Nica Richards
Premium Journalist
4 minute read
7 Apr 2021
4:18 pm

SA encouraged to ditch cosmetics animal testing

Nica Richards

South Africa is among the many countries that have not yet caught on that animals no longer need to be used to test the safety of cosmetics. 

There are many alternatives to test products differently, without harming animals in the process. Photo: iStock

But despite this, South Africa is among the many countries that have not yet caught on that animals no longer need to be used to test the safety of cosmetics. 

Humane Society International (HSI) Africa campaign manager Joseph Mayson said this is mainly due to a lack of awareness and political will. 

To drive the message home, HSI has partnered with A-list celebrities, writers and directors to create a short film called Save Ralph


The clip documents a day in the life of a rabbit being tested on in a toxicology laboratory. The aim is to “shine a light on the suffering animals endure and engage consumers and policy makers in HSI’s mission to ban it”, the organisation said. 

HSI aims to ban cosmetic testing on animals across the globe. 

South Africa is among the 16 countries HSI’s campaign is focused on, along with Canada, Brazil, Chile, Mexico and 10 southeast Asian countries. 

Why are animals used for testing? 

According to HSI, the Chinese government has made all cosmetic product testing on animals mandatory. 

However, since 2014, China has allowed for products such as shampoo and mascara to be manufactured without animal testing. 

This year the regulations were amended to allow some companies to import “ordinary” cosmetics without animal testing required. 

This is good news for South Africa, with many cosmetics companies that do not test on animals now able to export to China. 

According to a paper published in 2014, animals are tested on due to adverse reactions some users have to cosmetic and personal care products. 

These days it is done mostly for new ingredients.

The norm is to test for eye and skin irritation, skin sensitisation, skin penetration, mutagenicity (a chemical’s ability to cause mutations), genotoxicity and acute toxicity. Further testing is usually determined on a case by case basis. 

Mayson said there are many alternatives to test products differently without harming animals in the process. 

Animal-free cosmetics testing 

One method of testing cosmetics without harming animals is in-vitro methods, which is when human skin, eye and other cell tissues are grown in laboratories. 

During this process, chemicals are dropped onto the human tissues to test the reactivity, corrosively and toxicity of the chemicals. 

Computer modelling also does not require the use of animals for testing. This involves establishing how chemicals react with the human body by modelling the toxicity on a computer. 

Ex-vivo micro-dosing involves human volunteers who do not produce any symptoms. Minute microdoses elicit toxicological responses which can be detected by testers. 

Previously tested ingredients can also be used to produce new products. The same applies for using existing data on similar ingredients to “read across” toxicity, Mayson said. 

“Many of these non-animal tests can be performed with greater accuracy and at a lower cost than methods using animals.”

Economic benefits to banning animal testing

Mayson said HSI’s “streamlined route” means only one regulation will need to be passed by the country’s health department, under the Food, Cosmetics and Disinfectants Act, rather than having to change multiple pieces of legislation. 

Not only that, but he said implementing a ban would better align South Africa with cosmetics markets in the European Union, the largest cosmetics market in the world, and India, one of the world’s fastest growing markets. 

“Sadly, there’s no happy ending for animals like Ralph, but by working together we can ensure no animal is ever again made to suffer in the name of beauty. 

“It’s easy to assume that companies are the problem, but the truth is they are a vital part of the solution. It’s laws that need to be changed and industry leaders like Lush, Unilever, P&G, L’Oréal and Avon are working with us to secure meaningful animal testing bans in many of the world’s most influential beauty markets. 

“We’ve recruited Ralph as our spokesbunny to help get these laws over the finish line.”

The Save Ralph film features the voices of Taika Waititi, Ricky Gervais, Zac Efron, Olivia Munn, Pom Klementieff and Tricia Helfer. It will soon be available in Portuguese, Spanish, French and Vietnamese. 

If you would like to add your name to the petition to ban cosmetics testing on animals, click here

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