Why do companies test cosmetics or other products on animals?

Poster showing before and after images of a woman Lash Lure made blind.

This 1930s poster warns consumers of the dangers of Lash Lure. Image courtesy of the FDA.

Drugs and cosmetics contain chemicals that can have dangerous side effects. U.S. law has required animal safety testing of drugs and cosmetics since 1938 when Congress passed the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act in response to public outcry after several tragic incidents involving untested products. In the 1930s more than a dozen women went blind because of Lash Lure, a mascara that was made with a chemical that could burn the skin. One woman had such severe burns that she died due to infection. In 1937, more that 100 people died after taking a new cough syrup called Elixir Sulfanilamide because the medicine was dissolved in diethylene glycol, which is toxic.

Today the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversees the safety of cosmetics, drugs, medical devices, and foods. Other federal agencies require safety tests for products that will be used in the home, workplace, and the environment. These agencies together with industry work to develop ways to get reliable drug and product safety data through non-animal tests or tests that minimize the number of animals needed. Once it can be shown that new tests are as effective as the current ones, government agencies can approve their use to replace animal tests.

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