Chinese Cosmetic Animal Testing Law is Changing in May 2021

Many things come to my mind when thinking about China, like the Great Wall, pandas, and martial arts. Unfortunately, there is also something very saddening that I associate with China. As an animal lover and someone that is passionate about cruelty-free beauty, I can’t help but think about cosmetic animal testing when I think of China. That’s because China has the strictest cosmetic animal testing law in the world. 

Fortunately, animal rights organizations are working hard to change animal testing laws and eventually (hopefully) cosmetic animal testing will be banned worldwide. Many countries and some U.S. states have already made the decision to ban animal testing, which is amazing! I think it will probably be a very long time before we see animal testing in China stop completely, but one part of the Chinese animal testing law is changing for the better in May 2021, and it’s a good place to start!

Important note about mainland China

When I talk about China in this post, please note that I am only referring to mainland China. This is an important distinction when it comes to cosmetic animal testing. That is because Hong Kong does not share the same animal testing law as mainland China. Cruelty-free companies are able to sell in Hong Kong without products being tested on animals!

Current animal testing law in China

First, I’d like to outline the basics of the current animal testing law in China. If you’re already knowledgeable about animal testing in the cosmetics industry and have made the switch to cruelty-free products, this may not be new information for you.

There are two categories of cosmetics in regards to cosmetic animal testing: “ordinary/general” and “special-use”. The terms “ordinary” and “general” are interchangeable in this context (I’ve seen both words used by a variety of sources). Ordinary/general cosmetics are things like makeup, skincare, body care, and hair care products. There are exceptions in those categories, however. Special-use cosmetics include miscellaneous products like sunscreen, hair dye, whitening products, antiperspirants, any products claiming new efficacy, and more.

There are two stages of cosmetic animal testing: pre-market and post-market. Pre-market animal testing is performed before products go on the market. Post-market animal testing is done once products are already being sold in stores. 

Pre-market animal testing law:

  • All imported cosmetics (both ordinary/general and special-use) are subject to pre-market animal testing.
    • This law does not apply to online sales. The pre-market animal testing law for imported cosmetics only applies to products sold in physical stores in China.
  • Ordinary/general cosmetics produced in China and sold in Chinese stores are not subject to pre-market animal testing (it is legal, but not required).
  • Special-use cosmetics produced in China and sold in Chinese stores are subject to pre-market animal testing.
  • Ordinary/general cosmetics produced in China for foreign export only (not sold in Chinese stores) are not subject to any animal testing.
    • I believe this applies to special-use cosmetics produced in China for foreign export as well, but I was unable to find confirmation.

Post-market animal testing law:

  • Ordinary/general and special-use cosmetics may be randomly tested on animals to verify that the formulas haven’t changed from what was previously approved.
  • Ordinary/general and special-use cosmetics can also be pulled from the shelves to be tested on animals when consumers complain about a product’s safety or if there is a recall.

How will China’s animal testing law change on May 1, 2021?

Now for the new information that you came here for! On May 1, 2021, China will no longer require pre-market animal testing for imported ordinary/general cosmetics. Imported special-use cosmetics will still be required to be tested on animals before they can be sold in Chinese stores. 

This may not seem like a huge step in the fight to end cosmetic animal testing, but it’s important to remember that China imports a very large quantity of cosmetics to satisfy consumers’ wants and needs. Since the majority of those cosmetics no longer have to be pre-market tested on animals, that means many animals will be saved from lives of misery.

Does this mean international companies that sell products in China can now be considered cruelty-free?

Unfortunately, no…for a few reasons: 

  1. Just because China will no longer require pre-market animal testing for imported ordinary/general cosmetics, doesn’t mean it won’t still sometimes happen. 
  2. Imported special-use cosmetics will still have to be pre-market animal tested.
  3. Once imported cosmetics reach the shelves in Chinese stores, they can be pulled for animal testing at any time.

The decision to support international companies that sell in China…or not

It is up to every individual to decide where they want to draw the line when it comes to buying cruelty-free products. Some people don’t mind if a cruelty-free company sells its products in China. In fact, companies that are certified cruelty-free by PETA are allowed to sell products in China (that’s one reason why I trust Leaping Bunny over PETA!).

Personally, I don’t feel that a company can be considered cruelty-free if it sells products in China. Even if its products won’t be pre-market animal tested, there is always a risk that those products could be tested on animals later.

For information about animal testing, how to “go cruelty-free,” and tips to find cruelty-free retailers, please read one of my first blog posts titled “Cruelty-Free Questions Answered.” Additional information about the cruelty-free movement can be found on Humane Society International’s website here.

Final thoughts on the upcoming change to cosmetic animal testing in China

I am thrilled that the Chinese government has chosen to make this change. While there is a long way to go in the push to end cosmetic animal testing in China, eliminating the requirement for animal testing on imported ordinary/general cosmetics is a big step in the right direction! Every step that saves animals is a big win for the cruelty-free community.

In addition to the upcoming change to China’s cosmetic animal testing law, China has also approved two non-animal methods of cosmetic testing for skin and eye irritation. Non-animal cosmetic safety tests are more effective and more efficient, so over time those tests will replace outdated cosmetic animal testing!

There is still much work to be done, but a cruelty-free future is in sight for the cosmetics industry. 🙂 To raise awareness about the cruelty of cosmetic animal testing, please share Humane Society International’s new short film titled “Save Ralph” which can be found here. You can also feel free to share this post! Knowledge is power. We can make a difference!


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2 thoughts on “Chinese Cosmetic Animal Testing Law is Changing in May 2021

  1. Such a complex issue and so much to know and remember! Thank you for giving us all the details and I plan on referring back to this article often so that I can be better informed. I realize that the laws are changing and evolving and I know you will do your best to keep us up to date! Thank you for that. In the meantime, I’m trying to do what I can do to buy cruelty-free products. While I am not 100% there, I am well on my way! Thanks, Lauren for helping us to achieve this cruelty-free goal. xoxo

    • Hi Nancy, thank you so much for the sweet comment and for making an effort to shop cruelty-free! We’re making a difference for a lot of animals, one day at a time. You’re right, cosmetic animal testing is a complex issue, especially in China. I read through this post a few times before publishing to make sure I had all my facts straight, and that they made sense! 🙂


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