When entrepreneur Phoebe Song launched her organic and vegan skin care line, she had big plans to sell worldwide, including in China, the world’s largest consumer market.
But she stopped coldly after learning that the Chinese government had made animal testing mandatory for imported cosmetics and skin care products.
“As a vegan brand, we’re really not cool with animals getting sprayed on their faces,” said Song, owner of Snow Fox Skincare. “It sucks, because China is a huge market… it’s a lot of money.
Brent Lewin | Bloomberg | Getty Images
China is requiring skin care and cosmetics companies to submit to mandatory animal testing in government labs before regulators approve products for sale in the country. For brands like Song’s Snow Fox, the regulations mean either allowing animal testing or losing access to a market worth $ 29 billion last year, according to Euromonitor.
None of those companies, among the top foreign cosmetics and skin care companies selling in China, responded to a request for comment.
These companies say online that they do not perform animal testing, but include language indicating that exceptions are made where appropriate. For example, Estée Lauder says he “doesn’t do animal testing and we never ask others to do it on our behalf,” according to a statement posted on his website. “If a regulator requires it for their safety or regulatory assessment, an exception can be made.”
A 2013 estimate from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals found that China’s mandatory regulations have led companies to test products on up to 300,000 animals, according to the organization’s senior vice president Kathy Guillermo , who explained that an animal is killed after a test. .
While there are other ways to test the safety of beauty products, such as using 3D fabric models, experts said China is currently lacking in know-how.
“They are completely behind in learning the new science,” said Erin Hill, president of the US-based Institute of In Vitro Sciences, which trains Chinese government scientists in the new methods. The IIVS is also partnering with companies, including foreign brands in China, to work on non-animal testing procedures.
A change is happening: At the end of last year, the government decided to accept safety data collected through a non-animal testing method, the 3T3 phototoxicity test, which measures the safety of a chemical after exposure to light. The government has not said whether this test is still in use.
And in some provinces, companies nationally manufacturing ordinary products, like lotions and soap, can now apply for waivers of animal testing requirements.
L’Oréal is one of the companies taking advantage, and some of its products, such as shampoo and shower gel, are no longer tested on animals in China, according to its website.
But China’s murky regulatory environment is difficult to navigate, and experts have said obtaining such approvals can be patchy.
“It’s a big job to make that change – it’s about having the right labs, the people skilled in these different methods, and access to the equipment and supplies you need,” he said. Hill said.
Pressure is mounting for China to adapt, as animal testing is banned in more and more jurisdictions, including Europe, Australia, India and Israel. In the United States, it has long been abandoned from standard practice.
Additionally, if domestic Chinese companies wish to sell overseas – especially to countries where such testing is no longer permitted – they will need to prove the safety of their products by non-animal methods.
The national regulator China Food and Drug Administration did not respond to a request for comment.
For Hong Kong-based Song, she simply decided not to sell her vegan products in China for now, despite the market potential. But sticking out sometimes means consumers don’t let it go much.
“They say, ‘You’re supposed to be a big global brand – what global brand doesn’t have sales channels in China? The song said. “And we have to explain that it’s because we really don’t want to torture rabbits.”