Gertrude-Emilia Costin, Hans A. Raabe, Robert Priston, Eric Evans and Rodger D. Curren
Mucosal surfaces, such as the vaginal epithelium, are natural barriers to infection that are constantly exposed to bacteria and viruses, and are therefore potential sites of entry for numerous pathogens. The vaginal epithelium can be damaged mechanically, e.g. by the incorrect use of objects such as tampons, and by chemicals that are irritating or corrosive. Consequently, this can lead to an increase in susceptibility to further damage or infection. Pharmaceutical, cosmetic and personal care products that are specifically formulated for application onto human external mucosae can occasionally induce undesirable local or systemic side-effects. Therefore, the compatibility of applied materials with this mucosal surface represents a key issue to be addressed by manufacturers. The most frequently used method for assessing vaginal mucosal irritation is the in vivo rabbit vaginal irritation test. However, the current emphasis in the field of toxicology is to use alternative in vitro methods that reduce, refine, and replace the use of animals, and which model and predict human, not animal, responses. Such an approach is of particular interest to the personal care and cosmetic industries in their effort to comply with European legislative measures, such as the 7th Amendment to the EU Cosmetics Directive that does not permit the marketing of cosmetic products if they, or their ingredients, have been tested for irritation responses in animals. The focus of this review is to provide an overview of the alternative and in vitro tests that are currently available for vaginal mucosal irritation assessment, and which are already used, or may become useful, to establish the safety of newly-designed products for human use.
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