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September 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 42, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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A Cosmetic Risk to Shark Populations

from the September, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

One reason sharks are disappearing from our oceans is that their liver oil, otherwise labeled squalene, is used in moisturizers, deodorants, suntan lotion, lip balms, lipsticks and other cosmetics. It is also used in vaccines and even high-grade machine oil. Health food stores sell squalene and shark cartilage (chondroitin) to people who think it protects against a variety of conditions including arthritis, shingles, rheumatism, hemorrhoids, psoriasis and cancer. There is virtually no evidence it works for any of these conditions.

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 large cosmetic manufacturers have committed to moving over to non-shark squalene, and so will state that it is 'vegetable based' or from 'vegetable origins.' To save sharks, look at the label before you buy.


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