“Cancelled” Research

by Theresa Callaghan

Theresa Callaghan PhD
Skin Care Scientist and Cosmetic Product Claim Specialist

In this month’s column we take a look at the dangers of “cancelling” our historical peer-reviewed research, so relevant for supporting claims, just because there are some who find it “offensive”and many others who are afraid to challenge this worrying trend.


Having sadly spent the month of June back in the UK on family bereavement, the loss of a loved one forces you to put many things into perspective. For me it was a case of how do I balance the negative thoughts of feeling that I have achieved nothing in my long career, with the family motto of “perseverance and fidelity” ringing in my ears. This came to a head upon my return to Germany during a customer discussion on a new project they commissioned me to undertake. The project itself is not at issue. The issue stems from the digressionary conversation we had about the “cancellation” of skin research publications by those who are seemingly naive about the true role of historical scientific research, and the lessons it teaches us. I decided to “persevere” and here’s what I’m specifically talking about – historical skin and hair research carried out on animals or animal-derived models that formed the basis of some of the most advanced dermatological understandings that helped the industry become the giant it is today.


The cosmetic claim “not tested on animals” is common, and brands pull out the stops to ensure their consumers know this. Despite REACH, the fact that animal testing has been banned for many years in cosmetics, the claim “not tested on animals”, at least from the marketing perspective, still has mileage. Moreover, it is good to know that as an industry we stand for the continued development and validation of non-animal alternative methods for the testing of our products. This is especially so, given the EU’s testing ban on animals coming under threat, with REACH requesting more testing rather than less. Justifiably, we are all concerned and very disappointed.


However, the rise of the “cancel culture”, which is spreading at an alarming rate in the more liberal countries, is also penetrating our industry, and our precious scientific research is under threat. We are seeing not only the “Reference” sections of articles omitting pertinent references relating to relevant animal work – sometimes required in order to help put the article into context – but also some marketing managers are now requesting of scientists they work with, that every reference cited must not have in their “Reference” sections any reference to animal studies. My personal opinion is that this will get out of hand, not to mention the increased workload.


Scientists, whether they work in our industry or not, have enjoyed contributing to their respective fields, in order to grow human understanding and thus further our development for the common good. Scientific knowledge can improve the quality of life at many different levels – from the routine workings of our everyday lives to global issues. Science informs public policy and personal decisions on energy, conservation, agriculture, health, transportation, communication, defence, economics, leisure, and exploration. By publishing scientific findings in respected peerreviewed journals, this science is recorded as part of our historical human development in order to teach, inform, and above all warn us of consequences of action and inaction. It is there as a guide for future generations. “Cancelling” the bits we don’t like sets a dangerous precedent, and human history is littered with countless examples.


In the wider field of dermatology, which includes our own industry, we would not enjoy the huge variety of technologies for our products if it were not for the efforts made by scientists publishing their work, even when conducted on animals – from ingredients to bioengineering; laboratory methods to clinical methods; from marketing stories to consumer sales and business success. There are so many of them. For example, our in-depth understanding of the skins barrier and the important role of ceramides would have been slow if it were not for pig skin studies. Furthermore, the knowledge we gained provided the impetus to seek cheaper sources from plants, giving rise to the discovery of an entirely new category of ingredients, new business opportunities, and an increase in scientific knowledge. Our understanding of skin ageing and immunity are also classic examples, mostly from rodent models, and we would not have some of our exciting human bioengineering and ex-vivo skin models if animal studies had not been available to teach us the way forward.


Many if not all of our alternative non-animal methods for skin toxicity, allergy, irritation and claims support, etc., would not have been developed without studies using animal models in the first place. In fact they actually helped ECVAM* launch the “alternative” direction. We learned that animal models do not correlate well with human studies yet this is also a lesson we should not avoid, since we would have not known this if the information from these studies was not available in the first place! Moreover, we would not be in the strong position we find ourselves in to
take on government regulation and enable the changes we seek for alternative methods. There is an important role for historical publications with animal studies, and they should not be “deleted” or “cancelled” on this growing Woke whim. Doing so hypocritically demeans the lives of those animals that were sacrificed. Furthermore it means that years of research has been consigned to the dustbin, the scientists, the companies and institutions they worked for, the money spent, and so on.

If we “cancel” our past just to make a fast buck on the “fashion” trend-of-the-day, there will be consequences; the most worryingly of all being an empty future. There will be no history to provide and educate future generations entering our industry (the platform from which they learn), to ensure they avoid the mistakes we made. The key mistake being too afraid to “educate” not only the industry but also the consumer.

*https://joint-research-centre.ec.europa.eu/eu-reference-laboratory-alternatives-
animal-testing_en

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