Squalene is a “natural organic compound originally obtained for commercial purposes primarily from shark liver oil, although plant sources are now used as well.” What should you care what squalene is? It’s found in a lot of beauty products because because it mimics our body’s natural oils and therefore is absorbed easily without leaving behind an oily residue. While there are plant sources (amaranth seed, wheat germ, rice bran, and olives) that are just as effective, many companies still use squalene sourced from sharks because it’s cheaper. Unfortunately, since our personal care products are not closely regulated, companies can get away with using vague ingredient terms such as, “natural ingredients.” Technically, they’re not lying to you. Sharks are natural.
Therefore, when shopping for products look for key phrases like, “100% plant-derived, vegetable-based, cruelty-free, vegan.” If the label isn’t clear (and if it isn’t explicitly promoting the fact that it’s vegan, etc., there is a good chance that it isn’t), reach out to the companies and ask where they squalene comes from. It may seem silly to care about this, but the fishing industry is not well monitored. Large commercial fishing boats kill 100 million sharks each year for their fins and squalene and half of that are killed accidentally due to entanglements in nets and long lines. In fact, long lines are used mainly to catch tuna, but roughly 1 in 5 fish caught on these lines are sharks. Sharks reproduce infrequently and take decades to grow and mature. They literally cannot keep up with the demand placed on them by the fishing industry and this makes the species at risk for extinction. Oceans are the largest ecosystems on the planet and are partly responsible for the oxygen we breathe and much of the animal protein that we eat. If you remove an apex predator like sharks from the ocean, the ecosystem it supports dies. You can read more about the impact of losing shark in my post about Shark Week here. The most recent example in our history of the importance of an ecosystem’s apex predator is what happened when the grey wolf was reintroduced to Yellowstone.
This brings me to the next topic — Squalene isn’t just found in cosmetics and personal care products. It can be found in supplements and in vaccines as a component in some adjuvants. With the public’s clamor for a COVID-19 vaccine, this is a recipe for disaster. The Shark Allies website has recently posted information regarding this topic, as well as a petition requesting that sustainable plant-derived squalene be investigated and used instead. The key term in this sentence is “sustainable.” Overfishing sharks is clearly not a sustainable practice. Plants can be re-planted and are therefore, a more sustainable source. Why wouldn’t this be a more preferred alternative?
Read and sign the petition here.
I know you probably think that I’m pushing a strict vegan lifestyle on you, but I’m not. I’m trying to push a sustainable one. You don’t need to use makeup, medications, supplements, or other products to contain animal parts or byproducts in order for them to be effective. You can easily find alternative plant-derived products that fit into each of these categories. You especially don’t need to use products that contain the parts of an animal species that is at risk for extinction. I’m not against a diet that includes chicken, beef, or fish. I also eat all of these things. We can eat meat while being environmentally responsible. Find out where your meat comes from before you purchase it. Shop local and make sure that the company has ethical and sustainable practices. If the company doesn’t or won’t answer these questions, shop with another company. The Seafood Watch phone app is an easy-to-use tool to help you choose seafood that is fished or farmed in ways that protect sea life and habitats. The app also connects you to restaurants and stores in your neighborhood that buy sustainably sourced seafood. It may seem like a pain in the ass to take the extra step just to eat a piece of salmon at dinner, but in the long run it’s worth it because without taking these extra steps, we’re setting ourselves up for a future of “without.”