Good news: Thanks to biotechnology, it may soon be possible to not use animals in testing cosmetics for skin irritation. From the story in New Scientist:
Stretched taut across the top of a vial, the thin cream-coloured material feels almost like rubber. Barely 1 centimetre in diameter, this is a sample of Episkin – a reconstructed human skin which has been approved for testing if cosmetics are likely to irritate the skin. It is the first complete replacement for animal testing…
Tessonneaud’s team grows the skin layers on collagen, using skin cells called keratinocytes left-over from breast surgery (see Diagram). The team can test the safety of cosmetics by simply smothering the skin in the product. They can then check the proportion of cells that have been killed off by adding a yellow chemical called MTT which turns blue in the presence of living tissue. “To be validated we had to show that we could reproduce results as effectively as animal tests,” says Patricia Pineau, scientific director at L’Oréal. Independent tests showed that in some cases Episkin was able to predict more accurately how a person would react to products than animal tests, she says.
Episkin improves on animal testing in other ways too. For example, it can be adapted to resemble older skin by exposing it to high concentrations of UV light. Adding melanocytes also results in skin that can tan, and by using donor cells from women of different ethnicities, the team has created a spectrum of skin colours which they are using to measure the efficiency of sunblock for different skin tones.
We have a solemn duty to treat animals humanely and not cause them gratuitous suffering. It is thus fully in keeping with human exceptionalism to replace animal testing with ethical alternatives whenever feasible and without substantially compromising human safety and well being.