Sharks in your Skincare

Sharks, similar to this one, that live deep down in the ocean, are especially targetted for their squalane because they tend to carry a lot of the oil. Courtesy of Hermanus Backpackers.

Sharks, similar to this one, that live deep down in the ocean, are especially targetted for their squalane because they tend to carry a lot of the oil. Courtesy of Hermanus Backpackers.

If you are one of many people who use moisturizer, sunscreen, or any cosmetic products on a daily basis, you may want to check the ingredients list. There is a high chance that one of the ingredients is a moisturizing oil by the name of squalane. The use of squalane oil in skincare and hair care products on the market has increased tremendously over the years, yet many people don’t understand where it comes from. It may be hard to believe, but the easiest way that producers harvest squalane is from shark livers. You can reread that sentence, but yes, squalane originates from shark liver oil. More companies are beginning to switch to vegan alternatives, and although they’re more expensive, they provide a great middle-ground for skincare enthusiasts and shark conservationists. 

What exactly is squalane? According to the Cleveland Clinic, squalane is “a saturated oil that’s used in skin care products as a moisturizer, helps increase hydration, and thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, can help with acne and eczema.” However, squalane is not to be confused with squalene. Although derived from the same sources, squalene is much too unstable to be put on the market and used in products, that’s why manufacturers add in hydrogen in a process called hydrogenation, to make it a long-lasting, stable ingredient called squalane. However, the two moisturizers are very similar in ingredients and results. Squalene is naturally produced by the human body, so using an oil that resembles that and is recognized by the human body made this product take the market by storm. With all its lasting benefits, it makes sense why this ingredient has created a place for itself on the market, but at the cost of what?

Sharks have been found to contain certain oils to regulate their buoyancy without wasting energy, unlike other fish which rely on an organ called the swim bladder. This is why sharks, especially deep sea sharks, have been targeted for the production of squalane. The process of harvesting squalane from shark livers has been around for a long time, many experts date it all the way back to the 16th century. The oil compromises around 80% of the shark’s liver, and species living even deeper in the sea contain even more. However, it takes around three shark livers to produce just two pounds of squalane, which is why it has had a devastating impact on numerous species of sharks. This has resulted in the endangerment of millions of these creatures and several different kinds. The demand per year for this ingredient is around 1000 – 2000 tons of squalane, yes, tons. Sharks being apex predators and having a crucial role in the ecosystem, makes the effects of this method that much more devastating. Is there a solution?

As more leading companies become aware of the effects of squalane on sharks, they have begun turning to vegan sources of this oil. The most popular of these sources include olives, sugarcane, rice, wheat, and palm trees. For example, Biossance, a vegan squalane skincare brand, explained how they estimate that “over ten years, one hectare of a sugarcane field can produce as much squalane as 23,000 sharks,” and on top of this, their growing and harvesting methods have little to no carbon footprint. The company, Biossance, is a perfect example that there are ways to avoid harming these innocent creatures and prioritize the preservation of this planet. Advocates for vegan squalane continue promoting that companies switch their ingredients to be more sustainable. 

The use of shark liver oil in products on the market, although decreasing, is still a problem in our world today and it must be stopped. With all this being said, the next time you open up a new bottle of moisturizer, many would suggest checking the ingredients for any sharks in your skincare.