Shark Liver Oil
Chimaera © Simon Rogerson.

Shark liver oil, otherwise labelled squalene or squalane, can be found in many products including, moisturisers, deodorants, sun tan lotion, lip balms, lipsticks and other cosmetics. It is also used in vaccines, pills and supplements for medicinal value.

Squalene is a naturally occurring compound found in large quantities in the liver of sharks. A sharks' large oily liver helps to control its position in the water column, however many cosmetics companies use the oil (and an associated compound called squalane) as a base for their moisturising and skin care creams, lipstick and gloss, as it is non-greasy and softens skin.

Squalene is also used in high grade machine oil and commonly sold in capsule form at health food shops. Despite less than minimal evidence to support their claims, squalene and shark cartilage (chondroitin) are sold under the belief that they protect against a variety of conditions including arthritis, shingles, rheumatism, haemorrhoids, psoriasis and cancer.

The highest return of squalene comes from the livers of deep sea sharks such as Gulper Sharks, Kitefin Sharks, Portuguese Dogfish and chimaeras. These sharks are intensively fished, yet because of their life history (long-lived, slow growing and slow reproducing animals) they are unable to respond to the level of fishing pressure placed on them – many are now listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened species.

There are alternatives. Squalene can be produced synthetically or from vegetable sources. Many of the large cosmetic manufacturers have now committed to moving over to non-shark squalene and so will state that it is 'vegetable based' or from 'vegetable origins'.

If you are unsure about a product then ask your retailer if it contains shark. Many will state they are sourced from sustainably managed fisheries or from non-threatened shark populations – however ask for proof, not just assurance.