Cosmetics, What is Squalene?


Squalene (also known as Squalane) is a natural, organic compound in the form of an oil.

For a couple hundred years, squalene has been extracted from animal livers for uses like lamp fuel and leather tanning treatments to name a few. But only in the last 40 years or so, the cosmetic industry has become dependent on shark-based squalene for their products. The oil is high in fatty acids and anti-oxidants, using it mostly for its moisturizing agent. Squalene commonly shows up in sunscreens, lipsticks, eye shadows, lotions, foundations, basically anything creamy.

Squalene is not just an animal based product, it is naturally found in many plants: olives, sugar cane, rice bran and wheat germ among countless others. But the problem with using plant-derived squalene as a staple is that it is 30% more expensive to produce than animal squalene. Bloom Association conducted a survey to find that the cosmetic industry is the largest (90%) user of shark squalene. An astonishing 7 out of 8 creams surveyed have animal squalene. This equals roughly 2.7 million shark lives taken a year for our cosmetics. 




About half of the shark species who are targeted for their livers are listed as “Vulnerable” to extinction by the IUCN Red List. The bad news doesn’t stop there, just like the deception in the shark meat trade (explained in previous Shark Meat blogs), it also occurs in the squalene market. Suppliers sometimes fool businesses that the squalene they are purchasing is plant based, when in fact it is shark based, to earn a higher profit.

So where are all of these sharks fished from? The French and Spanish used to lead the race in deep-sea shark fishing for squalene in the North East Atlantic, but in 2006 the European Union banned targeted deep-sea fisheries because of the steep decline in shark populations. Unfortunately, this just pushed industrial fleets out of EU waters. Squalene fisheries primarily are in the Indian, southeastern Atlantic and western Pacific oceans today. 

Laurel Irvine