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Animal testing ban sparks rise in new alternatives for skin allergy


The BUAV has today welcomed the rise in the development of alternatives to testing on animals for cosmetics and other products. Since the EU banned the sale of animal tested cosmetics in March, there have been reports in the media of three different alternative tests for skin sensitisation which is an allergic reaction caused by certain products. 

Scientists in Portugal have developed a cell-based alternative using cells grown from mouse skin in the lab. When exposed to skin sensitisers, a reaction inside the cells is triggered that can be analysed to indicate that an allergic response is occurring. Evaluation of the test on 18 compounds has apparently shown that it can correctly identify 92% of actual sensitisers.1,2  

Another cell-based test, which has been jointly developed by researchers from BASF and Promega, involves the creation of an entirely new cell line that ‘lights up’ when it comes into contact with a sensitiser. Scientists managed to link specific genes inside human skin cells with luminescent light signals that can easily be detected. This exciting new ‘luciferase’ test has been submitted to the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM) for validation and hopefully regulatory acceptance.3 

Finally, scientists from Newcastle University have developed another ground-breaking test that uses real human skin and immune cells to show a wide range of skin reactions, such as rashes or blistering, as well as immune responses. The test, called Skimune™, has apparently been successfully tested by a number of large pharmaceutical companies using drugs in development and provides a reliable result within just two weeks.4

Currently, the skin sensitising potential of substances is estimated based on cruel and crude tests on mice and guinea pigs.  As animal studies on cosmetic ingredients for the European market have now been banned, scientists have been forced to plough more resources into developing non-animal techniques. As a result, they have come up with modern and innovative tests that are proving to be quicker, cheaper and more reliable.

Michelle Thew, BUAV Chief Executive said, “We are delighted that after 20 years of leading the campaign for the EU ban, we are now beginning to witness it’s full impact.  Not only has it put an end to the suffering of animals for beauty products, it is also challenging researchers to do better science - to the benefit of everyone.”



2. Development of an in vitro dendritic cell-based test for skin sensitizer identification. (2013). Chemical Research in Toxicology, 26(3): 368-378. Original study found here: