Ethical Issues of Animal Research in Cosmetic Firm

Subject: Sociology
Pages: 10
Words: 2819
Reading time:
10 min
Study level: Master


The cosmetic industry is a complicated area with a list of unique, controversial ethical issues involved. Such businesses need to balance between the usage of potentially harmful chemicals and the production of safe and environmentally friendly goods and services. Substances used during manufacturing and innovative research represent a threat to both final customers and employees. Therefore, it is necessary to obtain sufficient knowledge about the potential harms or possible side effects of cosmetic products. Animal testing is one of the most effective methods in studying the possible impact of such substances on living organisms and particularly humans.

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Animal research (AR) has made an outstanding contribution to the development of medicine, cosmetic technologies, and many other industries involving the use of chemicals by final customers. Even though animal testing has been an inseparable part of progress for centuries, it may represent some worrying problems. With the development of ethics and ethical frameworks, it becomes more and more obvious that AR contains ethical and even practical issues. Animal testing of innovative products is widely considered to be inhuman and immoral, as in many cases, such substances may be harmful or even lethal towards the animal. Moreover, animals are not able to give consent or refuse. Hence AR is an even more considerable moral issue.

Most companies in the cosmetic industry face the reality of the above-mentioned ethical issue. A wide list of considerable values may be at stake, and diverse forces may influence the decision. AR is an extremely controversial subject as both employees involved in the industry and ordinary people tend to take opposing sides and distinct points of view. According to some studies, approximately half of the public supports AR, whereas the other half believes animal testing is inappropriate (Joffe et al., 2016). Furthermore, many respondents agreed on unethical aspects of animal experiments when alternative research methods were introduced. However, medical students were significantly more supportive of AR with almost eighty percent of respondents and, in most cases, did not change their opinion after the introduction of counterarguments (Joffe et al., 2016). Such data shows that the issue divides people into two opposing groups, and arguments both against and in favor of AR may find public support. For cosmetic companies, these study results may indicate that there is a rising amount of potential customers who are greatly concerned about the ethics of animal experiments. Therefore, it may be possible to introduce animal-friendly products. Even though such products require higher costs due to alternative testing, there may be potential clients who would pay extra for ethical reasons.

Most studies cover AR as an extremely unethical method, which needs to be strictly limited or even prohibited by the law. Even though alternative methods may be costly and ineffective, it is necessary to legally force companies to develop these alternatives. There is also a specific ethical framework designed to morally justify animal testing. The framework includes six principles, which should be followed in order to minimize ethical issues related to AR. These principles are divided into two groups, including principles of social benefit and principles of animal welfare. The above-mentioned framework plays a crucial role in modern AR. The abundance of various methods, opposing opinions, emerging problems, and diverse justification approaches makes animal experiments a relevant ethical issue, which should be considered by cosmetic companies.


In 2005 two cosmetic companies were found in Germany called Tierforshung and Umweltfreundlich. These companies produced relatively similar products and were actively competing over market shares. Both organizations utilized animal testing in order to produce safe cosmetics with minimal costs. As time went by, animal research was becoming a more and more concerning problem on the governmental level. Many citizens demonstrated disapproval of such research and testing methods putting pressure on the government. By 2010 several organizations established in order to prevent cruelty to animals. Animal research in the cosmetic industry particularly became a big concern for these organizations. Under the prevailing circumstances, the government developed new legislation regarding animal abuse. These restrictions raised the issue of animal experiments in the cosmetic industry as an agenda item.

According to the governmental decision, Tierforshung and Umweltfreundlich were obliged to pay extra taxes to conduct AR. In addition, a strict set of limitations was introduced to reduce inhumane actions in animal testing. Tierforshung seemed to agree with the regulation when in reality, the company violated the legislation and was hiding the amount of AR to reduce taxes and costs. Umweltfreundlich had no evidence of these illegal actions, yet its management understood that it is not possible to legally introduce competitive enough cosmetics. The company’s management developed three possible alternative decisions to the problem. The first alternative was to continue AR in accordance with the law. Higher prices would make it impossible to stay competitive, yet the company may be able to focus on its loyal consumers and maintain a small fraction of the market share. The second possibility was to pursue the same illegal methods as Tierforshung applied. The last proposed decision involved total rejection of animal testing and the development of alternative methods. Such an approach could attract concerned consumers despite higher prices. However, the decision contained significant risks as Umweltfreundlich would be the first market player to introduce such an approach on a large scale, and the possible sales were impossible to predict.

Animal Research Ethical Analysis through Case Study

Ethical cases are extremely diverse and require an individual approach to develop optimal decisions and alternatives. However, they share a common structure, and a general framework may be applied to evaluate an ethical issue. AR in the cosmetic industry contains a large amount of possible ethical problems and involves a wide range of stakeholders. In the above-mentioned case, several values are in conflict, and different interested parties are involved. Animal testing may be able to provide safe products with lower costs but is restricted by legislation and may be considered inhumane. Therefore the value of customer safety and product competitiveness is in conflict with law obedience and animal protection. The most significant issue is related to the moral and subjective perception of AR. Hence, the principles of the decision-maker play a major role in the issue.

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Individual principles may be supported by the framework developed to justify animal testing of substances and innovative products. First is the principle of no alternative method, which implies that AR may be ethically acceptable if there are no other options to develop a safe and environmentally friendly product (Beauchamp & DeGrazia, 2020). Such an approach may be relevant, as alternative ways of cosmetic testing may not provide consistent results and may threaten consumers’ health. The principle of expected net benefit and the principle of sufficient value to justify harm state that the potential benefits of AR may justify cruelty to animals (Beauchamp & DeGrazia, 2020). These two principles may not be applied to the cosmetic industry. Unlike medical research, animal testing of cosmetics is not designed to save human lives. Hence the possible benefits of such experiments are not valuable enough to justify the means.

Another three principles of animal research ethics are closely linked to animal welfare. The principles of basic needs, no unnecessary harm, and upper limits to harm set particular rules regarding animal treatment during the research (Beauchamp & DeGrazia, 2020). These principles should be followed during any research, including animal testing of cosmetics to claim morality or humanity. Nevertheless, it may not be possible to consistently provide animal welfare in cosmetic testing. Growing concern about animal well-being makes it relatively harder for most decision-makers to conduct such research. Personal principles are often in conflict with the nature of AR and play a significant role in the process of decision-making.

There are several relevant stakeholders in the above-mentioned case. One of the most important stakeholders is the Umweltfreundlich management and owners. Even though abandonment of animal testing in favor of more humane alternative ways of research is becoming a common practice, it still contains considerable financial risks. Regardless of the company’s mission, its primary goal is usually maximizing revenue or growing capitalization. Product owners and the upper management are highly interested in achieving these goals. Abandoning animal research may be morally rewarding, yet it may lead to cost increases, demand drops, and loss of competitiveness. Decisions regarding animal research in such industries as cosmetics require special attention and detailed marketing research. Emerging legislation frameworks, state requirements, and public influence decrease the economic attractiveness of AR. However, it is still much more effective and cost-efficient than the existing alternatives.

Primary consumers and society as a whole are also two important stakeholders. Animal research is especially controversial in terms of the consumption of substances tested on animals. Even though numerous studies have found that animal tests do not provide consistent results in terms of human consumption, AR is proven to be more reliable than laboratory tests (Bell, 2019). AR is the only possible option at the moment to provide consumers with maximized practical value. Animal-tested cosmetics are significantly safer and cheaper than the alternative. Nonetheless, consumers are becoming more and more discerning, and the price is not the only criteria in choice. Personal concerns and life values may make ecology and animal-friendly products more attractive and demanded.

The government and authorities are also highly involved in the issue. Public influence, personal principles, and common sense lead to the establishment of new regulations regarding AR. Governments are essentially interested in compliance with the law. Hence the authorities do not only act as regulators but perform supervision, ensuring that these legislative rules are followed. Broadly defined and vaguely worded laws regarding environmental care and animal abuse prevention complicate the issue. There are numerous historical examples of the State’s failure to ensure implementation of these laws, such as high profile DuPont’s case. The authorities play a significant role in the ethical framework of the issue, although it may not always be possible to properly regulate animal research.

There is a wide list of long-term and short-term consequences of decisions related to animal testing in the cosmetic industry. As already mentioned, animal experiments serve as a primary guarantee of product safety for both the manufacturer and the consumer. Rejecting AR in such industries as cosmetics or medicine may not only lead to a price increase but also raise the risk of health harm (Hau, & Schapiro, 2021). The short-term consequences may mostly affect concrete consumers and manufacturers, whereas long-term consequences may have a considerable social and scientific value. As mentioned before, the reduction of animal testing in combination with a proper marketing study and ad campaign may not only prevent a decrease in demand but also bring the product to a new competitive level. Environmentally and animal-friendly cosmetics may attract market shares, which were not addressed before. Consumers may be given an opportunity to choose a product more selective, taking their personal values into consideration. However, long-term consequences also include diverse risks, such as insufficient demand for these products and increased threats to health.

Long-term consequences may impact not only the cosmetic industry but social perception of animal research and even the scientific field. Renunciation of the use of animals in substance testing may contribute to the development of more advanced and cost-efficient alternatives. There may be no alternative research framework established as there was no need to give up on AR. Increasing concerns regarding animal welfare may lead to the financial support of the above-mention field of study. The provision of high-quality products with reasonable prices and safety may influence customers’ attitudes to animal research. It may bring broader acknowledgment of the issue and reduce animal abuse and inhumane experiments not only in the cosmetic industry but in other industries too, including medicine. The issue represents how consumers and corporations may potentially make a significant moral change in society.

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The ethical issue of animal research generally and in the cosmetic industry particularly represents several conflicts of diverse values. As mentioned, the most obvious and essential conflict is between the production of high-quality, safe to use cosmetics and animal welfare. On the one hand, it is almost impossible to conduct animal testing, which may not be considered cruel or abusive towards the animal. Mice and rabbits are not able to give consent or to refuse, hence AR may seem to be immoral and inappropriate even if no harm occurred towards the animal. On the other hand, AR makes a significant contribution to the development of substances, which are safe for human use. With no reliable alternative methods of testing, it is the only existing way to provide safety to final consumers.

Another two values at stake are producing green, eco-friendly cosmetics and manufacturing low-risk products. Expressing concern about animal well-being and the environment is a noble cause, and such goals should be pursued by businesses. However, it is not possible to achieve these goals without taking significant financial risks, which is contrary to the primary goal of entrepreneurship and commerce.

Value of respect for the law and cost savings may also be in conflict. Even though the violation of the law includes not only ethical issues but also other complicated problems, business ethics are still a significant part of it. Unfortunately, law violation is an inseparable part of many ethical problems. Nevertheless, such cases may be very controversial, and law violations may not be explicitly considered bad. Under certain circumstances, opinions may divide. There may be many people believing that any decisions should be made in accordance with the law and others who think that laws are imperfect and may not always provide a relevant framework. Animal research legislation may differ from one country to another. Some societies may be greatly concerned about animal welfare and introduce strict regulations, whereas others may not view AR as inappropriate. In both cases, there are corporations, which violate these norms regardless of their strictness.

Personally, I believe that the cosmetic industry should follow the steps of Umweltfreundlich Company from my case and reject animal testing. There are industries such as medicine, which provide a much more significant justification for AR. The development of substances in order to save human lives may be a noble goal that justifies the means. But even then, it is a controversial ethical issue with millions of people supporting opposite views. It may take decades to establish alternative research approaches, and thousands of patients may suffer from the consequences. Even though there is a considerable demand for cosmetics, they are not designed to cure diseases. Cosmetics are optional and not vital, hence there may be no justification for the cruel treatment of animals in the industry. Our society should acknowledge the problem, and animal testing of cosmetics should be legally banned.

The above-mentioned decision addresses the tests well. It may not only be possible but necessary to make the decision public. Even though animal experiments provide evidence of cosmetics being safe to use, there are alternative, less cost-efficient, but more animal-friendly ways to test substances. To provide safety, the industry or a particular company may increase the product price and produce less innovative cosmetics. Innovation in cosmetics may be a relatively small price for animal welfare.

The role reversibility test is more complicated than the publicity test. It is hard to determine if animals may be viewed as the recipients of the decision. In my opinion, animals should be considered, and it may be a fair decision for them. There may also be consumers who are not willing to give up on using certain products in favor of animal welfare. However, recent research has shown that the majority of consumers wish to buy natural cosmetics (Amberg & Fogarassy, 2019). Therefore, it may be impossible to address all stakeholders equally, yet the decision treats the majority of them fairly.

The mirror test may be passed successfully, as the decision corresponds with my life values and principles. I believe that even though animal research should not be conducted in the cosmetic industry as it is not vital and appears to be unnecessary. There are more and more consumers and businesses concerned about environmental issues and bioethics. Numerous cases may be used as a basis for the decision, including the establishment of restrictions regarding AR or actions preventing cruelty to animals. The case may indicate the emergence of a new paradigm related to a shift of business ethics towards environmentally-friendly values. Hence, it may and should be used as a precedent for future cases.

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Conclusively animal research is a controversial and complicated issue in both bioethics and business ethics. There are numerous considerable problems and pitfalls related to animal testing of cosmetics. However, society is changing, and new environmentally-friendly consumer culture arises. It may be possible for the cosmetic industry to overcome that complex ethical dilemma once and for all. With a proper approach to marketing and with careful management, the bioethical transformation of the industry may not result in any economic losses.


Amberg, N., & Fogarassy, C. (2019). Green Consumer Behavior in the Cosmetics Market. Resources, 8(3), 137. Web.

Beauchamp, T. L., & DeGrazia, D. (2020). Principles of animal research ethics. Oxford University Press.

Bell, J. (2019). Aspirin killed the cat: animal research models do not always apply to humans. Expert opinion on drug metabolism & toxicology, 15(9), 683-685.

Hau, J., & Schapiro, S. J. (2021). Handbook of laboratory animal science: essential principles and practices. CRC Press.

Joffe, A. R., Bara, M., Anton, N., & Nobis, N. (2016). The ethics of animal research: a survey of the public and scientists in North America. BMC Medical Ethics, 17(1). Web.