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Shark sourced squalane takes a bite out of your face cream

Reviewed by Marta May 24, 2010 6 Comments
Squalane an emollient used in tons of cosmetics can be made from either a plant source (olives mostly) or shark’s livers. I had blithely assumed that these days getting hold of an olive must be a heck of a lot easier than hunting down a shark and that very few of my potions could be further endangering this fragile species.

It turns out I was wrong. More than 100 out of 400 shark species are being commercially exploited and many are so overexploited that they face extinction. Nonetheless, the cosmetic industry maintains a preference for shark oil-derived squalane as it requires shorter processing times and produces a higher yield than its olive oil counterpart.

In 2006, the EU imposed deep sea shark fishing limits in the North-East Atlantic, and pressure from environmental groups prompted companies such as L’Oreal and Unilever to begin phasing out the use of squalane in their products in 2008.

Despite such efforts, identifying the origin of the compound has been impossible, thus cosmetics manufacturers cannot confidently say where their squalane comes from. Conveniently, the cynical might say. Anyhow, now researchers in Italy claim to have developed a method to distinguish olive oil from shark squalene and squalane samples, and detect the illegal addition of shark derivatives in olive oil based products.

The author, Federica Camin, said the approach could help protect deepwater sharks and allow product manufacturers to communicate ethical practices.

“Our method will protect both cosmetics firms and consumers from commercial fraud and will make it possible to promote the production of squalene from olive oil. It will also allow the origin of squalane within a finished product to be determined.”

What can we do? Start asking our cosmetic companies where their squalane comes from.
  • September 18, 2011

    by Dena Epp

    In fact, most of the deep sea sharks are the ones considered to be high vulnerability if not endangered. If you wish to be proactive in your research, be more specific in asking this "well-known" Japanese company which shark species are used for squalane. There is a website, http://www.shark.ch/Database/EndangeredSharks/index.html that lists all the species of endangered sharks. I do not use products, especially cosmetics, that require animal parts. Jojoba oil more closely mimics our own sebum than any other oil. I am not a vegetarian, for the record. I am, however, concerned about the ocean, as any human on this planet should be.

  • September 11, 2011

    by Squalane User

    Please note that the sharks used to make Squalane oil are NOT endangered and are plentiful in the seas -endangered sharks are not used for this purpose. Not all of us are Vegetarians/Vegans, and many of us enjoy eating meat products and using animal sourced cosmetics such as Emu oil, so long as the animals are as humanely harvested as possible and not endangered.

    We should all do more research on where the ingredients in our cosmetics come from, and that includes not making blanket statements about animal sourced Squalane oil.

    There is also a big difference in skin feel and penetration between Squalane derived from plants and those from sharks. I personally prefer the shark derived Squalane, as I find it superior in skin penetration and moisturization. I only use the "micro" oil produced by a well known Japanese company who only uses deep, non-endangered cold water sharks as a source, as regular, non-micro Squalane oil doesn't penetrate deep enough and can simply sit on the skin and may cause breakouts.

    Shark derived Squalane oil is also noted for it's anti-cancer and anti-tumor activity, which is why it is also taken in capsule form as a supplement. This activity has only been found in shark derived Squalane, and not the plant sourced material.

  • May 25, 2010

    by marta

    Your Best Face wrote to tell me that their squalane is olive derived and that they will make that clear in the future.

    TIA: Saving sharks and changing the world one potion at a time :)

  • May 24, 2010

    by Julie Kay

    It was naive to hope manufacturers were religiuosly distinguishing the two through spelling: Squalene for the shark liver source and Squalane for that sourced from olives. Sharks will continue to be hunted for their fins and other by-products; delicacies in the East. One can only hope skin care companies aren't independently hunting sharks for this single commodity- their liver. I could weep. ~jk

  • May 24, 2010

    by Ines

    Ive noticed some companies already have posted if their squalane is olive derived, bravo! Is good that sites like TIA keep us informed so we will be able to read and understand labels and avoid products from unethical companies.

  • May 24, 2010

    by Jana

    Marta ~ thank you for this very informative post. Although squalane does not agree with my skin (therefore I look for products without it or very low on the list), I also just assumed cosmetic companies used plant-derived squalane. I now will question them about which type they use. Jana

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