Cosmetics and skincare go hand in hand and it’s something that the fairer sex can rarely live without. It’s packaged in beautiful colours with promising words, but there’s an ugly truth hidden in many cosmetic and beauty products – an ugly reality that most of us are oblivious of:

A shark may have died for your lipstick.

Many commercially produced brands of moisturizer, sunscreen, lipstick and eye makeup contain a compound derived from shark liver oil known as “squalene”. The oily organic compound (along with squalane, a derivative) is a favoured ingredient many beauty products because of its moisturizing properties. “Because squalene mimics our body’s own natural moisturizers, it can rapidly penetrate the skin and is absorbed quickly and completely without any lingering residue,” explains beauty expert Tricia Chaves.

International companies L’Oreal and Unilever have agreed to replace squalene with other oils from plant sources. Unilever had stopped using shark oil in high street brands such as Pond’s and Dove some years ago, and has withdrawn its use from the entire European range. L’Oreal has also completed the phase-out of shark oil in skincare products. Nivea, Boots, Clarins, Sisley and La Mer have all either made the decision to stop using animal-based squalene some time ago or had a policy to never use it in the first place. Shark-based squalene has a readily available substitute on the market that comes from a purely vegetable origin. Squalene can be obtained from olives where it has the same qualities of animal-based squalene and is less expensive than the animal version. Plant-based squalene can also be derived from wheat germ and amaranth oils.

Unlike fish, sharks do not have swim bladders to keep them afloat, instead they have to rely on their supersized livers (sometimes up to 30% of the total body weight of the shark) which is filled with oil to aid in their buoyancy. Deep-sea sharks are especially favoured by the cosmetic industry, as their livers have large reserves of squalene. Intensive fishing to supply the cosmetics industry has contributed to a dramatic population declines of certain species.

Rebecca Greenberg, a marine scientist with Oceana, said: “Some of the biggest names in the cosmetics industry are recognising their corporate social responsibilities and choosing not to contribute to the extinction of these important animals. “We encourage people to educate themselves and to be responsible consumers by asking cosmetic retailers about squalene sources and directing their purchases towards companies that have never used this animal-based product in cosmetics or that have made the decision to replace it.”

“Consumers deserve the full information to make educated decisions about what they put into – or onto – their bodies,” said Oceana marine biologist Dr Allison Perry. “Many people are completely unaware that the cosmetic industry is a major source of fishing pressure on deep-sea sharks. Yet, given the choice, who would opt for cosmetics made from vulnerable sharks, especially when plant-based alternatives are available?”

So ladies (and gents), here is one very simple and effective way of saving sharks – become label savvy and peruse those ingredients to ensure that your product does not contain squalene. Please and thank you . . .

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