THE words ‘not tested on animals’ may suggest that a cosmetic is ethically produced.
However, it could also conceal the fact that the product’s individual ingredients have, in fact, been subjected to animal testing.
Dr Laura Waters, course leader for pharmaceutical science at the University of Huddersfield, and a winner of a British Science Association award says: “I never realised this until I started looking into it.
“Animal testing of cosmetics has been banned here for some time, but it’s not that black and white. Some substances can be used for both cosmetic and medical purposes and it’s not illegal to test these on animals.”
Examples of this are the botulinum toxin and collagen which are both used to suppress wrinkles – treatments that are becoming increasingly popular.
Of course, many cosmetics contain substances that were, in the past, tested on animals.
Laura is herself disapproving of the use of animals for cosmetic testing and also wants to see more research and investment in finding alternatives to animal testing of medicines.
Her particular field of expertise includes looking for ways for medicines to penetrate the skin – a mechanism that is surprisingly difficult to achieve. Laura and her team use artificial silicon membranes that mimic skin – there is no animal testing at Huddersfield University. Computer modelling also plays a major part in modern research.
Laura recently won her award from the British Science Association in recognition of the quality of her research and the way she engages the public in her work.
She appeared recently on Kill It, Cut It, Use It on BBC 3, with presenter Julia Bradbury, explaining how lanolin, a by-product of the wool industry, is used in moisturisers. She has been invited to address British Science Association members at the British Science Festival in Bradford this September. Laura’s topic will be ‘Do we still need animal testing for medicines?’ The lecture will also cover the ethics of animal testing on cosmetics.
She will be giving a lecture on the same subject on July 14 at the Otley Courthouse – the event is run under the auspices of the Café Scientifique organisation, which exists to bridge the gap between scientists and ordinary members of the public.
Laura is eager to engage those of us in the non-scientific community.
She said: “I think you should be able to justify your science if you expect people to put money in research and we should communicate back what we are doing. I like the challenge because it reminds me of what I am doing and why I am doing it.”
Laura will be arguing that although animal testing of drugs is a legal requirement it’s not always valid.
“Humans and animals do not always react the same when given a drug,” she says, pointing to the example of thalidomide, which had horrific unwanted side effects when given to humans.
And she says that even people who are in favour of animal testing of drugs find it difficult to justify the testing of cosmetics.
But for the moment researchers like Laura feel that more work is needed to perfect alternatives for the pharmaceutical industry. Her team has made an application for funding to develop a chemical mimic of a human prostate.
“Human and animal prostates have different pH values so it’s not beneficial to test prostate drugs on animals,” she says.
For details of how to see Laura on July 14 check out www.cafescientifique.org/otley