Dangers of killing deep Sea-Sharks for  Cosmetic Products

Maneka Gandhi

Maneka GandhiEnvironmental management does not mean changing your light bulbs to use less energy. It means looking at everything you use to see what is being destroyed.
Have you ever looked at the ingredients in your make up or lotions? Does your moisturizer or lipstick carry the word squalene in the ingredient list? If your answer is yes, then you are partly responsible for destroying the oceans.

Squalene is oil derived from the liver of deep-sea sharks. 270,000 sharks are killed every day just for their fins and oil. The oil from their livers goes to the cosmetic industry and the fins go for soup. This enormous and mindless genocide has made 307 species of sharks endangered. In fact, the total number of sharks left in the ocean is ten percent of what they were in 1950

Deep-sea sharks (those living in ocean depths of 300 to 1500 metres) have especially large reserves of squalene since their livers comprise one-third of the weight of the entire animal. So, most deep-sea sharks are caught only for their oil. The excessive catching of these sharks has caused the dramatic population declines of certain species. Some repeatedly targeted shark species are the Aizame shark(dog fish) Leafscale Gulper Shark, and the Gulper, Kitefin and Portuguese dogfish which live between 1300 – 1500 m below sea level.

Deep sea sharks grow very slowly, mature late in life and have only a few young in their entire lives. They take long breaks between reproductive cycles, rendering them extremely vulnerable to over-fishing. These sharks are a target species in many industrial fisheries and are frequently caught by fishermen targeting other species. As a result deep sea sharks are at extreme risk and their numbers will take long to recover.

The ocean is a very fragile ecosystem. Sharks are apex predators and oceanic food chains are dependent on them. The ocean will implode without predators and our dependence on ocean creatures will impact us tremendously as well. It is immoral to let entire species disappear for the dubious benefits of personal skin – specially when there is a renewable alternative in olives. The cosmetic industry has a duty to educate consumers about what they are putting on their faces.

Squalene is an oil used in cosmetic products ranging from anti aging creams to lip-gloss to give them a smooth finish and make your skin glisten. It is found in all animals, humans and some plants. It is the sebum oil that your body produces at the root of its hair. In fact it is the same composition as ear wax – so it would be cheaper to use that rather than killing such an important species and rubbing its liver oil into your skin. The point is – it is unnecessary. It is not a vitamin or a mineral, it is just oil.
Shark-based squalene has a readily available substitute on the market that comes from a purely vegetable origin. Squalene can be obtained from olives and it is of better quality than animal-based squalene and is less expensive as well. Squalene is also found in amaranth seeds, rice bran, wheat germ, fungi and date palm.

Vegetable derived squalane is cheaper to produce, more stable against oxidation, of a higher food grade and more compatible with skin than that produced from shark-liver
Oceana is the world’s largest international ocean environmental group and is campaigning to end the use of squalene in cosmetic products. As a result some companies have promised to stop using it from this year ( Unilever ( Dove, Sunsilk, Vaseline and Ponds),  L’Oreal (Garnier, Lancôme, Maybelline and Redken), Beiserdorf (Nivea cream), LVMH (Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Christian Dior ) and Henkel(Soaps Dial and Coast and deodorants Right Guard and Soft & Dri ).
Unilever has promised to replace shark derived squalene with plant oil in Ponds and Dove by April 2008 ( However they will still use it in other products). With this decision, Unilever has joined other European-based cosmetic companies that informed Oceana that they do not use this product from threatened animals and prefer sustainable plant-based sources. L’Oreal is also phasing-out products containing shark-based squalene. Other companies are Boots, Clarins, Sisley and La Mer (an Estée Lauder brand
Squalene “Health Capsules” are another scam. Fly by night companies use the internet to advertise “pure squalene oil” and “squalene capsules” making claims about its anti oxidant properties – something consistently debunked by scientists. Among the nonsensical claims made, are those saying that sharks defend themselves therefore their liver oil will make the human body defend itself (I actually read this on an Australian selling site). Other claims are that squalene helps protect against substances that weaken or damage our natural defense systems. There is no clinical evidence to support this. All it is, is an oil which keeps skin soft – as mustard, coconut, olive and all the other oils do.

When the cosmetic industry talks about corporate social responsibility, they should start with using ingredients responsibly. Here is no point killing part of the earth and then giving a few dollars to feed children in Ethiopia or creating aids awareness.

I do not believe for a minute that these global companies have switched from shark-liver squalene because they want to save the ocean. Laws placing limits on deep-sea shark fishing by European fishing fleets in late 2005 had made it far more expensive than alternatives. Cosmetic companies have turned their attention to Asian oceans. Asia is now destroying its sharks for oil, shark- fin soups, sandpaper skin or leather for luxury handbags. India is the biggest killer of all.  Asian cosmetic companies still use squalene, which remains in high demand


Very few people read the ingredients on the box of a cosmetic item. In fact most of them are cunningly written in such small type that a magnifying glass is needed to read. Most times, the words are written in such a confusing manner that most people do not understand what the ingredient is.

I would like to believe that most people would give up the cosmetic product if they knew they were supporting the death of countless sharks. So, next time you pick up a cosmetic, take the effort to read the print. If you see the squalene on the list it means that the company has decided to keep killing sharks and have refused to opt for olive extracts or plant extracts. Boycott the product and write to your cosmetic retailer and only buy products that don’t use shark oil. Any business that profits from a dead shark is guilty of underwater genocide. It is time the world learned to regard sharks with the same reverence as lions and tigers and to condemn organizations that continue to trade in shark derived products.



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