There’s Shark in My Cosmetics?!

By Guest Blogger: Nicole T. Sedran

shark cosmetics.jpg

Many cosmetics manufacturers guarantee that their products are cruelty-free. However, there still is an ugly truth behind many beauty and skincare products. People may not know that numerous cosmetics contain animal-derived ingredients, one being Squalene.


Photo Credit: Rob Stewart, Sharkwater

Photo Credit: Rob Stewart, Sharkwater

What is Squalene?

Squalene and its derivative squalane can be found in various cosmetic products ranging from sunscreen to lip balm. It is also thought to be rich in antioxidants and contain age-fighting liniment. The reason for this is that squalene is naturally occurring in humans. It is one of the most common lipids produced by human skin cells and acts as a barrier, locking-in skin moisture and providing a shield from environmental toxins and free radicals. Since it mimics our body’s natural moisturizer, it can be rapidly absorbed by the skin and doesn’t leave that lingering residue that everyone hates.

Photo Credit: Seven Point Five

Photo Credit: Seven Point Five

Where does it come from?

Squalene is the oil found in sharks’ liver that is used to help regulate their buoyancy. It also naturally occurs in olives, wheat germ, rice bran, and other plants. However, sourcing it from sharks is thought to be easier and more affordable than using plant-based squalene (30 percent more).[NS1] 


Squalene’s impact

Even though squalene can be found in other products like dietary supplements and vaccines, as much as 90 percent of shark-based squalene is being sold to the cosmetic industry. This corresponds to about 3 million sharks being caught each year. Like most commodities being sold on a market, the price of squalene is driven by supply and demand. The demand for liver oil outpaces the supply (a limited resource).[NS2]  This causes the market value to increase, making shark oil a hot commodity. As of 2015, a pound of shark oil could go for almost $7 USD. This may cause fishing operations to partake in the wasteful practice of “livering”, similar to finning, is when the liver is harvested and the rest of the animal’s carcass is thrown back into the ocean.

Photo Credit: Avi Klapfer

Photo Credit: Avi Klapfer


Deep-sea sharks, such as gulper sharks, basking sharks, and tope sharks, are being targeted for oil because they have a higher concentration of squalene in their livers than their counterparts. As fishing technology has advanced and the global trade demand for shark products continues to grow, sharks are under even greater threat than ever.

Unlike shallow water sharks, deep-water sharks tend to be more sensitive to fishing exploitation. Deep-sea sharks have life history characteristics that are well adapted to life in the depths of the ocean. They have large eyes, so they can see in the dark depths of the ocean, they have lower metabolic rates to cope with the lack of food, and they have highly oily livers to maintain buoyancy under the increased amounts of pressure experienced at deep depths. Unfortunately, the adaption of having a highly oily liver, along with a slow growth rate and late maturity, make these populations highly sensitive to fishing exploitation. Deep-sea sharks can take anywhere from 35-50 years to reach maturity (some even longer) and only live to about 70 (species dependent). What this means is that sharks are not able to replenish their population as fast as they are being taken out, causing populations to drop drastically.

Blackfin Gulper Shark ( Centrophorus isodon ) Photo Credit: Andy Murch

Blackfin Gulper Shark (Centrophorus isodon) Photo Credit: Andy Murch

Alternatives Options

As public concern for shark conservation continues to grow, many companies have started using vegetable-based alternatives or synthetically created squalene. When shopping for cosmetics and skincare products, make sure to look for 100% vegetable-derived, vegetable-based, vegetable-origins, or vegan to indicate if products are shark free.

Tope Shark ( Galeorhinus galeus)  Photo Credit: Steve Parish Nature Connect

Tope Shark (Galeorhinus galeus) Photo Credit: Steve Parish Nature Connect

Many of the biggest names in the cosmetic industry have already recognized their social and moral responsibility to not contribute to the extinction of these important animals. Here are some brands that have vowed to no longer use shark-based squalene: Ponds, Boots, Dove, Sunsilk, Vaseline, L’Oreal, Lancome, Soft & Dri, Clarins, Sisley and La Mer. However, it is important to note there are still plenty of companies, particularly international, that use shark-based squalene. Be vigilant and do your homework to see where the squalene or squalane in your products is coming from. If unsure of its specific source, ask the manufacturer. Do your small part in helping protect these amazing creatures.

Basking Shark ( Cetorhinus maximus)  Photo Credits: Martin Prochazkacz

Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) Photo Credits: Martin Prochazkacz