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Are Sharks in Your Cosmetics and Skincare Products? Squalene and Squalane, Explained

Shark squalene is an ingredient that has been used in the cosmetics industry for years. But why? Here's what to know—and how to avoid it.

Written by
Giulia Lallas

If you're one to scan the ingredients before buying skincare products, you've probably come across the words "squalane" and "squalene." While they may look pretty harmless compared to other common ingredients that are approximately a mile long, don't be fooled. They come from a surprising source: shark livers.

What Is Shark Squalene, and How Does It Appear in Your Beauty Products?

Squalene/squalane is a prime ingredient in many skincare and beauty products. As a surprise to many, whether it's spelled with an "e" or an "a," the ingredient typically comes from shark livers.

Although squalene can come from plant sources like sugar cane, olives, and rice bran, experts say sourcing it from sharks is cheaper and easier. According to BLOOM, the cosmetics sector accounts for 90% of shark liver oil production worldwide. In total, more than three million deep-sea sharks being 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've also been used to treat wounds and have been used in vaccines. In addition, they've been shown to help reduce scars and help with skin pigmentation.

The Problems That Accompany Shark Squalene Production

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

Even though shark-derived squalene is cheaper and easier to use, some leading companies in the beauty industry, such as L’Oréal, have already made the transition over to using plant-derived squalene. This occurs as many shark species are facing numerous man-made threats that push them further toward endangerment and extinction. 

Sourcing squalene from sharks has left many shark populations in a vulnerable position, for they have become part of the collection of hidden ingredients used in the beauty industry. In fact, the few regulations with regard to ingredients such as this one used in the cosmetics industry have led to the rise of the clean beauty movement. 

Our Final Thoughts

It's important to note that sharks are unexpectedly present in products that belong to the healthcare and cosmetics industries. When it comes to the world of beauty, it's becoming easier to find plant-derived squalene, as it's often found in vegan products.

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