Ever wondered what your cosmetics products are made of? Or what the ingredients on the package really are?
The unfortunate truth is that your favorite and most used products could contain shark, labelled as squalene, a compound made from shark liver oil. Squalene is a common ingredient in lipsticks, foundations, eye shadow, moisturizers, sunscreens, and lip balms.
More than 60 shark species are fished for their liver oil, 26 of which are listed on the IUCN Red list as Vulnerable to Extinction. The most sought after are deep sea sharks because their liver can make up 20% of their body weight. These deep-sea sharks are already subject to overfishing and scientists have concluded they should not be caught at all.
According to Bloom, the demand for shark liver oil in 2012 was estimated at 2,200 tons – selling for $35,000 per ton. It takes 3000 sharks to produce a ton of squalene. World demand is increasing at an alarming rate, and squalene is estimated to sell for $39,000 by 2024.
Rob Stewart thought you should know when an endangered predator is turning up in something you consume. Unfortunately, with current labeling laws, companies don’t have to disclose their use of shark-based squalene – and the burden falls squarely on the consumer. So, we thought we’d provide you with information that can help you make better choices. This will ultimately help end the destructive use of shark in cosmetics.
Check out this list of cosmetics brands that are completely shark-free, safe, and sustainable for our oceans. It should be good policy and practice for all companies to not engage in the trade of endangered species.
Shu Uemura Art of Hair
Maybelline New York
Maison Martin Margiela
The Body Shop
Love Beauty Planet
Beauty Without Cruelty
Body Crystal of California
ColorProof Evolved Color Care
Dear Self Skincare
Earth Mama Angel Baby
The Fanciful Fox
Sharks play a crucial role on this planet. For 450 million years, before there were trees, and 200 million years before dinosaurs – sharks have been shaping our world – creating a framework for life in the oceans. The oceans are the most important ecosystem to our survival – oceans provide at least 60% of the oxygen we breathe, absorb our excess heat and excess carbon — the gas that causes climate change and feed more than a billion people. Every three out of five breaths you take comes from the oceans. We can’t live on this planet without healthy oceans.
Along with demand from the cosmetics industry, sharks are being killed for their fins, livers, flesh, cartilage, and skin. And they’re being sold to you in disguise! Chances are, you’ve used products that contain shark. You just didn’t know it!
It’s hard to believe that many of us have been smearing endangered, 450-million-year-old super predators on our face without being aware of it. But sadly, it’s true. The excessive targeting of these sharks has caused dramatic population declines of certain species that live over 3000 feet below sea level, greatly impacting their future survival. This is done for the sake of beauty – and our sharks cannot withstand the pressure.
Shark liver oil or squalene is commonly used in cosmetic products ranging from anti-aging creams, lotions, deodorants, hair conditioners, eye shadows, lipstick, foundation, lip balms, sunscreen, and cleansers.
Hope on the horizon
Shark-based squalene has a readily available substitute on the market that comes from a purely vegetable origin – olives – which is known to be of better quality than shark-based squalene. Squalene is also found in amaranth seeds, rice bran, wheat germ, fungi, and date palm. Manufacturers claim that plant alternatives cost up to 20% more. This makes shark squalene attractive to the industry and is driving deep water sharks into extinction.
As more and more consumers are becoming aware of the issues facing sharks, the market is starting to see a shift towards ethical, plant-based squalane and synthetics. Some companies have already shifted to plant-based sources, or didn’t use shark squalene to begin with – including Ponds, Dove and L’Oréal. However, on a global scale, shark remains the primary source of squalene.
Unproven medicinal uses for squalene
Not only will you find squalene in the cosmetic and lotion aisles at the pharmacy, but you will also find it in the supplement and remedy aisles as well. Shark liver oil is used to promote the healing of wounds, irritations of the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract, and in general debility with no medical proof of its efficacy. It is also sold in pill form as a way of preventing cancer, simply because it has supposed impacts on white blood cells, which in turn promote strong immunity. Both times, however, there is no medical proof or reasoning behind the use of shark squalene.
Viable alternatives exist
Shark liver oil is also a common ingredient in medicinal creams like Preparation H. Squalene is used to improve the efficacy of several vaccines – including COVID, Swine Flu and Malaria – manufactured by pharmaceutical giants. We encourage all manufactures utilizing shark squalene to transition to an alternate source.
The difference an “a” makes
Don’t be fooled, squalene and squalane can both come from sharks. Squalane is a saturated form of squalene in which the double bonds have been eliminated by hydrogenation. Because squalane is less susceptible to oxidation, odorless and has a longer efficacy, it is more commonly used in personal care products than squalene.
Consumers bear the burden
Unfortunately, cosmetics and personal care product brands have no legal obligation to let consumers know the source of their squalene. Additionally, some companies falsely promote ‘squalane’ as the plant alternative to shark squalene, when it is in fact just the derivative of shark liver oil.
Until laws are passed to change labelling on squalane-based products, it’s up to us as consumers to vote with our dollars, thoroughly researching the products we buy. If squalene or squalane is listed – look for the words ‘100% plant-derived,’ or ‘vegetable based’ or “vegetable origins.” If the label doesn’t indicate the source, don’t buy it! Or reach out to the company and ask. Better yet, always choose products you know do not contain shark squalene. More and more ethical cosmetic companies are emerging. Why choose to jeopardize our oceans when you have another option?
With some attention and pressure, we know we can persuade companies to make their products without shark squalene. That’s why we’ve started a movement called SharkFree. Through science, grassroots tools, and education, we want to make ALL the products we buy are #SHARKFREE.
#SHARKFREE is a campaign to keep sharks out of our products, so we can reduce pressure on their populations and save them from extinction. Because it is entirely unnecessary to kill sharks for cosmetics… or pet food… or soup.
We’re also in the process of raising funds to test products so you know what products are free of shark. We’re certain the results will shock you and change the products you consume. You don’t want to be contributing to the demise of one of the oldest, most important predators the planet has!
Clarke, Shelley C.; McAllister, Murdoch K.; Milner-Gulland, E. J.; Kirkwood, G. P.; Michielsens, Catherine G. J.; Agnew, David J.; Pikitch, Ellen K.; Nakano, Hideki et al. “Global estimates of shark catches using trade records from commercial markets.” Ecology Letters 9 (10): 1115–1126 (2006).
“Sharks: Key to Healthy Oceans.” The PEW Environmental Group and the Bahamas National Trust. PEWenvironment.org.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. “Shark utilization, marketing, and trade.” (1999).
Deni Kirkova. “Lily Cole to reveal the ugly truth behind luxury beauty: Model exposes industry’s cruel use of SHARK liver.” Mail Online. Associated Newspapers Lid. May 27, 2013.
Lucy Cockcroft. “Cosmetics giants agree to stop using shark oil.” The Telegraph. January 30, 2008.
National Geographic: “There might be a Shark in your sunscreen”
Bloom: “The hideous price of beauty”
Newsweek: “Could there be shark in your lipstick?”
Science Daily: “New method could stop shark oil being used in cosmetics and vaccines”
Axiology: “The Truth Behind One of the Cosmetic Industry’s Deadliest Ingredients: Squalene”
American Cancer Society. “Shark Liver Oil.” November 1, 2008.
Cosmetics Database: Squalane & Squalene: