Consumers unaware of endangered shark liver oil in cosmetics

Oceana partners with Project Ocean, helps Selfridges to go ‘100% shark-free’

Press Release Date: June 4, 2013

Location: Madrid


Marta Madina | email: | tel.: Marta Madina

If asked, “would you spread liver oil from threatened deep-sea sharks on your face?” most people would probably answer “no” – yet many European consumers may do so unwittingly, because they have no way of knowing whether a common cosmetic ingredient is sourced from sharks or from plant alternatives. Oceana is calling on cosmetic manufacturers to end the use of shark liver oil in cosmetic products, and for those that do not use it, to clearly state so on their product packaging.

‘Squalene’ and ‘squalane’, used as emollients in some cosmetic creams and lotions, are derived either from shark liver oil or from plant sources such as olives, wheat germ, rice bran, or amaranth seeds. However, current EU labelling laws do not require manufacturers to specify the source of these ingredients. Some European consumers therefore 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.

 “Consumers deserve the full information to make educated decisions about what they put into – or onto – their bodies,” said Dr. Allison Perry, marine wildlife scientist with Oceana in Europe. “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?”

As part of Oceana’s efforts to protect deep-sea species and promote consumer awareness, the marine conservation organisation has partnered with Selfridges for its 2013 Project Ocean campaign. In collaboration with the Zoological Society of London, Oceana has helped Selfridges to ensure that its beauty halls and health concessions are free from products containing shark liver oil and other shark by-products. Yesterday marked the official start of the two-week long Project Ocean ‘Save Our Sharks’ campaign in Selfridges, which aims to celebrate sharks and raise awareness about the threats they face.

“By taking the responsibility upon itself to identify and remove shark products from its shelves, and to guarantee its customers shark-free products, Selfridges has set an outstanding example that we hope other retailers will follow,” stated Xavier Pastor, executive director of Oceana in Europe.

The European trade in shark liver oil is extremely difficult to monitor, not only because of labelling laws, but because customs data do not distinguish shark liver oil from other fish liver oils. Nor is shark liver oil among the products covered by the EU Regulation designed to prevent illegally caught fish from entering the EU market.


For more information:

  • 2008 Oceana study of shark liver oil use in cosmetics
  • Deep-sea sharks are found between 200 m depth and more than 2000 m depth. Major deep-sea shark species fished for the squalene market include:
    • Gulper shark (Centrophorus granulosus) – globally vulnerable to extinction, and critically endangered in the North-East Atlantic Ocean, where its capture is now prohibited
    • Leafscale gulper shark (Centrophorus squamosus) – globally vulnerable to extinction, and endangered in the North-East Atlantic Ocean, where its capture is now prohibited