Animal-welfare advocates are pressing for mandatory labelling to allow customers to easily identify which cosmetics have been tested on animals.
The call comes as some European cosmetics brands continue animal-testing outside Europe - despite a complete ban in the EU itself on the sale or import of new cosmetics developed through animal testing.
"The fact that a brand is from Europe doesn't, unfortunately, mean that products sold in Hong Kong are cruelty-free; many companies reserve the option to have animal tests done outside Europe," Dr Nick Palmer, policy director for lobby group Cruelty Free International, said.
Dr Palmer visited China last month for talks with regulators, scientists and cosmetics companies on how the country can continue to move away from cosmetics tests on animals, after dropping requirements for animal tests on some products this year.
Hong Kong animal-welfare advocate Gary Chan Hak-kan said mandatory labelling would be a logical step before introducing a complete ban on products that had been tested on animals.
"The trade may need time to adopt the cruelty-free culture," added the legislator for the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.
"So we should do it in phases, starting with inviting the cosmetics companies to sign a pledge to adopt a cruelty-free policy, and then introducing a mandatory labelling system before a complete ban, which is our ultimate goal," he said.
Chan said he would bring up the issue in the Legislative Council, which resumes next month following the summer break.
Dr Fiona Woodhouse, a deputy director for the SPCA, which is also calling for a ban, cautioned that Hong Kong's free market ethos might create barriers in imposing a complete ban.
She agreed mandatory labelling could be a viable option to make sure customers were making an informed choice.
Animal Earth officer Cheung Yuen-man said mandatory labelling would ensure companies made truthful declarations about their products.
"Personally, I contact companies to make inquiries before I made a purchase. Like any ordinary customer, I can't verify their reply and have to believe their claims," Cheung said.
Jason Baker, vice-president of international operations at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) Asia-Pacific, also believed labelling would enable consumers to make more informed choices. "But Hong Kong should go one step further and follow the lead of India and the EU in banning testing on animals for cosmetics."
L'Oreal Hong Kong, which owns popular French cosmetics brands such as Lancome, Biotherm and Vichy, admits that even though the company abandoned testing products on animals in March last year, it still allowed exceptions "if authorities in certain countries demand it for safety or regulatory purposes".
Provence-based L'Occitane said the company did not conduct tests on animals during development of its products as all its products were sourced and made in France. However, it did not address whether products marketed in China remained cruelty-free.
In a joint reply, the Food and Health Bureau and Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said the government had no plans for a complete ban on animal testing. They did not comment on the possibility of mandatory labelling.More on this: