Animal Testing in Cosmetics

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Before a thorough analysis of the public policy can be done, it is important to understand why this topic is a social problem worthy of discussion. Animal testing is defined as, Use of animals in experiments and development projects usually to determine toxicity, dosing and efficacy of test drugs before proceeding to human clinical trials (Animal Testing). The use of animal testing dates back to the earliest time in history.

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The earliest evidence of animal testing is from descriptions of the dissection of live animals in 500 BC from Greek writings. During this time, animals were being used in an attempt to discover the functions of living organisms (Procon). The use of animals in cosmetic testing began in the 1940’s as a result of the tipping point in which hundreds of people suffered from serious injuries after being exposed to unsafe beauty products. This was mainly caused by the passing of the U.S. Food, Drug, and Cosmetics Act (FD&C) in 1938, which increased guidelines on the safety of cosmetic products. In reaction to this act, many companies looked to animals in order to test their products and meet the new safety guidelines (National Anti-Vivisection Society).

Beginning in the 2000’s, many companies have started to stop using animal testing on their products, largely due to complaints by customers. In 2014, the Humane Cosmetics Act, HR 4148, was introduced by Republican congressman Jim Moran. This bill aims to ensure that animals are not harmed in the manufacturing of cosmetic products, and is the first federal bill to be introduced to prohibit animal testing for cosmetics produced and sold in the United States (The Humane Society). Despite continued widespread support, this bill has not received a hearing on the floor, so no significant progress has been made in the passing of this bill.

There are two sides to this policy debate. One side is that animal testing for cosmetics should be legal, while the other is that animal testing for cosmetics should be banned. On one hand, some believe that animal testing for cosmetics should be legal because it is necessary in order to prove the safety of cosmetic products. Additionally, scientists state that animals are the closest bodies to humans and thus can most effectively produce accurate results on the safety of products. On the other hand, some believe that animal testing for cosmetics should be banned because it is cruel and inhumane.

Those who are against animal testing argue that new technology has been developed and now provides better alternatives to animal testing. In addition, many say that it is unnecessary because an abundant amount of ingredients have already been proven safe to use in cosmetics, so there is no need to continue to test new ingredients. The side that is for animal testing wants to keep the current laws and does not want any new laws to be passed. In contrast, the side that is against animal testing wants to pass new laws to ban animal testing in cosmetics (Procon). This is a social problem because there is an element of harm to thousands of animals who are being used in the testing.

Additionally, it impacts people who do not know each other because people across the world have very strong beliefs on the issue. It has also spanned generations and elicits political action because the government must decide on public policy in order to solve the social problem. Subjectively, many people believe that animal testing is unethical because animals are being tortured for cosmetic gains, while others believe that the testing is necessary for advancement in cosmetic products.

On the other side, objectively, many animals have died of torture while products are being tested on them, but many discoveries have been made with the results. Each year, over 100,000 animals are killed in the United States for cosmetic testing, but thousands of ingredients and new products are being produced as a result of these testings. (Humane Society International). Another objective condition is that many alternatives to animal testing have been created and are proven to be just as effective. For example, when using in-vitro testing, the accuracy of the safety results went from just 60% with animal testing to 80-90% using this alternative method (New England…).

The core value tension represented by the debate over animal testing for cosmetics is law vs. ethics. Law vs. ethics essentially means that the laws that govern the country and the ethical principles that guide one’s behavior are not always in harmony. However, these tensions can help to improve the legal system and keep it in line with society’s changing ethics (Mckown, 2018). In animal testing for cosmetics specifically, the laws are clear in that there are no bans on animal testing and therefore it is allowed.

However, according to a 2017 Gallup study, 44% of American adults think that animal testing is unethical, which is up significantly from 26% in 2001 (Swetlitz, 2017). This demonstrates the tension between citizens ethical beliefs and the laws that are governing them. As the percentage of Americans against animal testing increases, the laws are likely to move towards animal testing becoming illegal. Animal testing in the cosmetic industry continues to be relevant today through regulations, state laws being passed, and national bills being proposed. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for the enforcement of the FD&C Act to ensure that cosmetics are safe and properly labeled. The FD&C Act does not specifically require the use of animals for testing ingredients for cosmetics, but it also does not ban it. Under the current law, it is up to the cosmetic companies to establish the safety of the ingredients and finished cosmetic product in whichever way they choose (U.S. Food & Drug Administration).

Additionally, on August 24, 1966 the Animal Welfare Act was passed, which is the only Federal law that regulates the treatment of animals in research. This law sets up a minimum acceptable standard of treatment towards animals, but has highly criticized by activist groups against animal testing that it is to lax and not enforced well (United States Department of Agriculture). On August 31, 2018, California passed the Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act, which banned all beauty products that were tested on animals, or include ingredients tested on animals, by 2020. This makes California the first U.S. state to take this step to end animal testing in cosmetics. This type of legislation has been proposed in numerous states and to Congress, but California is the first state to actually pass a law (Mackenzie, 2018). The major key players involved include the U.S. Congress, who passed the FD&C Act with the FDA being responsible for enforcing the law, and California’s State Assembly, as they have passed the Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act. Stakeholders in this issue will be affected both socially and economically by any policy made on animal testing for cosmetics. The stakeholders are cosmetics companies, as this will affect their business, especially the ones who have not already chosen to go cruelty-free.

Animal rights activist groups are also stakeholders because they want to see cruelty-free laws passed in all states, especially in Congress, and also want to see California’s law succeed. This social problem is prevalent in the national, state, and local levels of government as they all have the power to pass laws and regulations regarding the use of animal testing in cosmetics. This social problem is in the policy formulation phase because various public policies are being drafted to replace the current laws under the FD&C Act. The issue of animal testing has been around for centuries, with the more specific issue of animal testing in cosmetics being around since the mid-1900’s.

This has become a highly debated social problem, with policy proposals on both sides of the issue, but no significant progress has been made. In order to make an educated decision about the proper policy response, it is necessary to understand the depth of the social and economic impacts that each policy proposition for those for and against animal testing would have on society. Social Analysis Now that the social problem and public policy debate has been presented, it is fitting to conduct an analysis of the social implications of animal testing for cosmetics.

Analyzing the issue of animal testing for cosmetics from a sociological perspective is very important because it allows the connections between individual people and the structures of society in which they live in to be evaluated. Applying both the Structural Functionalism Theory and the Conflict Theory is useful in gaining insight on the sociological implications of animal testing for cosmetics. It is also necessary to analyze the social costs and benefits of the policy recommendation on both sides of the issue. To begin a social analysis of animal testing for cosmetics, the Structural Functionalism theory can be applied. Structural Functionalism revolves around the idea of stability. Structural Functionalists view society as stable and well integrated with the social institutions and structures being what is keeping society running (Mckown, 2018).

This means that each social institution plays a role in an individual’s socialization and therefore has important contributions to society. Family provides a context for reproducing, nurturing, and socializing children; education offers a way to transmit a society’s skills, knowledge, and culture to its youth; politics provides a means of governing members of society; economics provides for the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services; and religion provides moral guidance and an outlet for worship of a higher power (Schacht, Knox, and Mooney, 2007).

One social institution in this scenario is the government, as the government is expected to pass laws and regulations in response to social problems, including on the safety of cosmetic products and the standard of testing required. Another social institution is the family and peer groups, as they play a major role in the environment that one grew up in and largely helped to shape the morals and values that an individual holds.

This includes whether or not one thinks it is morally acceptable to test cosmetic products on animals (Shuppli and Ormandy, 2014). Viewing this social problem through social pathology, this issue is caused by a ?sickness’ in society, which is caused by issues within the social institutions that lead to improper socialization. In this case, the side that is against the use of animal testing may see the social problem as being caused by improper socialization by family and religion by making it seem as if animal testing is morally just. On the other side, those who are against animal testing for cosmetics may argue that the changing values in the younger generation is a ?sickness’ causing the increased arguments against animal testing for cosmetics.

Viewing this as social disorganization, the macroeconomic viewpoint, rapid change in society is causing problems, which could lead to a state of anomie and a loss of social control (Mckown, 2018). A May 2013 Gallup poll found that 56% of Americans say medical testing on animals is morally acceptable (down from 65% in 2001), with 39% saying it is morally wrong (ProCon, 2016). This is likely due to the fact that younger Americans are less likely to support animal testing in general, which is leading to rapid change in society’s viewpoints and causing the increase in the percentage of the public that is against animal testing. This social problem can be further analyzed through the application of the Conflict Theory.

The Conflict Theory views society as being characterized by competition and inequality. Theorists believe that society is divided between the dominants (one’s who have power) and subordinates (ones without power). The dominant generally want to maintain their power and privilege, either directly or indirectly (McKown, 2018). This applies to the issue of animal testing for cosmetics as the large cosmetic companies are the dominant group, as they have the money and power within the industry. Individual people against animal testing and the animals are a part of the subordinate group, as they have little power. For example, Este Lauder has an estimated 49.05 Billion dollar net worth and is a company that continues to test their products on animals (Macro Trends). Cosmetic companies in the US spend about 16 Billion dollars each year on animal testing, with Este Lauder contributing significantly to that value (Terrance, 2010). Cruelty Free International, the leading non-profit organization working to end animal experimentation, makes significantly less money than these major cosmetic companies like Este Lauder.

The non-marxist approach says that social problems arise due to conflicting values and interests. In this scenario, the social problem of animal testing for cosmetics has arisen because the two sides have very different values: one side values cosmetic advancement and does not see the significance of using animals as test subjects, whereas the other side values animal rights and treating all living beings equally (Shatzman, 2018). These different values demonstrate the inequalities in the debate, as it is clear that the cosmetic companies have more power in their impact when compared to the activist groups against animal testing.

Furthermore, the social costs and benefits of this social problem must be analyzed to fully understand the social implications of animal testing for cosmetics. If the United States Congress passed the Humane Cosmetics Act making animal testing for cosmetics illegal, the manifest social impacts would be that animals would no longer be used in cosmetic testing and the cosmetic industry would become a cruelty-free industry. However, the latent social impacts could be that individuals will no longer be able to purchase products that they have been using for a duration of time and love due to those products containing ingredients that were tested on animals (The Humane Society…, 2015).

On the other hand, if the United States Congress passed a law making animal testing for cosmetics legal, the manifest social impacts would be that the use of cosmetic animal testing would increase. However, the latent social impacts could be that the development of technological alternatives will decrease as their will become less of a push for the innovations (Katsnelson, 2013). In conclusion, thinking like a sociologist allows for the impact of animal testing for cosmetics to be better understood.

First, it is important to understand the application of the Structural Functionalism Theory and and the impacts of the contributions of specific social structure/institutions on society. The Conflict Theory can also be applied, which analyzes the impact of competition and inequality within society between the dominant and subordinate groups. Lastly, the social costs and benefits should be examined in order to have a full understanding of the social implications on both sides of the problem. To further understand animal testing in the cosmetic industry and the best policy for addressing this social problem, it is also imperative that economic costs and benefits be analyzed.

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Animal Testing In Cosmetics. (2019, Apr 12). Retrieved March 22, 2023 , from

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