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June 4, 2013

Is that endangered shark liver oil in your face cream?

BY: Angela Pauly




Are you smearing liver oil from endangered deep-sea sharks on yourself every morning and night?

Your reflex may be to answer: “Obviously not!” But the truth is, you don’t know, and European cosmetic companies aren’t required to tell you if the squalene (or squalane) they use as an emollient in your face cream comes from shark liver oil, or from plant-based alternatives.

We’re not happy about being kept in the dark, and neither should you be.

Consumers should not unknowingly contribute to the global demand for shark liver oil – a market that is estimated to use between three and six million sharks annually. The main types of sharks used to supply this market are deep-sea species, which are long-lived and slow-growing, and therefore especially vulnerable to overexploitation.

Our shark expert, Dr. Allison Perry, had this to say: “Consumers deserve the full information to make educated decisions about what they put into – or onto – their bodies. Many people are completely unaware that the cosmetics 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?”

That’s the point isn’t it? We have the right to know.

What’s worse is that it is almost impossible to measure the scale of the problem without conducting tests on every cosmetic product that states squalene or squalane in its ingredient list, to determine if it comes from sharks livers, or from olives.  That said, a French study in 2011 tested 8 different cosmetic face creams widely available in French pharmacies and found that 6 out of 8 contained shark-derived squalene. If we assume that the French market is not too different from other European markets, it suggests that the use of shark liver oil in cosmetics is more widespread than consumers would expect.

This week marks the beginning of the Selfridges 2013 Project Ocean ‘Save Our Sharks’ campaign, which aims to celebrate sharks and raise awareness about the threats they face. In collaboration with the Zoological Society of London, we’ve been helping Selfridges with an impressive effort – it’s ensured that its beauty halls and health concessions are free from products containing shark liver oil and other shark by-products.  Let’s hope that other retailers follow suit – and that cosmetics manufacturers are also prepared to take a stand for threatened sharks, by phasing out shark liver oil, and clearly stating ‘shark-free’ on their packaging.