The last few years have improved the lives of those of us who live squarely where the makeup-fan and animal-lover Venn diagram overlaps. With tons of new green brands debuting and vegan lines becoming more high profile than ever, finding products that make us look great and don’t harm our fuzzy friends is easier than ever. But while those brands are still the exception to the rule, a new scientific breakthrough is putting us another step closer to living in a world free of animal testing.
One of the major barriers to moving cosmetic testing to all-synthetic skin has always been the constraints of what artificial skin can do. Without hair follicles and glands that secrete oil and sweat, there has traditionally been a limit to the extent to which faux skin could mimic real flesh and, in turn, limits on how effective testing done on it replicated the effects of ingredients on human skin. Now researchers in Japan have developed a new technique to grow artificial skin that functions almost identically as real skin.
First off, fair warning: While this technique may help put an end to animal testing in cosmetics one day, the actual development of it did involve the use of lab mice. The complicated process involved extracting cells from the mice’s gums, treating the cells so that they would become induced pluripotent stem cells (a.k.a. cells that can develop into any kind of cell from the body), and then placing them into the proper environment to turn them into skin cells. Once the cells matured, they were implanted on the lab mice and allowed to grow. And grow they did—completely normally, in fact, connecting with the surrounding muscle tissue and nerves and even growing hair.
In addition to its potential role in cosmetic testing, this tissue development technique may one day be able to grow skin grafts for burn victims, say researchers. There’s still a long way to go for both achievements—numerous issues still need to be worked out with the process, including finding a way to get the lab-grown skin to develop nerve fibers of it’s own, not just connect to the naturally occurring nerves around it. The researchers estimate it will take another five to ten years before the process can be adapted to humans, though the results are certainly hopeful. John McGrath, a professor of molecular dermatology at Kings College London told BBC News that the new system puts us “over the halfway mark” toward growing functional skin for human patients. How that time line will translate for cosmetic testing isn’t clear yet, but it is, without a doubt, a huge step forward in the fight to end animal testing.
The competitors at the Westminster Dog Show have serious beauty routines: