In Vitro Testing in Cosmetics: Pros and Cons
In vitro testing of cosmetic products is a widely available and cost-effective alternative to animal testing. It is also a powerful solution for driving product development, innovation and claim substantiation. However, all research methods have their pros and cons, and in vitro testing is no exception.
In this article, we will examine the advantages and limitations of in vitro testing for the cosmetics industry when compared to animal testing.
In Vitro Testing in a Nutshell
Broadly, in vitro testing means studies and experiments performed on biological cells outside the body. Over the past decade, there have been a number of advances in in vitro technologies, spurred by the growing bans of animal testing in major consumer markets, including the EU.
Today, an impressive selection of in vitro testing methods is available to cosmetics brands and manufacturers. In vitro testing can be carried out on primary human cells or reconstructed models of human skin and human skin explants to test cosmetics for safety and toxicity, as well as to confirm their efficacy, ingredients, and properties.
Just like any other method, in vitro testing has a number of pros and cons, which are detailed below.
The Pros of In Vitro Testing: What are the Advantages?
In vitro testing methods can provide valuable data on the safety of cosmetic products, as well as support product claims in such areas as anti-aging, skin hydration, hair growth, and more. In many cases, in vitro testing provides crucial information that helps the manufacturer select active ingredients and develop their cosmetics formula.
Some of the pros of in vitro testing include:
In vitro testing methods that use reconstructed human cells or skin can provide the necessary information in a matter of days or weeks. By comparison, animal testing can take months.
The results of animal testing may not always directly apply to humans. Indeed, the most accurate way to test a product intended for the use on human skin is to test it on human skin. With human primary skin cells, human reconstructed epidermis, human hair follicles or human skin explants this is exactly what in vitro testing offers.
Understanding the Mechanism of Action
In vitro testing offers a framework for testing and validating the mechanism of action of cosmetics ingredients or products directly on the cellular and molecular levels. This offers the perfect way to support innovative concept and patent application.
Deeper Research Value-Add
Additionally, in vitro testing allows performing complex experimental studies for deeper research and evaluation in order to expand the efficacy claim substantiation dossier:
- Time dose-response studies
- Synergistic activity studies
- Inter-donor, ethnicity and specific population variability studies (young skin, old skin, dry skin, etc.)
- Comparative and benchmarking studies.
The objection to the suffering and death of lab animals played a large part in the surging popularity of in vitro testing. The more countries and consumer move away from animal testing, the more crucial in vitro testing becomes for the cosmetics industry.
The Cons of In Vitro Testing: What are the Limitations?
Most of the cons of the in vitro model can be combined into two major groups: the limitations on complexity (particularly for studies of long-term exposure), and the need for careful research controls.
Difficulty in Modeling Long-Term Exposure
In safety research, in vitro testing is very effective at checking a cosmetic product’s acute toxicity. This refers to whether a product can cause skin or eye damage (temporary or permanent) when used. However, the biological processes involved in long-term toxicity are more complex and can involve the whole body.
While in vitro models do offer reconstructed models of human skin and eye tissue, they cannot yet recreate models that would mimic a full-body response to a chemical over the long term.
Difficulty in Modeling Full Skin
Such in vitro models as reconstructed epidermis and full-thickness skin equivalent have been developed to reproduce in vitro skin functions for research and safety purposes. They usually consist of the main type of skin cell types (keratinocytes, melanocytes, fibroblastes). However, the human skin is a very complex organ composed of a plethora of cell types, including sensory neurons, tissue-resident immune cells, vascular cells, lymphatic cells.
While in vitro models do offer reconstructed tissues, they cannot yet recreate models that would mimic a full human skin.
Need for Careful Research Controls
Being a sophisticated scientific research method, in vitro testing requires careful selection of research materials and precise controls. It is important to ensure that cells used for in vitro testing are sourced from approved sources.
Another key factor in vitro studies is ensuring that the design of the experiment is robust, and data is appropriately interpreted. When choosing in vitro testing to support product development, it is very important to thoroughly assess your requirements and work with experienced specialists from the very beginning.
The Pros and Cons of In Vitro Testing: a Summary
In summary, in vitro testing methods are an efficient alternative to animal testing in the cosmetics industry. In vitro testing reliably delivers information about the safety and efficacy of cosmetic formulas and can be tailored to suit a specific product’s needs.
Compared to animal studies, in vitro testing offers such advantages as higher speed and greater accuracy, with added ethical benefits. Additionally, in vitro testing helps build a strong and original scientific dossier, in order to highlight the technological and competitive advantages of a cosmetic product. However, the in vitro model does have some limitations, particularly when it comes to testing toxicity over the long term. As any other research method, it requires careful selection of materials and robust experiment design.
Find an In Vitro Testing Program to Suit Your Needs
At Bioalternatives, we are committed to developing effective in vitro alternative options to animal experimentation methods, by offering a full range of solutions for the development of active ingredients and cosmetic formulations.
We offer customized technical solutions to guide your product research and support the claims of your cosmetic products. Our selection of in vitro testing solutions can be used to characterize your cosmetic products’ active ingredients, demonstrate the efficacy of your formulations, and test the safety of your cosmetic products at an early stage.
With extensive experience in cosmetic product testing and state-of-the-art facilities, we are pleased to offer you dedicated project management support and consulting for your R&D process.
Ready to discuss a testing and research program that will suit your business’s needs?