Tests of cosmetic products on rabbits and mice will soon be banned after European scientists announced that most experiments can now be carried out using non-animal alternatives.
The switch will spare almost 20,000 rabbits a year and 240,000 mice from a life of misery in the laboratory.
Scientists say the new tests will actually provide a more reliable way of checking the safety of chemicals in everyday products such as makeup and washing-up liquid.
Yesterday, the scientific advisory committee of the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods approved five new tests which make the use of live rabbits and mice unnecessary.
Tests of cosmetic products on rabbits and mice will soon be banned after European scientists announced that most experiments can now be carried out using non-animal alternatives
A full ban is subject to approval by all 27 member states, but this could happen by the end of the summer.
Under European Union rules, testing on animals must stop once other options have been validated by experts.
Potential skin irritants such as cosmetics and new chemicals must be tested to ensure they are correctly labelled to declare the level of risk they pose to humans.
At the moment all such experiments - including repeat testing when new products reach the market - is done using 20,000 animals a year, mostly rabbits.
In addition 30,000 chemicals, many in use for years, require oneoff skin allergy tests, using 480,000 mice. Half of those will now be reprieved.
The substitute tests are the result of three years' work by the European Commission to reduce methods of animal testing for cosmetics, drugs and chemicals.
One of the animal-free tests involves growing human skin in the lab and using it to predict whether potential chemicals irritate it.
The experiment is so accurate that testing on rabbits has been rendered redundant.
Another uses animal tissue from slaughterhouses to assess the severity of eye irritants, rather than testing on live rabbits.
A third, used to test skin allergies, will reduce testing on animals by half.
Jan Creamer, chief executive of the National Anti-vivisection Socialternativesety, said the announcement was "long overdue".
She said: "All of those lives are worth saving. This has been a 25-year campaign.
"I think the only small pocket of resistance will be from a small minority of scientists who are stuck in the mud.
"They don't want to retrain on many scientific techniques.
"I would think most companies would welcome this. Non-animal are safer and we can have the results in days.
"This is the future for scientific research."
Some rabbits and mice will still be needed for cosmetic testing, however, along with guinea pigs and rats.
An EU spokesman said the medical advances were significant because a directive will ban the testing of cosmetic ingredients on animals from 2009.
"These (animal-free) tests are an important part of the European Commission's policy to reduce, replace and refine tests on animals in the EU," he said.
The news is a victory for animal rights protesters.
Yesterday an 88-year-old woman began a two- day fast to protest against brain experiments being conducted on a macaque monkey at Oxford University.
Joan Court, from Cambridge, is synchronising her protest with World Week for Animals in Laboratories.
A recent poll showed almost 40 per cent of adults opposed the use of scientific testing on animals.