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Squalene and Squalane: There Might Be a Shark in your Makeup

Karina Hesselbo


Photo VIA dolah on iStock

Shark fin soup is a glaring issue. Every year, 73 million sharks are killed for their fins to make the dish. However, we shouldn’t just focus on shark fin soup, as there are other major problems these sea creatures face that require our attention. There is one shark related concern that we choose to contribute to whenever we shop in the cosmetic aisle: shark squalene in makeup.

Squalene is a great emollient. It helps in the absorption and spreadability of creams, prevents wrinkles from occurring, and curbs moisture loss. Within the cosmetic industry, squalene can be found in foundation, lipstick, hair conditioner, eye shadow, and more. Currently, the squalene market is valued at 143 million USD and is expected to increase to 198 million USD in 2027.

Having such a high value, it’s clear why squalane is so sought out. The big problem is that it can be found in a shark’s liver. Shark liver oil, which contains squalene, is used for buoyancy. Deep sea sharks have large livers, because the substance helps prevent them from sinking. In fact, 25% of a deep-sea shark’s bodyweight can be attributed to their liver, and up to 96% of the oils in the liver is squalene.

The high quantities of squalene in sharks’ livers have made the creatures fishing targets, and this threatens them with extinction. It takes 3,000 sharks to produce a ton of squalene. The yearly demand for squalene is around 1,000 to 2,000 tons. There are 60 deep sea shark species who are fished for squalene, and 26 of them are critically endangered to the point where scientists say that they shouldn’t be caught at all.

Fortunately, squalene can be found in places other than a shark’s liver. Many organisms produce squalene, such as olives. Why then, do cosmetics brands use shark squalene? One word: money. As mentioned before, sharks contain high concentrations of squalene, and they are a cheaper source of the substance than others, including olives.

Lastly, don’t be fooled by the belief that squalane isn’t derived from animals. There’s a myth that squalane only comes from olives, but it can also come from sharks. Squalane is a saturated form of squalene, which is occasionally used in its place, as it lasts longer and is less susceptible to oxidation.

We can stop the endangerment of sharks by not buying cosmetics that contain shark squalene. We must make the message clear that we want squalene to be sourced from an ethical and sustainable source, and not cost the life of a shark.

So, how do you avoid purchasing shark-based squalene? Read the ingredients list of the cosmetics goods you purchase. If the packaging doesn’t indicate that the product is fully plant based, and if it contains either squalene or squalane, then don’t buy it.



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