Fluffy white rabbits jump excitedly around their cages. But they are not at a pet shop, about to be taken to a loving home — they are waiting their turn to be tested on.
Cosmetics such as moisturiser will be dripped into their eyes and slathered onto shaved backs. This will often leave them in pain and may render them blind. Afterwards, they are usually unceremoniously killed.
If this sounds so horrifying it must be illegal, that’s because it is — in the UK at least. But while animal testing was banned in the UK in 1997 and in the EU in 2009, some of Britain’s most popular brands are still funding testing on animals.
Incredible as it seems, this is the beauty industry’s dirty little secret, and the price brands such as Clinique, Lancome, Kiehl’s, L’Oreal Paris, Olay, Nivea, Mac, La Mer, Dior, Caudalie, Benefit and many more pay in order to sell their products in China.
While animal testing is illegal in the UK and Europe, it is compulsory in China for any product manufactured outside the country to be tested on animals (file photo)
In China, it is compulsory that any product manufactured outside the country must be tested on animals. Even those made in the country can be subject to testing.
The brands do not undertake these tests themselves, but know the fees they pay for access to the Chinese market may fund tests that would be illegal in Europe. But for many animal lovers, that’s simply a technicality — and not one they’re happy to excuse.
The latest brand to get into hot water over this is Nars, best known for its multi-tasking eye, lip and cheek stick, The Multiple, and a cheek tint with the rather risque name of Orgasm, which launched in 1999 and became the best-selling blusher in America.
In June, Nars announced it would begin to sell cosmetics in China. Fans took to social media to say they were ‘disgusted’ that a brand that previously claimed to be ‘cruelty-free’ had made this decision. Petitions sprung up alongside campaigns to boycott the brand, with bloggers creating lists of alternatives to Nars products.
Laura Swain, 39, a jewellery designer in Yorkshire who blogs about beauty at beautybest friend.com, was horrified by the company’s change in tack.
‘I was shocked,’ she says. ‘It’s one of my favourite brands, but I hate the thought that my money could now be funding testing on animals. Nars says it wants to “work toward a cruelty-free world” — so boycott China to show that its requirements are not OK.’
Nars defended the move, claiming: ‘We have decided to make Nars available in China because we feel it is important to bring our vision of beauty and artistry to fans in the region. Nars does not test on animals or ask others to do so on our behalf, except where required by law.’
While the brands do not undertake these tests themselves, they know the fees they pay for access to the Chinese market may fund tests that would be illegal in Europe (file photo)
But does the brand really want to share their ‘artistry’ with Chinese women — or merely cash in on what is set to be the world’s largest beauty market, worth an estimated £38 billion by 2020?
The comments on Nars’ social media feeds are telling. ‘Is selling to the Chinese market worth losing your loyal customers and selling out to animal cruelty? I loved your products and would have stayed a lifelong customer, but now I’ll be switching,’ says one.
Another fumed: ‘You may as well have written a statement that says: “We care more about profits than the lives of innocent animals.” It is an insult to your existing customers and we won’t stand for you trying to fob us off.’
It’s clear that in chasing the Chinese yuan, brands risk alienating British customers, many of whom are horrified that in buying something as innocuous as a moisturiser they could be tacitly paying for animal testing.
Want to go cruelty-free?
These are the cruelty-free brands you can buy safe in the knowledge that they don’t trade in China or make money for companies that do:
- BARRY M — inexpensive, independent make-up brand with many vegan products.
- THE BODY SHOP — sold by L’Oreal to ethical Brazilian company Natura, which doesn’t sell in China.
- CHARLOTTE TILBURY — high-end, independent cosmetics brand.
- DR HAUSCHKA — ethical green brand that hasn’t tested on animals since it was founded in 1967.
- LUSH — the hippy beauty store, started in Poole, Dorset, remains true to its cruelty-free roots.
- NEAL’S YARD REMEDIES — vegetarian, Fair Trade and all-round ethical good guys.
- PIXI — a cruelty-free cult favourite not sold in China or owned by a mega company that sells other products there.
- PAUL MITCHELL — the haircare brand pulled out of China when testing became mandatory.
- SKYN ICELAND — independent, 100 per cent vegan, not tested on animals or sold in China.
For in the UK it seemed that the battle against testing cosmetics on animals had already been won. In 1989, The Body Shop began a campaign to end animal testing in cosmetics, the first beauty brand to do so. Billboards were plastered with their slogan ‘Against Animal Testing’ and the company’s owner, Anita Roddick, led anti-vivisection protests.
And public feeling against animal testing remains strong.In 2012, after an outcry, cosmetics brand Urban Decay backtracked on plans to move into China, saying ‘we did not feel we could comply with current regulations in China and remain true to our principles’. It’s little wonder, given the stomach-churning accounts of animal testing in China.
Mostly, it’s rats and mice which are tested on, but rabbits and guinea pigs are, too.
‘Animals can have chemicals dripped in their eyes, spread on their skin or force-fed to them in lethal doses,’ said a spokesman for animal protection organisation Humane Society International. ‘As well as causing suffering, many of these tests are unreliable in predicting real chemical reactions in people.’
Yet how are British consumers to avoid accidentally buying into a brand which allows its products to be tested on animals? Sadly, it’s not straightforward.
Almost 200 of the world’s biggest beauty brands are owned by seven conglomerates. And each has brands in China. Take L’Oreal, for example. While some of its brands, such as Urban Decay and haircare brand Pureology, carry a cruelty-free logo, it also owns Maybelline, Kerastase, La Roche-Posay, Lancome and Kiehl’s, all of which are sold in China.
Similarly Unilever, which owns cruelty-free brands not sold in China — Ren Skincare, Murad and Dermalogica — owns Dove, Vaseline and Pond’s, which are.
The ugly truth is that in buying a product that bills itself as cruelty-free, you could inadvertently be supporting a parent company that sanctions animal testing.
For more information on cruelty-free beauty, visit logical harmony.net, crueltyfreekitty.com and ethicalelephant.com