Your guide to natural and organic living

Human testing

October 28, 2008

Animal testing (also known as vivisection) was created in order to test the safety of products that would be used on humans. Evidence of the origins of this type of testing date back to Greece in the 2nd and 4th centuries. The Greek philosopher Aristotle was one of the first to practice tests on living animals. These tests were carried out to not only gain biological understanding, but to use this knowledge to help advance medicine.

The realities of animal testing are pretty grim and most people have some knowledge of the types of tests carried out. It is even a subject that has been bought out into the TV series Monkey Dust – Noodles is a rabbit from Warner Bros who lives in an animal testing laboratory.

Thankfully, animal testing is not as common as it use to be. There are several reasons why this is now the case:

  • This information is more accessible to consumers
  • Higher animal welfare standards
  • Developments in science (e.g. the genetic modification of cells)
  • Campaigns from welfare groups
  • Companies changing their approach to the way they deal with suppliers. For example, they will not use any ingredients tested on animals
  • Testing on humans are seen by some as more relevant and funding into alternative testing methods that do not require animals

So with all this talk about testing on humans, how is it actually done?


Irritection is a form of testing carried out in a test tube rather than an animals (usually rabbits) eye. Instead of an eyeball, a clear solution made from vegetable protein is used. This substance is placed into a test tube and the ingredient to be tested is added. If it goes cloudy, it shows that the ingredient could cause an allergic reaction or sensitivity. Scientists say that this reaction (clear to cloudy) resembles that of the human eye.

This form is testing is know as an ‘in vitro’ method because it is carried out in a lab, outside of the body.

Irritection replaces the Draize test which involved a substance being dropped into an animals eye. The eyes were then examined for up to 7 days for varying opacity, ulceration, redness, swelling or discharge.

Patch tests

Patch tests are probably one of the most well known methods of human testing. The product or ingredient is placed into a volunteer’s skin next to a control substance. This control substance is something that has already been tested for safety.

There are 3 basic types of patch test. The first being a short term test where the substance stays on the skin for 48 hours. Then there is a medium term exposure test where it can remain on the skin for up to 2 weeks to mimic the effects of everyday use. The long term testes last for over 6 weeks in order to activate a volunteers immune system.

Human patch tests replace another form of the Draize test (skin irritant test) where part of the animal was shaved for a product to be applied. This area was then watched and examined for irritation.

Growth of human skin (Episkin, Epiderm)

This method of testing was developed by a researchers at L’Orèal laboratories.

Donor skin cells (leftovers from cosmetic surgery) are placed in a dish of collagen. A mixture of sugar, water and animo acids is added in order to make the skin cells grow. 3 days later, the mixture is exposed to the air which causes a rough layer that is similar to skin. A UV light is then shone on the skin to age it, after which the thickness of the skin is about 1.5mm and is ready for testing.

Scientists are not limited to one particular skin type either. Donor cells from people of different ethnicities mean that substances can be tested across a variety of skin tones. Skin pigments called melanocytes can be added to the skin sample to create skin that tans!

Alhough animal testing is still used for food, pesticide and medical research, the development of this skin is also used for chemical testing.

Finding animal friendly products

An important thing to remember when looking for animal friendly products is that just because a product is labeled as not tested on animals, it doesn’t mean that the ingredients haven’t either. If you are unsure and decide to get in touch with a company, ask if either the products or ingredients have been tested.

So how can you tell if a product is cruelty free?

BUAV leaping bunny

One of the most recognised symbols for ‘cruelty free’ is the BUAV bunny. The BUAV (British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection) is an organisation that works worldwide and campaigns to end animal testing. Products that carry this mark are approved under the Humane Cosmetics Standard (HCS) and/or the Humane Household Products Standard (HHPS). The leaping bunny is a guarantee that both your product and it’s ingredient have not been tested on animals.

If there is no BUAV bunny on the side of a product, this does not necessarily mean it has been tested on animals. Look out for phrases such as ‘cruelty free’ and ‘not tested on animals’ on product packaging.


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