China is a huge country with a population approaching 1.5 billion people. The Chinese middle class is growing and millions of Chinese consumers desire the latest big-name brand perfumes, lotions and cosmetics that the rest of us enjoy.
The latest figures are yet to be published, but the Chinese market is now almost certainly the largest cosmetics market in the world, having recently overtaken the United States.
China And Animal Testing
Understandably, most European and American big brand names want to import and sell their cosmetics products in China. They stand to make huge profits because the market there is enormous, enthusiastic and growing.
But in China, animal tests are performed on all imported cosmetics. Foreign importers spend around $2500 per product they import to have it tested on animals and gain the necessary Chinese certification. In fact, China inflicted suffering and death on 300,000 animals such as rabbits and mice in 2013 in animal testing labs, financed by foreign importers.
China has seen numerous food and drug scandals in recent years, so safety is now a top priority for the government.
However, recently China dropped the animal testing requirement for foreign cosmetics as long as they were manufactured in China. But even this did not guarantee that animals would not be harmed, as the Chinese still could still exercise post-market testing.
Post market testing is where any cosmetic sold in a physical shop in China can be taken from the shelves and tested on animals. Usually post-market testing takes place after a consumer complaint or at the whim of local government authorities.
Animal Testing Hurts Animals And Sales
But as animal testing is only required for cosmetics made outside China, the idea that the testing is all about human health and safety seems disingenuous to me. It appears more likely, at least in part, to be about trade.
If foreign companies want to sell cosmetics in China, in a shop, the products must be tested on animals. Cosmetic companies can only avoid this by selling online through say Amazon, or by having a physical shop presence in Hong Kong, thus avoiding the Chinese mainland.
It seems to me to be anti-fair trade because the sale of skin-care products and perfumes in China hurts domestic sales of the foreign companies that choose to sell physically sell in China.
Selling In China Hurts Sales
At home, ethical consumers won’t buy plant-based products that also sell in China. The general public have heard that selling in China negates any cruelty-free status a product may have enjoyed. Therefore, the decision by some ethical companies to trade physically in China has led significant numbers of buyers in domestic markets to boycott once loved products.
Not Selling in China Hurts Sales
On the other side of the coin, truly ethical companies are losing out on sales by not selling physically in China. True, they can sell online without being required to animal test, but sales stagnate without a physical presence in the splendid Chinese shopping malls.
Which Perfumes Do I Buy?
When I lived in Brussels in the late 1980s, and long before I was vegan, I learned to love great perfumes. I used to use perfumes like YSL Paris and Chanel No 5. My favourite fragrance of all time was the gorgeous Lumière by Rochas.
More recently, and with my plant-based head on, my favourite brands of perfume are those from :
Thanks to EU legislation and the personal ethics of the brand founders, none of those listed above test finished products on animals, nor, as far as I know, do they test, nor require the testing of any individual ingredients, on animals.
But both L’Occitane and Jo Malone sell products in China. Consequently, I decided to no longer buy products from Jo Malone nor L’Occitane.
When I wrote to L’Occitane about this issue they told me that they preferred to be in the conversation with China, trying to change their minds, rather than not be involved at all. But unfortunately this meant agreeing and paying to torture animals with their products.
Stella McCartney And L’Erbolario
I discovered that Stella McCartney and L’Erbolario do not sell in China. So I’ve been buying from exclusively from them. If you do not know or use these brands, I’ve linked to them on Amazon below where you will find them.
The perfume, Stella is stunning – people are always asking me which perfume am I wearing as it smells so wonderful. The L’Erbolario range is from a rich, luxurious plant-based perfume house near Milan in Italy. Their fragrances can only be described as what you might experience in a Heavenly scented garden.
Both Stella McCartney and L’Erbolario have been extremely vocal regarding animal welfare. Stella McCartney is a well-known advocate of animal rights and as a fashion designer does not use animal derivatives such as leather in her designs. However in her clothing range, she does use wool.
What About The EU?
It is important to understand that animal testing is still condoned in the EU for products like household detergents and pharmaceuticals. However the 2013 EU legislation bans animal testing for cosmetics. It is now illegal to sell animal-tested cosmetics in the EU, even if testing was performed outside the EU.
So if cosmetics businesses want access to the 500 million people in the EU, they have to comply. This has led to testing practices and innovations, which have turned out to be better, cheaper – and of course more ethical – than animal testing.
While this is good news, the EU is still responsible for the largest animal testing program in the world. It is called REACH (
Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals). EU law requires animal testing to be carried out on every chemical used in Europe.
Unfortunately, some chemicals only used in cosmetics are still being tested on animals, despite the 2013 EU ruling banning this activity. The argument goes that workers who handle large quantities of the chemicals while making cosmetics, are not using the chemicals , cosmetically, and may be in danger. For this reason, they argue that animal testing is required and tests are being carried out.
So not really then. A real ban on animal testing can only be considered a work in progress. And certainly we are a long way away from banning animal testing across the board, for all products.
China Stops Animal Testing?
There were recent headlines that suggested China was no longer carrying out animal testing. However on closer inspection it turns out they are simply moving that way. They are not there yet. Some of the structures required for non-animal testing to happen are being put in place and less emphasis is being placed on animal testing of finished products.
The Chinese government signed a memorandum of understanding with an organization committed to non-animal tests.
They said that post-market testing for imported and domestic finished cosmetics will no longer require animal testing. But nothing was said about pre-marketing testing which forms part of a process of product acceptance into the Chinese market.
So, until it is banned totally and for all cosmetics, maybe stick to the brands that don’t sell physically in China.