Nuove leggi per i test sugli animali in Cina nel 2021: cosa è cambiato?

Since May 2021, new animal testing laws have come into effect in China. There is a lot of confusion around the theme, especially with the new changes made.

In this article, I will analyze what I know about China's animal testing laws in 2021. We will briefly talk about China's animal testing regulations in recent years, the risk of post-market testing, and the current status of animal testing for cosmetics in China.

China is the only country that requires cosmetics to be tested on animals, and being the second largest beauty market in the world, it is important to know the laws to understand what cruelty-free companies actually are. as I mean it .

Animal testing laws from 2012 to 2021

In 2012 it was stated that cosmetics sold in China necessarily had to be tested on animals. Companies have had to choose whether to continue selling their products in China or refrain from doing so.

Companies that have continued to sell in China have chosen to test on animals. A more than understandable choice if you think about the size of the Chinese market and the profit that a nation like China can give to a company. Instead, companies that have preferred not to sell in China have chosen to make or keep the brand cruelty-free.

At the time, all cosmetic brands wishing to sell their products in China had to submit their finished products to be tested on animals in Chinese laboratories. Those same products - and their ingredients - had already been on sale in the local markets of the brands, and had already proved safe. The companies still had to provide a sample of their products to be tested on animals before they could sell them in China. It was a fairly simple mechanism: to sell in China, you had to accept animal tests and pay Chinese scientists to test them in laboratories.

In 2014, China updated the laws. At that point, domestically made non-special-purpose cosmetics could be exempted from testing if they were found to be reliable.

On January 1, 2021, China made some further changes to animal testing laws, revoking some mandatory tests for some cosmetics.

Before explaining the law, we need to understand how China distinguishes cosmetics: special use cosmetics and non-special use cosmetics.

Cosmetics for special use

Special use cosmetics are products such as hair dyes, sun creams, whitening products, hair loss products and cosmetics that offer new efficacy.

Special use cosmetics have yet to be tested on animals. This also includes special use cosmetics made in China.

Non-special use cosmetics

Non-special use cosmetics, usually called “ordinary cosmetics”, are all other products: make-up, skincare products, hair products, nail polish and perfumes.

Amendments to China's animal testing laws only apply to ordinary cosmetics.

Ordinary cosmetics that need to be tested on animals

The new laws don't exempt all ordinary cosmetics from being tested on animals.

Animal testing is required for ordinary cosmetics if they meet at least one of the following:

  • The products are marketed or designed for babies and / or children

  • Products that contain a "new cosmetic ingredient"

  • The producer is listed as a key oversight target based on the results of the quantitative grading system established by the NMPA

If any of the above conditions apply, companies will be required to conduct animal testing.

If a company's product does not meet one of the criteria listed above, it may qualify for exemption from animal testing in 2021, but only if it meets a number of preconditions.

How can a company avoid testing on animals?

Foreign cosmetic companies wishing to import and sell their non-special use cosmetics in China without animal testing prior to commercialization must meet two specific preconditions:

  • Obtain GMP certifications issued and granted by the local government cosmetic authority

  • Provide a safety assessment that can fully confirm the safety of the products

It seems that it is not easy to obtain these certifications at the moment. In the United States it proved to be particularly complex. The French government, on the other hand, has created an online platform that allows cosmetic companies to obtain these certificates. We hope that most European countries will follow France's example.

It is still unclear whether the Chinese government will recognize these certificates and safety ratings issued by foreign institutions. For now, no brands have been accepted for sale in China without testing.

Do all cosmetics sold in China need to be tested?

Not all cosmetics sold in China need to be tested. In fact, it also depends on the sales method that companies choose.

Mainland China

It is mandatory to carry out animal testing on cosmetics sold in physical retail stores in mainland China. If a company's cosmetic products are marketed on a shelf in a mainland Chinese store, then they will have been tested on animals.

Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan

Cosmetics can be imported and sold in these regions without animal testing. This is because Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan are not part of mainland China and do not have the same animal testing laws.

Online selling

Cosmetics sold directly to consumers through cross-border e-commerce sites have never been required to test on animals. This includes companies that sell from their own website or on an online Chinese retailer website, where products are shipped directly to consumers and therefore do not need to be tested on animals.

This is why it is very important to understand whether brands are selling in brick-and-mortar stores in mainland China.

Do cosmetics made in China need to be tested?

Cosmetics made in China but not sold in China should not be tested on animals. Brands that manufacture in China but don't sell their products there have never been forced to test on animals.

What about products made and sold in China?

In 2014, China updated its animal testing laws allowing domestically produced ordinary cosmetics to be exempted from pre-market testing if deemed safe and reliable.

Some brands that want to continue to be cruelty-free without giving up selling in China use this strategy. They manufacture the products they want to sell in China at a local facility.

However, post-marketing testing may still be required.

Pre-market and post-market testing

Post-market testing is conducted after product registration has been approved and the product is already being marketed on store shelves in China. Products are randomly tested to make sure those sold to customers are the same in their registration records. But many experts and organizations have mixed views on whether post-market testing is still ongoing on animals.

In 2019 it was announced that post-marketing testing in China will not include animal testing and it was also reported that post-marketing testing has not been conducted on animals in years.

Additionally, some cruelty-free brands currently selling domestically made ordinary cosmetics in China have policies in place that, in the event their products were investigated, would withdraw their products from the shelves instead of allowing animal testing.

Some cruelty-free consumers are not comfortable supporting any brand that chooses to put their products at risk of being tested on animals in China, as Chinese regulations do not explicitly exclude the use of animals in post-market testing.


If before the test situation in China was complex, from 2021 it is even more so.

Before these 2021 changes, we followed a simple rule: if a cosmetic brand imported and sold one of its cosmetic products in China, it had to test on animals and therefore it couldn't be cruelty-free.

Now, with the recent changes, it has become much more complex.

It will no longer be enough to know if a brand sells in China to know if it is cruelty-free or not. Each brand will be evaluated on a case by case basis. And we know brands aren't fully transparent, so it's not going to be easy at all.

We just have to wait and see if these new Chinese laws will bring us ever closer to a cruelty-free world!


The article has practically been adapted from this article by Ethical Elephant.

Vittoria Tomassini