Though a major victory for animals and animal-rights groups, the recent announcement that the European Union is banning the use of animals in cosmetic testing shines a light on the sparse regulation of the chemicals used by the cosmetic industry in the United States.
After decades of effort, the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments (ECEAE) announced earlier this week that they've succeeded in their crusade against animal testing. According to the rules of the ban, which will come into force on March 11, no personal care products sold in the European Union member states, nor any of a given product's ingredients, can be tested on animals.
However, as New York Times food reporter Mark Bittman points out, what makes the practice of animal testing particularly cruel is the extreme toxicity of the products that we rub on their skin, and squirt in their eyes in the interest of "personal care."
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has created a database of more than 79,000 such products ranked by level of hazard. They estimate that the unregulated cosmetics industry has only publicly assessed 11 percent of the 10,500 different chemicals found in everyday shampoos, makeup, moisturizer, deodorants, etc.
The Food and Drug Administration, which is charged with overseeing the industry, does not require any regulation of cosmetics before they come to market and, according to their site, the corporations behind the products are "responsible for substantiating the safety" of the cosmetics' ingredients.
Just a few of the limited number of known toxic ingredients include: known carcinogen formaldehyde (or "formalin"), commonly found in nail polish, shampoo, soap and hair straighteners; dioxane, another carcinogen, which is a byproduct of manufacturing; and lead, found in over 400 hair dyes and lipsticks.
Despite the enormous success of the animal testing ban, the "more sensible solution," Bittman writes, "is to use only known-to-be-safe ingredients in all products that come in contact with humans."
And, as Sonya Lunder, senior analyst at EWG, adds, “It shouldn’t be necessary to do more animal testing in order to ban or restrict the dozens of cosmetics ingredients that clearly are hazardous.”