New Shark-Free Seal Will Shed Light on Origins of Squalene

This common cosmetic ingredient comes all too often from sharks.

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sharks in open water

 mkurtbas / Getty Images

Did you know that millions of sharks are killed every year to make cosmetics? The oil contained in the livers of deep-sea sharks is a highly sought-after moisturizer known as squalene and it's driving the slaughter of an estimated three million sharks annually. This number is expected to rise by 10% in the next year.

Squalene can, however, be formulated using plants, such as wheat germ, amaranth, rice, algae, olives, and sugarcane. The only problem is that it costs 30% more to make it from plants than to take it from sharks. Conservation group Shark Allies writes,

"Squalene with a purity of >98% is obtained directly from the liver oil of a shark after a single distillation phase in a vacuum at temperatures of 200-230 degrees Celsius. This process takes only 10 hours whereas nearly 70 hours of processing are required to obtain olive oil squalene with a purity higher than 92%."

Convincing cosmetics manufacturers to switch to plant-based squalene is a hard sell, but it's an important one for anyone who's committed to protecting already-dwindling shark populations. The more people who demand it, the more likely that transition will occur.

Up until now there has been no way of differentiating between shark-sourced and plant-based squalene on cosmetic product labels; they're both listed as "squalene" in the ingredient list. Unless a product is certified as both cruelty-free and vegan, there's a likelihood that the squalene comes from sharks. 

A New Standard

Shark Allies wants to change this. It has created a Shark-Free Seal that can be added to cosmetic products to notify shoppers in an instant whether the item is safe to buy. This brand new seal, which would be similar to the Leaping Bunny or Certified Organic or non-GMO seals that many products carry, will appear first on bottles of reef-safe sunscreen and skincare products made by Stream2Sea. Company founder Autumn Blum said in a press release, 

"It's up to consumers to carefully read labels and realize that if the source of squalene isn't identified, then it's probably made from shark liver oil because it's so much less expensive. We joined the Shark Free Products Campaign because we want our customers to know that we aren't part of an industry that kills three million animals every year."

The seal will likely be more of an educational tool at first, informing shoppers about the presence of a shark product that they were unaware of in their go-to cosmetics, and from there becoming an important issue worth fighting.

Shark-Free Seal
Shark Allies' new Shark-Free Seal. Shark Allies

In the words of Stefanie Brendl, founder of Shark Allies, "It's a kind of push-pull situation. We'll be educating manufacturers who are obviously looking for the least expensive ingredient and may not even be aware of the long-term implications. And without understanding the issue, consumers certainly don't expect to find shark liver oil in their medicine cabinet, skincare routines, and makeup."