Unbeknownst to most people, one little ingredient found in many well known beauty brands and cosmetic products - ranging from anti-aging creams, lotions, deodorants, hair conditioners, eye shadows, lipstick, lip balms, sunscreen and cleansers - contributes to the death of millions of sharks annually.
Unlike most fish species, sharks don't have a gas filled swim bladder to control their buoyancy underwater, alternatively they use an oil in their livers. It's this oil - known as squalene - that is actively being harvested with current estimates suggesting that about 2,000 tons of squalene is derived from shark livers each year.
A sharks liver takes up significantly more space inside their bodies than the livers of most animals. The size and ratio of a sharks liver varies depending on the depth they inhibit. As such, shark species that live in deep water are preferred as they tend to have bigger livers - sometimes making up 25 percent of their body weight and filling up to 90 percent of their body cavity!! One species particularly targeted is the basking shark - where a single shark can provide over 2,000 litres of oil!
Most deep sea species prefer colder water temperatures and often caught in the North Atlantic Ocean as well as in Australian and New Zealand waters.
So why are beauty brands contributing to the killing of so many sharks for their liver oil?
Squalene has properties that coats the surface of the skin and assists with retaining moisture. It also softens the skin and smooths its surface, so skin looks and feels healthier. Squalene does this without creating a greasy or sticky feel. In addition, it’s also found to be an effective conditioning agent for hair. It conditions by coating and smoothing the hair cuticle so that hair feels softer and looks shinier and healthier. It also has the ability to enhance the penetration of other ingredients in cosmetics. So of course, it's understandable that beauty brands would want to use squalene in their products, it provides a range of benefits to our skin and a better product.
Before you despair and think that you've got to make the decision between never wearing make up again or continuing to contribute to the slaughtering of sharks, there is a better way - hooray!
Squalene also naturally occurs in some plants and is able to be derived from olive oil, wheat germ oil, rice bran and amaranth seeds and palm oil but it comes in smaller quantities and is harder and more expensive to extract. Despite the extra effort and cost required, two cosmetic giants, L’Oréal and Unilever agreed to stop using shark liver oil as a base for moisturising creams and lipsticks. So rejoice, you can still keep yourself looking great without harming our sharky friends by looking for words such as ’100% plant-derived,’ ‘vegetable based’ or ‘vegetable origins' and if unsure, do some research first.
So please, become an informed consumer - don't unwittingly continue the demand for products responsible for the death of millions of sharks annually. Instead, spend your dollars wisely by supporting brands that recognise their social responsibility and are making positive changes.
Don't forget, if you really want to take a stand, you can sign the petition that calls for the ban on the sale and use of shark and shark products in New Zealand, which is open to receive signatures until 31 December 2018.