ECVAM develops two new methods to avoid skin irritation testing in animals

Research activities carried out at the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM), aim to deliver new testing methods which will avoid unnecessary tests using animals for the validation of chemical substances safety.

Most of us use chemical substances such as cleaning products, shampoos and other cosmetics on a daily basis, assuming that these products are safe and will not cause irritation or damage to skin.

Indeed, chemical ingredients used in such products are thoroughly tested for their safety before being marketed, usually through testing on the skin of rabbits. But animal testing has a number of drawbacks: not only is it ethically problematic; it is also based on a somewhat subjective "scoring" of adverse effects, rather than on the empirical measurement of defined parameters. Besides, rabbit skin differs substantially from human one.

SkinEthic RHE and EpiDerm SIT

The European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM), part of the JRC Institute for Health and Consumer Production (IHCP), has finalised the evaluation and validation of two further in vitro test methods for chemical substances using human skin cells.

The newly validated in vitro methods, entitled SkinEthic RHE and EpiDerm SIT, are capable of distinguishing reliably between harmless substances and those that cause irritation to human skin without recourse to animal tests. Along with the EPISKIN test validated last year, there are now three ECVAM-validated in vitro skin models available. Testing on rabbits for skin irritation may soon be considered obsolete.

ECVAM was created by the European Commission in 1991 to seek alternatives to using animals for experimental and other scientific purposes, stating that 'an experiment shall not be performed if another scientifically satisfactory method of obtaining the result sought, not entailing the use of an animal, is reasonably and practicably available'.

This research activities are aligned with some general objectives set forth in the REACH EU Regulation on chemicals, which includes the obligation for pre-registration as a measures aiming, among others, to avoid unnecessary animal tests.