The quest for beauty often takes a heavy toll. ARUNA CHANDARAJU talks to PETA Chief Functionary Poorva Joshipura on current practices in the cosmetics industry.

They may not have heard of words like ‘cruelty-free products' and ‘ethical cosmetics'. But every time our grandmothers ground turmeric roots and smeared the paste on their face and feet, or used castor oil/milk-cream to smoothen their skins they were practising and supporting exactly this. Simple homemade beauty-aids free of chemicals and cruelty!

However, ever since the cosmetics industry in India began to grow and then boom, not only have hundreds of Indian companies come in but foreign brands too are seeing huge sales.

Unfortunately, however, many of their products are tested on animals. A few Indian and foreign brands sold in India do not do animal-testing. But the other makers do. Their products are force-fed to rabbits or rats, smeared unfeelingly on the ‘raw' or sheared skin (the skin is often shaved) of hapless animals, injected into them, and ruthlessly poured into their eyes or nose for an inhalation test, while these poor creatures are trapped in chambers to prevent escape.

Ironically, these animals are hurt simply because the manufacturers do not want you — the user — to be hurt in any way. The makers of face creams, lipsticks, deodorants, aftershaves, eyeliners, etc., want them to be completely safe for you — not give you a rash, itch or swelling. Maybe because you would protest! Anyway for your safety, these products are tested for allergies and possible adverse effects on animals, and the reactions watched and recorded. And unlike human volunteers in experiments, none of these creatures are willing subject.

Quite a few manufacturers have a heart and don't do animal testing. Some brands do carry a label that says so. However, there are allegations that some labels might be deceptive or misleading. For example, the product might say Against Animal Testing. However, the testing might have happened in a laboratory hired by the company or their supplier and the company selling it to you, though fully aware, might be just looking the other way because it is convenient.

We spoke to Poorva Joshipura, Chief Functionary, PETA India on some of the issues involved...

How would you define beauty without cruelty?

Beauty is not only skin-deep and there is nothing more beautiful than having compassion for others including animals. There are humane alternatives to testing cosmetics and many companies choose not to test on animals. Every year, millions of animals are poisoned and killed in barbaric tests that were crudely developed as long ago as the 1920s to evaluate the toxicity of consumer products and their ingredients. Rats, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits, and other animals are forced to swallow or inhale massive quantities of a test substance or endure the pain of a chemical eating away at their sensitive eyes and skin. Sadly, this continues even though the results of animal tests are often unreliable or not applicable to humans.

Do you think it is widely practised in India? Do we have a thriving animal-friendly culture in India and our cosmetics industry in particular?

PETA India is working to persuade the Indian government to follow the compassionate example of the European Union (EU), which has implemented a complete ban on the testing of cosmetics on animals within the EU. The EU has also prohibited the marketing of cosmetic products that were tested on animals or contain ingredients tested on animals outside the EU in a rolling ban that began in 2009 and will be complete in 2013 — a prohibition that could harm exports of Indian products as companies here continue to experiment on animals. Our proposal is supported by the Indian Council for Medical Research and is in the best interests of both businesses and animals. For more than a year, PETA has been urging the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to ban the use of animals in product tests, but as of yet, no action has been taken.

The European Union (EU) has implemented a complete ban on using animals to test cosmetics and their ingredients within the EU and introduced a prohibition on companies from marketing and selling cosmetics made outside the EU that contain ingredients tested on animals. There are currently some exceptions to the ban but it is due to become complete in 2013. If the EU can enact regulations that prevent companies poisoning, blinding, and killing rabbits and other animals in product tests, surely India can too.

What do you think can be done to sensitise Indians about animal rights?

PETA India uses investigative work, eye-catching demonstrations, web outreach, special events such as college festivals, involvement of celebrity volunteers and national media coverage to bring about countless improvements to the quality of life for animals and to save countless animals' lives.

What are the alternatives, the humane options?

Instead of measuring how long it takes a chemical to burn away the cornea of a rabbit's eye, manufacturers can now drop that chemical onto donated human corneas. In addition, companies can use computer and mathematical models. They can also use ingredients and chemicals in their products that have already been proved to be harmless and are known to be safe.

Is it true that labels on cosmetic products might be deceptive?

Cosmetics labelled as non-animal tested may still be using ingredients that were tested on animals. Look out for the PETA logo on products to be sure, search for your favourite companies on: http://www.peta.org/living/beauty-and-personal-care/companies/default.aspx. Soon we will be putting a list of Indian companies on PETAIndia.com.

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