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Growing Old Disgracefully: The Cosmetic Use of Botulinum Toxin

Krys Bottrill

The explosive growth in the use of botulinum toxin for cosmetic purposes has undoubtedly had an impact on the number of animals used in the potency testing of this product. The test used is a classical LD50, a severe procedure during which animals experience increasing paralysis until the occurrence of death. The enthusiastic adoption by the general public of the use of botulinum toxin as an anti-wrinkle treatment has, at least in Europe, paradoxically taken place against a background of moves to stop animal testing of cosmetics and cosmetic ingredients. There appears to be a dearth of information aimed at the public concerning botulinum toxin testing. Botulinum toxin does have important medical applications; however, the question arises whether a blanket licence for the testing can be justified, when a large proportion of the product is being used cosmetically. A further question is why death continues to be the endpoint of the potency test, when a more-humane endpoint has been proposed. In addition, a number of alternative methods have been developed, which could have the potential to replace the lethal potency test altogether. These methods are discussed in this paper, and the importance of establishing a strategy for their validation is emphasised, a need that has become even more urgent in the light of the recently published draft monograph on botulinum toxin by the European Pharmacopoeia Commission.