Are there sharks in your cosmetics and skincare products? Squalene and Squalane, explained

If you’re the type to analyze ingredients before buying skincare products, you’ve probably come across the words “squalane” and “squalene.” While they might seem pretty harmless compared to other common ingredients that are around a mile long, don’t let that fool you. They come from a surprising source: shark livers.

What is shark squalene and how does it show up in your beauty products?

Squalene/squalane is an ingredient of choice in many skin care and beauty products. As a surprise to many, whether spelled with an ‘e’ or an ‘a’, the ingredient usually comes from shark livers.

Although squalene can come from plant sources such as sugar cane, olives, and rice bran, experts say sourcing from sharks is cheaper and easier. According BLOOM, the cosmetics sector represents 90% of the world production of shark liver oil. In total, more than three million deep-sea sharks are killed every year.

Squalene and squalane are often used as a moisturizing ingredient in lotions to soften the skin. You’ll also find them in sunscreens, lip balms, and cosmetics like foundation and lipstick. They have also been used to treat wounds and have been used in vaccines. Moreover, they have been shown to help reduce scarring and help with skin pigmentation.

The Problems That Come With Shark Squalene Production

Unfortunately, the shark oil trade and squalene fishing are too often left unregulated. Because of this, every year millions of sharks are killed. Their livers are then harvested and this oil, called squalene/squalane, is extracted.

Even though shark-derived squalene is cheaper and easier to use, some leading companies in the beauty industry, such as L’Oreal, have already made the transition to using plant-based squalene. It comes as many species of sharks face many man-made threats that push them further towards endangerment and extinction.

The supply of squalene to sharks has left many shark populations in a vulnerable position, as they have become part of the collection of hidden ingredients used in the beauty industry. In fact, the few regulations surrounding ingredients like this used in the cosmetics industry has led to the rise of the clean beauty movement.

Our final thoughts

squalene sharks squalane

It is important to note that sharks are present in unexpected ways in products belonging to the health and cosmetics industries. When it comes to the beauty world, it’s getting easier and easier to find plant-based squalene, as it’s often found in vegan products.

Taking a few extra steps when researching the best products for you could save the sharks. As conscious consumers, we have the ability to vote with our dollars and show the cosmetics industry what kinds of products we want. And the shark-free options are certainly worth adding to your list.


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Donovan B. Sanford