Did you know that many cosmetics use animal ingredients or are tested on animals to ensure they're safe for you? Here is the inside story about those fragrant creams and shampoos

Checking your make-up before stepping out? Must look great after contact with the high-end soap, shampoo, foundation, moisturiser, lipstick and the mascara. That whiff of perfume was just the right touch. And men, guess you sloshed a blob of the latest after-shave. Mmm. Maybe you need to have a conversation with people at Beauty without Cruelty (BWC). They'll tell you the inside stories behind those heavenly-smelling creams and gels. Tales of horror.

Before being packed off to supermarket shelves, the chemical formulations you use go through tests for eye/skin irritation, allergic reactions, skin absorption, photo sensitisation/toxicity and intolerance to inhalation. Manufacturers want lipsticks, mouthwashes, toothpastes, shampoos, eyeliners, mascaras, eye/haircare products, hair dye, aftershave, sunscreen lotions, deodorants, air fresheners and insect repellents to be completely safe for you. A responsible thought.

Unspeakable torture

Except for the fact cosmetics companies test them on animals (AT). According to BWC, monkeys, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits and rats put up with unspeakable torture so the products get “harmless for humans” labelling. Testers administer the creams and lotions to the hapless creatures orally, through injection or externally and watch for reactions. For instance, formulations for eyeliners, mascara, shampoo, hair colours, etc. are poured into rabbits' eyes to check for swelling, blinding and other reactions. In what is called a Draize test, the preparation is applied on the shaved skin of the test animal — lipstick on monkeys — to see if it breaks out in a rash or suffers peeling, burning or an allergic eruption. In an absorption test, the liquid is injected and the animal is watched for swelling, blisters, redness. In the photo toxicity test, it is exposed to UV radiation after the compound is applied on normal or sheared skin. In the inhalation test, the doomed critters are shut in an enclosed chamber and have the preparation sprayed on them.

In case you missed the point, all test animals are alive and healthy when they're forced into these trials. It's difficult to imagine them coming forward voluntarily, willingly, to be “guinea pigs” in experiments. Many, as you can guess, do develop very painful reactions, go blind, suffer skin irritation — hey, that's the purpose! BWC tells us about 50 per cent die of what's called the LD50 test. Animals are put down after the tests. You aren't asking why not, are you?

It's inhuman, and more tragically, animal testing isn't completely reliable, say activists. Results can be misleading, since animal reactions could differ from those of humans. They cite the examples of thalidomide and clioquinol, the wonder drugs that turned out to be deadly. Also, people do suffer side-effects to prescription drugs, which undergo AT.

Another point. You may be vegetarian, your cosmetics are not. Castoreum, collagen, elastin, glycerine, lanolin, pristane, keratin and silk oil/powder are cosmetics ingredients derived from animals. Your bindi may have animal glue, kajal-estrogen, moisturisers-serum albumen, shampoo-Spanish fly and ox spleen, soap-tallow, toothpaste-animal bone ash, perfumes-civet/musk/ambergris. Without pearlessence from fish scales, our lip gloss will have no gloss. Cerebrosides — “raw material for which comes from cattle, oxen, or swine brain cells or other nervous-system tissues” (says FDA) — make the skin surface smoother, improve moisture retention, heighten “luminosity”.

Cruelty-free?

Following public backlash and government action, most multinational cosmetics manufacturers claim animals aren't used in their safety testing. But trading standards and consumer protection laws in most countries require them to show their products are not toxic, the ingredients are not dangerous. Can they use tissue culture and computer models instead? When a label says “not tested on animals” it could mean the finished product doesn't involve animal participation, but not the compounds that make it up. We can never be sure it's cruelty-free.

“Animals have rights,” say Amruta Ubale, Education Officer and Geetha Jaikumar of BWC. It's unlikely that manufacturers test products or extract substances from animals without causing pain or harm. “As a consumer, don't allow exploitation of animals,” says Geetha. “Adopt a compassionate lifestyle.”

We can do away with this barbaric practice by switching to plant derivatives. We've used them for centuries. . Our kajal, hairwash powders, toothpastes and aloe-vera moisturisers have no chemicals and need no animal testing.

FACT FILE

The leaping-bunny logo is international symbol for “no AT”.

Animal testing of cosmetics is banned in many EU countries.

It is not banned in India. Check products, read ingredients labels before buying.