It's a relief to know that these days most of the products we love do not test their ingredients on animals. Wired visited the lab that produces human skin cells that it sells to cosmetics and chemical manufacturers for cruelty-free testing. It's a strange, fascinating process straight out of a sci-fi movie. Boston-based MatTek uses medical waste from circumcisions, tummy tucks, and biopsies, collected at hospitals from patients who consented to donate their tissue to research. The technicians then break down the cells with enzymes and follow a "recipe" to grow multiple layers to mimic the multiple layers of skin. The resulting translucent, dime-size product doesn't look like skin, but researchers can manipulate it to test for certain reactions. They add a dye to the sample that reveals how many skin cells are living in dead after exposure to the product being tested. “They are a much better simulation of human skin than animals are,” Carol Treasure, of testing company XCellR8, told Wired. It certainly sounds more scientifically reliable than shaving an animal's fur to see how much a given cream will irritate it. With this tissue, the researchers can look at how, say, an anti-aging lotion will turn genes on or off.
There are limitations, Wired reports. MatTek's disks are simple and don't have oil or hair follicles. Very specific reactions can be measured this way, but the process is not going to replicate what real skin does. In other words, science isn't able to solve all your skin problems in a lab, yet.