What cruelty-free cosmetic testing methods are there?

Revivio BioSystems’ Revex chips in the Relego collection device. These work together to constitute an in-vitro cosmetic testing platform. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Revivo BioSystems’ new “organ-on-chip” device contributes to the growing number of cosmetic testing platforms that seek to replace animal testing.

Mr Chan Chung Hou, a senior lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic’s School of Chemical and Life Sciences, said that many of such cruelty-free methods, which have been scientifically validated by various organisations internationally, are cheaper and faster than animal tests.

The Straits Times looks at some alternatives to animal testing.

1. Computer modelling

Computer modelling or in-silico screening can predict how compounds – such as the active ingredients in a cosmetic product – will interact with target proteins in the body.

A 2018 study led by scientists from Johns Hopkins University found that such computer models were able to model a new chemical’s toxicity accurately 87 per cent of the time, higher than the 81 per cent accuracy rate of animal tests.

2. In-vitro testing

In-vitro or “in-glass” tests refer to those that are done in the laboratory using test tubes or petri dishes, for instance, as opposed to those done on animal or human bodies.

These tests typically involve cell cultures, where extracted human cells are grown in artificial environments. The effects of the cosmetic products on these cells are analysed to determine if they are safe and work as they are supposed to.

Skin irritation tests using in-vitro methods are replacing the traditional ones done on rabbits and produce better results, claims Cruelty Free International. In-vitro methods reliably predict the responses of human skin to chemicals 86 per cent of the time, while the traditional tests are only 60 per cent accurate.

Although the effects of cosmetic products on cell cultures in isolation may differ from their effects on the actual human body, the creation of even more sophisticated “organ-on-chip” technologies like the one launched by Revivo BioSystems can further improve the accuracy of in-vitro methods.

3. ‘Microdosing’ human trials

A technique known as “microdosing” can be used in the early stages of cosmetic product development, where volunteers are given an extremely small amount of the product in question, and their bodies’ responses to the product, such as skin reactions, are analysed.

As these microdosing tests seldom provide sufficiently concrete data on their own, they are useful in determining whether a product or drug should be tested on a wider group of human volunteers, and can reduce the number of animal trials conducted.

While the efficacy of microdosing for cosmetic testing is less conclusive, a 2017 study by the University of New South Wales and the University of Tasmania in Australia said the technique, which is more commonly used for drug trials, managed to predict the effects of drugs administered at full dose 80 per cent of the time.

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