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Japan urged to make its cosmetics ‘cruelty-free’

by Louise George Kittaka

Special To The Japan Times

The beauty industry means big bucks in Japan. Consumers are bombarded with a constant stream of advertisements for the latest cosmetic products on TV and the Internet, in magazines, on billboards and even on trains. It should come as no surprise to learn that Japan is the second-biggest national market for beauty products in the world.

While Japanese consumers clamor for items that will make their skin smoother or their hair shinier, relatively few people are aware of the horror behind the products in their cosmetics cases. Until recently, the fact that many ingredients are still being tested on live animals received only lip service here in Japan. However, following major changes in laws on animal testing in Europe last year, the Japanese government and cosmetic companies are ramping up efforts to follow suit.

Last month, Diet members, scientists and animal protection group personnel gathered to share information about global trends in ending cosmetics testing on animals, with a focus on the implications for Japan going forward. One of the presenters at the forum was Troy Seidle, the director of the Research and Toxicology Department at Humane Society International (HSI). As the world’s largest nongovernmental organization involved with advancing non-animal testing, HSI plays a key role in working with governments, lawmakers, corporations and consumers.

According to Seidle, Europe set the standard for the rest of the world when it became “cosmetics cruelty-free” in March last year.

“It is actually a two-part ban,” he explains. “Animal cosmetic testing is no longer allowed in the European Economic Community. Moreover, the import or sale of new animal-tested cosmetics or cosmetics with new ingredients tested on animals after March 2013 is also banned.”

Israel, India and the Brazilian state of Sao Paulo have since followed suit, while nations including the United States, New Zealand and Australia have introduced similar legislative proposals.

One of Japan’s biggest cosmetic firms has already taken the leap forward. In line with the changes in Europe, Shiseido announced in March 2013 that it had ended all animal testing (with the exception of imports to China, which still demands that finished products imported from overseas be tested on animals).

“As a global company, we believe that this is the future of the cosmetics industry,” says Satoshi Hirota, manager of Shiseido’s public relations department. “Improvements in alternative testing methods, coupled with greater awareness of the rights of animals, have helped the cruelty-free movement gain momentum.”

Hirota adds that since the announcement to end animal testing, the reaction of consumers here in Japan has been “overwhelmingly positive.”

There are a number of smaller domestic companies that are already cruelty-free, including Miss Apricot, D-fit and Seikatsu no Ki, along with international firms that have become popular in Japan, such as The Body Shop and Lush.

Founded in Britain in the mid-1990s, Lush opened its first store in this country in 1999 and now sells its colorful handmade bath, hair and skin-care products nationwide. Beginning in 2012, Lush teamed up with HSI to introduce the Be Cruelty-Free campaign in 12 international markets, promoting public awareness of animal testing.

Emi Akiyama, the charity campaign supervisor for Lush Japan, partnered with HSI’s Japan-based consultants to launch the Be Cruelty-Free campaign here earlier this year. She admits it is challenging to educate the Japanese public about cosmetics testing on animals.

“In Europe, consumers were the ones who initiated the movement to change the laws on animal testing. That isn’t the case here,” says Akiyama. On a positive note, however, she says that a growing number of customers and potential employees alike are seeking out the firm specifically because of its commitment to cruelty-free cosmetics.

In the West, the cruelty-free movement dates back to the 1970s, when animal-loving consumers lobbied for an end to tests that included force-feeding cosmetics to animals until they died and repeated applications of substances in captive animals’ eyes or on their shaved skin. In a country that is said to be experiencing a pet boom and where many owners treat their pets like cherished children, why hasn’t similar concern emerged for laboratory animals?

Consumer attitudes to cosmetics testing on animals were gauged in a recent online survey sponsored by Lush Japan with input from HSI. While only 30 percent of participants had previously heard about the issue of testing of cosmetics on animals, 85 percent said that alternative testing methods should be made available.

“Social awareness in general is somewhat lacking in Japan, where the average person hasn’t really had the chance to work to change society until now,” points out Sakiko Yamazaki, a consultant for HSI Japan. “To be successful in this society, traditionally you didn’t rock the boat or question authority.”

Yamazaki says education is a key factor in changing the status quo.

“First we have to get consumers to be aware of animal testing and changes in global attitudes,” she says. “Only when they know the facts can they decide whether to take a stand and vote with their purses.”

Seidle agrees that consumers certainly have a part to play.

“If they buy an animal-tested product, they’re essentially telling the company, ‘Way to go, keep on doing it,’ ” he says bluntly. However, he notes that consumers and manufactures are just two sides of a square, with government and scientific researchers making up the other two.

“This isn’t just appealing to people to end animal suffering. It is also about sitting down with policymakers and research institutions and examining the alternative testing methods that are already available and moving domestic policy in line with global trends,” Seidle says.

One of the side-effects of the EU cosmetics bans is a major upswing in governmental and corporate research funding to develop and validate animal-free approaches to safety testing. Today, this research is paying dividends with cutting-edge, human biology-based testing tools that outperform the 1940s-era tests they’re designed to replace.

For example, today companies can choose reconstructed human skin models instead of rabbits to test for skin irritation, or a rapid cell test instead of guinea pigs to test for sunlight-induced phototoxicity. Such methods have been scientifically validated and accepted by government health regulators worldwide.

Although perhaps relatively little known, Japan already has an agency set up to deal with these issues. The mission of the Japanese Center for the Validation of Alternative Methods (JaCVAM) is to focus on the “3Rs” in terms of animal experiments for evaluating the safety of chemical substances: reduction of animal use, refinement of testing processes to promote animal wellbeing and replacement of animal tests with alternative methods.

Established in 2005, JaCVAM operates under the auspices of the National Institute of Health Sciences and is headed by Dr. Hajime Kojima.

“To be honest, the Japanese cosmetic industry didn’t pay much attention to the cruelty-free aspect of alternative testing until now. Many firms didn’t expect the European ban on cosmetics animal testing to go through as quickly as it did,” he says. “However, it did go through, and Japan has been pulled along into a new era.”

Kojima notes that information exchange among the government, researchers and manufacturers is essential for moving forward.

“Here at JaCVAM, we are promoting dialogue between the related parties. With more interest in the topic of alternative testing, more funding will be made available from both corporations and the government and channeled into research. Sooner or later, I believe this will lead first to a ban on animal testing for cosmetics in Japan, and then expand into other fields.”

In the same vein, Seidle points out that it is quite possible to safely end cosmetics animal testing at any time in Japan. “There are already well over 8,000 existing cosmetic ingredients that have been tested in the past and are safe for use without ever being tested on another animal. In fact, few new ingredients are developed for beauty products that don’t make some sort of medical claim,” Seidle says. “Most are developed for items classed as ‘quasi-drugs’ in Japan, such as sunscreens or skin-whitening creams.”

HSI Japan’s Yamazaki is hopeful that recent trends will lead to heightened efforts to ban cosmetic testing in her home country once and for all.

“Whether it is an issue of animal welfare, international trade or scientific innovation, there are no wrong reasons for becoming involved. It isn’t just good for animals,” she says firmly. “It’s good for people, too.”

HSI Be Cruelty-Free campaign: www.hsi.org/issues/becrueltyfree/be_cruelty_free.html. Your comments and story ideas: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • Eija Niskanen

    Japan is light years behind the west in knowledge about animal rights.

  • Daniel Francis

    Together with picketing the manufacturers, why not picket the real culprits: those buyers who don’t give a rat’s a— about cruelty as long as their own silly vanities are served?