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The use of animals in cosmetic testing (including REACH regulation)

The testing of cosmetics on animals

  1. In many countries around the world testing cosmetic products (and their ingredients) on animals is banned. This includes the UK, where a ban came into place in 1998. In the EU the marketing of cosmetic products containing ingredients tested on animals was banned in 2013.
  2. For cosmetic ingredients already on the market before the ban on animal testing, historic safety data is often available for many of the ingredients used. For new ingredients, non-animal approaches are used for evaluating consumer safety and many companies have made significant financial and research investment to continue to add to this toolbox of non-animal safety approaches focusing on human-relevant models.
  3. Manufacturers also have a responsibility for the safety not only of those consumers who use the cosmetics, but the workers who produce them. Recently Cruelty Free International has taken the government to court about the issuing of licences to use animals for the testing of cosmetics for this purpose despite the overall ban in the UK, arguing that much of the assurance about safety can be achieved without using animals. The government’s position was upheld in order to meet the requirements of other regulations.

REACH regulation

  1. Whilst the testing of animals is not permitted to determine the safety of cosmetics ingredients for consumers, there are some circumstances where there may be a mandatory requirement for testing of the ingredients in animals under other regulations, for example to ensure the safety of the workers that manufacture the products. In the EU these legal requirements are set out in the REACH regulation [1]. The EU REACH regulation was replicated in UK law upon EU-exit (known as “UK REACH”) in January 2021.
  2. Requests for new animal toxicity tests of cosmetics ingredients – including those that have been used safely in consumer products for many years – are being made to meet the REACH requirements. There has been debate around whether these tests are always necessary to ensure worker safety, as there are strict manufacturing processes which restrict the worker’s exposure, for example through automation, engineering controls and the wearing of PPE.
  3. There is an obligation under the REACH regulation for companies to only conduct animal tests as a ‘last resort’. There is a great deal of investment into finding alternatives and providing the evidence to support changes to regulations requiring animal tests in the assurance of chemical safety, led by a range of organisations including the NC3Rs.
  4. The scientific community is concerned about the conflicting requirements in Europe, and consumer products companies and cosmetic ingredient manufacturers have started to challenge requests from European authorities to test their product ingredients on animals (e.g. Symrise in 2021).

The NC3Rs position

  1. Consumers using cosmetics have been protected for over a decade using historic safety information and non-animal approaches for safety assessment purposes. The same principles should apply to the safety of workers and testing under REACH using animals should only happen in exceptional circumstances for cosmetic ingredients.


“The public will be rightly concerned about what appears to be a lifting of the cosmetics testing ban. Non-animal alternatives are available and there needs to be urgent dialogue about why these are not considered suitable for protecting workers’ safety and what needs to be put in place to avoid an increase in animal testing in this area.” 

Dr Vicky Robinson, Chief Executive, NC3Rs.

  1. Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 18 December 2006 concerning the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH). The aim of the REACH regulation is to protect human health and the environment from the risks posed by chemicals. It sets out the information requirements that must be fulfilled by manufacturing companies. The extent of toxicity data required depends on the quantity in which the chemical is produced. Much of the toxicity data submitted for REACH registration purposes continues to be generated in animal studies. Examples of studies that may be conducted include acute (for which lethality can be the endpoint), repeated dose, developmental/reproductive toxicity in rodents, as well as acute and long-term toxicity and bioaccumulation in fish.