Jacqueline Conciatore

Draize Skin Test: Good Riddance (Almost)

Bunnies Don't Wear Lipstick | August 18th, 2010 | Visit the original article online

This month's news about the new, internationally sanctioned guidelines for humane testing of skin irritants led me to do some research on the Draize skin test.

Here's the scoop:

  • Researchers safety-test certain chemicals on animals, very often albino rabbits. They apply topical or other substances to animals' raw, shaved skin and then record signs of allergic or other bad reactions. The National Anti-Vivisection Society says that researchers sometimes also abrade the skin patch by repeatedly pulling off skin layers with sticky tape. The observation period can last weeks.
  • A scary twin brother of the skin test is the Draize eye test, in which chemicals are applied directly to the animals' eyes, often resulting in ulcerations and infections.
  • The tests can be excruciatingly painful, even torturous. You can see this for yourself in the video below, which includes footage of the skin test (at about 1:20).
  • The Food and Drug Administration devised the Draize test back in the 1940s, to test cosmetics
  • This was after "Lash Lure," an eyebrow and eyelash dye containing p-phenylenediamine, blinded more than a dozen women and killed one.  (Apparently dangerous dyes were rampant in beauty parlors all over the U.S. -- read Time magazine's 1933 coverage.)
  • In part because of moral concerns, use of the Draize test for cosmetics has come under fire in the last few decades. Cosmetic companies began to use it less and less in the 1980s.
  • Efficacy came into question as well. As they do with many forms of animal testing, experts argue that nonhuman models are by and large too biologically different to serve as good proxies for humans. The European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods has said Draize skin tests are questionable in part because of the subjectivity involved (scientists documenting signs of irritation) and the variability of response in individual animals.
  • Europe has banned the use of animals to test personal products as well as the use of animal-tested ingredients in personal products. EU researchers can still use animals in long-term tests, such as carcinogenic studies, but only until 2013.
  • The Draize tests are still legal in the U.S and, according to Johns Hopkins and others, are still in use.

The new OECD guidelines mean use of the Draize skin test will be significantly curtailed, according to the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine. The guidelines are now available for use by the 32 members of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which include many of the world's largest economies.

The new methods covered by the guidelines include models of human skin manufactured from human tissue remnants from plastic and other surgeries. The "Reconstructed Human Epidermis" is manufactured by MatTek in Ashland, OR, USA and SkinEthic in Nice, France.

The OECD development took decades, but the advocates did not give up. The even better news is that we all have the power to avoid companies that test on animals. Here's PETA's list and leapingbunny.org's.