Cruelty-free cosmetics: Good for business

Shelves of cosmetics for sale in a store. (Photo: Scharfsinn, via Shutterstock)

I run Bunny Army, a website that helps consumers locate cruelty-free cosmetics such as mascara, shaving cream, and nail polish. So I know that there’s a huge demand for cruelty-free cosmetics. Fewer Californians may be visiting my site if the state’s Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act, SB 1249, becomes law. That’s OK by me.

Nothing would make me happier than for Californians to be able to simply walk out their doors and know they will find only cruelty-free products in grocery stores, drug stores, department stores, and anywhere else that sells cosmetics.

If the law passes, California would join the European Union, Switzerland, India, Israel, and many other countries that have banned or restricted animal testing on cosmetics. 

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, and Social Compassion in Legislation, would make it unlawful for any cosmetic manufacturer to import or sell any cosmetic, including personal hygiene products such as deodorant, shampoo, or conditioner, in California if the final product or any component of the product was tested on animals after Jan. 1, 2020. Don’t believe the industry hype: The bill won’t ban any products already on the market, and gives companies extra time to comply with international testing requirements. 

If the law passes, California would join the European Union, Switzerland, India, Israel, and many other countries that have banned or restricted animal testing on cosmetics. 

It’s about time. Before Bunny Army, I established White Rabbit Beauty in 2004. It was the first internet retailer of only brands approved by Leaping Bunny, which certifies cruelty-free cosmetics. Back then, they were nearly impossible to find.

White Rabbit Beauty was created to help save the thousands of animals who die for our cosmetics, but it was also about protecting human health. As an engineer with the Environmental Protection Agency and later for environmental engineering firms, I often assessed public health risks. I understand the importance of risk assessment in protecting public health.

Because of their biological differences, testing cosmetics on rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, and rats isn’t a reliable way to assess the potential health effects of cosmetics for humans. Tests using human cells or computer modeling can more reliably predict human reactions and are often faster than animal experiments. Many such tests exist, which is why the EU and other governments require those, rather than animal tests, for cosmetics. By requiring companies to use these better tests, human health wins, too.

A decade after I started White Rabbit Beauty, cruelty-free cosmetics were easier to find, but there were still barriers. In 2015, White Rabbit Beauty and Leaping Bunny asked on Facebook, “What is your biggest challenge to going cruelty free?” Many answered local availability and selection. The Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act would overcome these challenges in California.

California is a successful state because it ensures ethics go hand in hand with economics. We have a chance to use our market power to lead the world, and I hope we take it.Because California’s market is so large—California is now world’s fifth-largest economy—this law could have a big impact on all cosmetics and cosmetics ingredients for sale in the United States.

That’s good news for consumers who are clamoring for cruelty-free cosmetics. Multiple polls show that U.S. consumers support ending animal testing for cosmetics, and a 2015 Nielsen poll found that “not tested on animals” was the most important consumer packaging claim.

The cruelty-free cosmetics market is projected to grow 6 percent in the next five years. In the United Kingdom in 2017, beauty brands with cruelty-free certification accounted for 20 percent of the women’s face skincare market and grew by 18 percent compared to the overall category which grew only 7 percent. In 2016, Lush, which sells handmade cruelty-free cosmetics, saw worldwide sales increase 26 percent from the previous year to $900 million.

It’s clear that consumers are putting their money—and their cruelty-free lipstick—where their mouths are. California should pass the Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act to save animals, better protect human health, and meet consumer demand.

Ed’s Note: Jean Knight is the editor of Bunny Army.

  • Maggie442

    Engineer or not, this article isn’t quite accurate. The ‘biological differences’ between, say, rabbits and humans is not great that their skins react differently. What happened in the countries that have banned cosmetics testing on animals is technologies were created that are the equivalent of an animal test in their accuracy. The fact that nuclear power was invented doesn’t mean coal and oil became useless fuel sources, and the fact Episkin was invented doesn’t invalidate the animal model. The US should move immediately to animal alternatives, but not on the basis of an ignorant meme about species differences which simply aren’t so great that animal models are useless.

    • Jean Knight

      Dear Maggie, My opinion piece doesn’t say animal models are useless. Historically, they are the basis for safety determinations for most existing cosmetics ingredients (along with the strategy of selecting chemicals with a long history of safe use). A ban won’t change that history, but it will set us on a more humane course, and I believe, a better course for human health, too. Yes, alternatives are evaluated against animal tests, because animal tests are the main historical safety data we have for comparison. That does not equate to animal tests generally being predictive of human response. Alternative methods are evaluated against the best available, not the average, historical animal data. Animal studies have uncertainties due to variability across study animals and investigators, the subjective nature of the tests, the need to often extrapolate an oral result to a dermal or inhalation estimate, and human error. Alternative methods – more modern by design and with less subjective measures – reduce all those uncertainties. We also know that different animal species vary among each other on the same test; we shouldn’t rely on them to predict human response either. You note a test (skin irritation) less prone to this, but that’s not the case for other tests, especially long-term animal studies. Pharma industry statistics confirm how poorly animal studies predict efficacy and toxicity in humans. For pharma, it’s no ignorant meme but a significant problem. A California ban should push increased research and adoption of modern toxicity testing methods, benefiting many industries beyond cosmetics, and with human health the big winner.

  • Olivia Coso

    This discussion came up in a Facebook group of 70,000 women in los angeles and everyone is for the Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act. The fact that we haven’t made this advancement sooner and switched to alternative methods, when they are more than available and it will stimulate growth and jobs is barbaric. The world is ready for change.

  • capper3

    E.U. require all safety data to be cruelty-free, there is absolutely no issue with banning all animal testing for cosmetics. All the technology is there!

    • Olivia Coso

      You are 100% correct!

  • Beth Jeanne

    Excellent article! Thanks to the author for making this important point. It is great to see that cruelty free companies like John Paul Mitchell Systems, LUSH and so many more are thriving. All companies should use modern nonanimal methods in lieu of animal testing for assessing cosmetic safety. The world is already moving in this direction and the CA law would help get us there more quickly. It is great for consumers, animals, and businesses. I’m glad to see so much support in CA and beyond, and that legislators are agreeing!

    • Olivia Coso


  • Gabriel V Nicolau

    Zero risk, 100% reward here, for people and animals!
    1) Superior alternatives already exist without the requirement for animals at all.
    2) If this inspires companies to use more natural ingredients (that don’t require testing) instead of new chemicals that’s better for human health.
    3) (This is really reason #1) there is never a time when it is acceptable to torture an animal. Never. Experimentation is just that, anyone who’s taken the time to learn about what happens in those laboratories already knows…

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