Meet five women behind our work to end animal testing
At Unilever we don’t test our products on animals, and we’ve been developing and using alternatives to animal testing for more than 30 years. Here five young scientists based at one of our UK R&D centres share what this work means to them
We’re supporting calls for a global ban on animal testing for cosmetics . And we hope that through collaboration between companies, NGOs and governments – and the dedication of scientists passionate about the cause – it will soon be possible for all cosmetic products to be sold without the need for animal testing anywhere in the world.
Unilever is one of just five companies listed by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) as a company ‘working for regulatory change’. In fact, R&D experts at our Safety and Environmental Assurance Centre (SEAC) in Colworth, UK have been working on developing and using alternatives to animal testing to assure product safety for more than 30 years.
We caught up with five scientists who are part of the SEAC team and some of its rising stars. All five are women. They’re all under the age of 30. And they’re all passionate about the role science and technology can play in ending animal testing.
Today, on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, they share a little about their work, their motivations and their advice for young women hoping to carve their own career in scientific research. Scroll through the carousel below to read their stories, in their own words.
Our scientists’ stories
Sophie Cable, Product Safety Scientist
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a scientist. So working in human safety is pretty much a dream come true for me. I joined Unilever two years ago and, as a safety scientist, it’s my job to ensure that any new ingredient or product that Unilever makes will be safe for anyone who uses it. As part of this, I’m working on ‘next-generation risk assessments’ which use the newest techniques to assess that the ingredients we use in our products are safe without testing them on animals.
We’re sharing our approach to safety assessment using non-animal methods with other academics, industries and regulators and I’m hopeful that this could be the start of a journey that one day sees a global ban on animal testing.
To any girls seeking a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects, I’d say you should never stop pursuing something you’re passionate about. Many of the people who inspired me are women, and we need the next generation of role models.
Elin Barrett, Computational Chemist
Making cosmetics cruelty-free has been something I've cared about for a long time, so when I realised there was a way to apply my chemistry degree in order to hopefully advance that cause, it felt like the perfect fit.
I develop and apply computational methods which can be used to determine potential hazards for molecules, as a replacement for animal testing. It means we’re using technology to assess that the shampoo you wash your hair with, or the cream that you use to moisturise your face, are safe to use. No animals are involved in the process at all.
The work of scientists and communicators in this area was the reason Dove, one of our biggest brands, was able to be accredited as cruelty-free by PETA in 2018 – a very exciting step in the right direction.
I think it’s vital that more girls pursue roles in science. Many of the challenges the world is facing will need scientists to solve them. A career in science can empower you to make a difference in a cause you care about.
Georgia Reynolds, Product Safety Scientist
During my studies I learnt about traditional methods to safety testing, and it made me redirect my planned career path into finding alternative methods. My work at Unilever involves leading projects in skin allergy and immunology to investigate and develop non-animal methods that ensure the safety of our beauty and personal care products, without testing on animals.
I always thought pursuing science meant I would become a doctor or work in the pharmaceutical industry, but I’ve learnt that if you can find something you’re interested in and explore it enough, there will be science behind it. If you have a passion, then you can always apply science to make a difference.
Part of the reason I wanted to work for Unilever was because it is at the forefront of developing non-animal methods. I now feel privileged to be a part of that. I get to work with some of the world’s leading scientists in this area and apply these strategies to ensure consumers have safe products to use on a daily basis. Not only this, but I also get to travel and present to other scientists around the world to inform and educate them on these methods.
Mabel Cotter, Product Safety Scientist
If one of Unilever’s brands want to include a new ingredient in a product, try to use an ingredient in a new way, such as a shower foam instead of a shower gel, or use more ingredient in a product than they currently do – that’s where I come in. My job is to risk-assess the ingredient and conclude whether the proposed use is safe or not.
I’m passionate about it because I’m a consumer too. And as a consumer, I want and expect the products I use to be safe.
Remember that time you washed your hair and didn’t get ill afterwards? That was me! Or that time you used a moisturiser and didn’t develop an allergic reaction? You’re welcome. Although a lot of the work we do is behind the scenes, ultimately the decisions we make can impact the 2.5 billion people that use Unilever products every day.
It’s varied, interesting and challenging work and science can take you places. In the two years since I joined Unilever’s R&D team, I’ve had the opportunity to present my work in Belgium, Austria and the US, as we share our discoveries with a wider community.
Mona Delagrange, Product Safety Scientist
At Unilever we invest a lot of time and resource to improve the ways in which we study risks that some chemicals might pose to consumers. We do so not by using animals, but instead by designing computer models or cell-based tests, that are much more relevant to human biology than using animals. I care deeply about animal welfare and so designing alternatives to animal testing feels extremely empowering to me.
I feel like my work makes an impact because my advice can determine whether a new product or ingredient will be placed on the market. That’s also why we need to make sure that our methods of assessing the safety of an ingredient are based on robust scientific methods. The fact we can do this without using animals in the process is something I’m very proud about.
If you want to understand human biology, are curious about chemical activity and care about animal welfare, safety science (toxicology) is the field where you can combine all of these. Whatever small contribution you can make is very rewarding because you’re not only keeping consumers safe and happy, but also helping to improve the process for future generations.
57% of Unilever’s R&D employees are women
50% of women in our R&D function are in managerial roles
170 scientists work at our SEAC hub – many have international scientific reputations