China is home to one of the world’s largest cosmetics markets, valued at £21.6 billion. It is also one of the few countries which still requires that all cosmetics sold there are tested on animals.
The reasons why are complicated. China has gained a reputation for fakes and poor quality products, something which the government has come under fire for. Although there are now many viable alternatives to animal testing, Chinese labs generally don’t have the required training and certifications to carry out these methods. As a result, animal testing is still required for safety reasons. PETA has estimated that over 300,000 animals were used in Chinese cosmetic tests in 2013 alone.
But there are signs that the tide may be turning. Many ethical companies refuse to sell in China because they would be required to pay the Chinese government to test their products on animals. Meanwhile, companies which do sell in China are not considered cruelty-free and may be boycotted even by consumers in other countries.
As a result, the country has come under pressure to change. Cosmetics companies and non-profit organisations are teaching Chinese scientists to conduct alternative methods of testing, and China has abolished the requirement for certain cosmetics to be tested on animals if they are produced domestically (though the old laws still apply to all other products). In 2016, the Chinese regulator accepted the results of a non-animal test for the first time.
In September 2017, the Zhejiang Institute for Food and Drug Control opened a lab dedicated to training scientists to test on reconstructed skin cells – living cells from donors – instead of animals. This may involve a layer of cells in a petri dish, or a more complicated 3D model which mimics human tissue.
It’s still early days, but it seems there may be hope for the thousands of animals currently subjected to cruel tests in Chinese laboratories. Perhaps it won’t be too long before China joins the growing ranks of countries which have banned the testing of cosmetics on animals.