As we slap on those expensive cosmetics do we realise that many of them are tested for safety, often in the most cruel manner, on hapless animals? Hema Vijay says it’s time consumers shunned animal-tested products

Imagine extremely concentrated shampoo (that is around five times as concentrated as the actual product that enters the market) being poured into your eyes, with your eyelids pulled wide apart and clipped back to ensure they are immobile. Or huge quantities of concentrated mouthwash or liquid lipstick forced down your throat… Well, many of the cosmetics out there in the market have been tested in this ruthless fashion on hapless rabbits, mice and the like.

Obviously, there is nothing beautiful about allowing animals to be subjected to cruelty. Yet, we have for long allowed gruesome animal testing of cosmetics to check out the toxicity of the ingredients used in their manufacture, so that the products that make us look beautiful are safe, sans side effects.

The power of choice

The recent ruling by the Bureau of Indian Standards may have banned animal testing of cosmetics manufactured in our country, but what will ultimately ensure cruelty (animal testing) is not an ingredient in cosmetics is when the consumers do their bit. “Cosmetics firms may or may not abide by the law; but they will certainly consider consumer trends and choices, because their success and profit are determined by these factors,” points out Alokparna Sengupta, manager, Humane Society International-India’s ‘Be Cruelty-Free’ campaign, and one of the organisations responsible for the imposition of the ban on animal testing of cosmetics in the country. But, as the ban does not apply to cosmetics made in countries that allow animal testing from lining our shop racks, it has triggered a campaign by the Humane Society International - India, CPREEC, the Blue Cross Federation of India and other organisations, urging the government to disallow the import and sale of animal-tested cosmetics made outside the country. Informs Alokparna: “This is already the norm in many countries such as Israel and the EU.” Until such measures our implemented in our country, how do we choose personal care products that don’t subject animals to torture?

“There are over a thousand cosmetics firms that manufacture products without animal testing. So, we do have a choice,” says Nanditha Krishna, director, CPREEC. Herbal products are a safer bet, as they don’t have a history of animal testing. An offbeat strategy that is extremely safe for animals (and for us) is to use almonds, aloe vera, fruit pulp, milk cream and turmeric to concoct our own herbal cosmetics.

Consumer activism

A simple way of fighting animal cruelty in cosmetics is by opting for products that have a logo/certification specifying that the products did not involve animal testing, such as the ‘Leaping Bunny’ logo, a European Union certification or the ‘Choose Cruelty Free’, an Australian certification. There is no Indian certification we could look for, as India is yet to have a certifying body. These logos would be featured either on the packaging or the container. Sometimes, the products could just sport a self-certifying claim. “In the absence of valid logos, and in the case of non-conclusive, circumventive or ambiguous claims on the product such as ‘animal-friendly’, consumers can write to these cosmetics companies, asking them about the testing process they employ for the ingredients as well as the final product. This would make cosmetic firms sit up and take notice”, says Meenakshi Sinha, member, Beauty Without Cruelty. For instance, a cosmetics firm may have got its ingredient supplier to do the animal testing, and simply claim that it has not animal-tested the final product. However, if the product doesn’t even sport a self-certifying claim, then it probably has gone through animal testing. Consumers could also report to the Bureau of Indian Standards (in the case of Indian-manufactured cosmetics), or alert organisations such as the HSI International, which is monitoring this issue.

Today, technology has given us the power to step into the third rung of the 3R principle: Reduce, Refine and ultimately Replace animal testing with other testing methodology. There are alternatives to animal testing, such as human tissue culture and using donated human cornea instead of live rabbits and evaluation by digital simulation. But ultimately, it is us users who can ensure that animal cruelty-free cosmetics are a reality.

What you can do

- Check out sites like Leaping Bunny, PETA and Humane Society International for listings of animal cruelty-free cosmetics and related information.

- To show your support for ending the sale of animal-tested cosmetics in India, you could sign a ‘Be Cruelty-Free pledge’ or just give a missed call to 080-4931-1223.