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Ethics and Personal Care

By: Steve Herman
Posted: August 11, 2009, from the August 2009 issue of GCI Magazine.

“Always do right—this will gratify some and astonish the rest.” —Mark Twain

Many disciplines impact personal care, from chemistry and biology to packaging and marketing, but rarely does philosophy arise in discussion. One branch of philosophy—ethics—deserves more attention.

The subdiscipline of applied ethics considers real-life situations, while the specialized fields of bioethics and business ethics have clear relevance to the beauty industry. When you promise to make a consumer look younger or claim that using an antimicrobial product will protect health, are there issues of right and wrong? There certainly are.

A recent brief overview of scientific ethics, On Being A Scientist,1 covers the essentials for academic researchers and also has relevance for the industry. According to the publication, scientists have three types of obligations: to honor the trust that their colleagues place in them, to themselves, and to act in ways that serve the public. The history of bioethics goes back to the beginning of medicine. The ban on dissection in ancient Greece and Rome led to many errors in Roman physician/philosopher Galen’s first century work on anatomy that were not corrected until the work of Flemish anatomist and surgeon Andreas Versalius 1,400 years later. Work on cadavers became common in the 1800s, so more was accurately known about gross anatomy, but work on living organisms was increasingly done on animals such as rabbits, mice and rats that presumably gave results comparable to human testing.

Fast-forward to 1959, when Russell and Burch2 laid down the basic rules to minimize the adverse effects of animal testing. Their rules, the three Rs (replacement, reduction and refinement) were considered humane and scientifically sound. They remain the foundation of programs such as the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing (CAAT) at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.