of cosmetics. “How Many Rabbits Does Revlon Blind for Beauty’s Sake?” the ad asked. The question alluded to the use of the Draize test, which involved dripping substances such as toluene into rabbits’ eyes, causing pain and sometimes blindness.

Spira’s ad birthed a campaign to ban animal testing in the U.S. that continues to this day. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration does not require animal safety testing for cosmetics—a category that includes skin cream, perfume, makeup and shampoo—animal tests are still used. (Some countries, such as China, require them.) In contrast, the European Union has put in place a testing ban that prohibits animal testing on all cosmetic products and ingredients, and forbids marketing cosmetic products and ingredients that were tested on animals.

Eliminating animal testing of cosmetics is entirely feasible. In the past three decades scientists have developed many advanced alternatives to animal testing—methods that use human blood, cell lines, artificial skin or computer models to test the safety of products. And many multinational companies have embraced these alternative test methods, reducing and in some cases eliminating their dependence on animal testing. As a result, they cut costs and save time; animal testing is expensive, slow and, because animals are not people, not always predictive.

The movement to eliminate animal testing extends beyond the cosmetics industry. In 2007 the National Academy of Sciences issued a report recommending that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fundamentally change the way chemicals are tested for human health risks. Through a greater reliance on in vitro testing, researchers could evaluate the effects of chemicals on biological processes while using very few animals. Scientists would generate better data and test a greater number of chemicals more quickly and cheaply. To help make this vision a reality, the EPA has established a computational toxicology research program that includes high-throughput screening and robotics. The EPA, the FDA and the National Institutes of Health have established a program called “Tox21,” which applies 21st-century scientific tools to screen thousands of compounds for toxicity—without new animal tests. Many universities are also working hard to implement this vision.

Meanwhile Congress should embrace the future and pass the Humane Cosmetics Act (H.R. 4148), which would prohibit animal testing in the U.S. cosmetics industry and gradually eliminate from the U.S. market cosmetics and ingredients tested on animals. The legislation would encourage the development of new alternative testing methods and increase the use of testing alternatives that already exist.

At the same time this bill would protect people, ensuring that only safe products tested with cutting-edge technology enter the U.S. market. American consumers have the right to demand that their cosmetics are safe. Given rapid scientific advances, there is no reason those products cannot be humane, too.

Rep. Jim Moran, a Democrat, represents Virginia's 8th District.

Paul A. Locke, an environmental health scientist and attorney, is an associate professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in the Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Division of Molecular and Translational Toxicology.

The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Johns Hopkins University or Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.