Cosmetics and nutritional complements (squalene, cartilage)


Few people know that shark liver oil can be found in a large number of products they use daily. Sharks have large livers saturated with oil, which allows them to be buoyant in water. Squalene is a compound derived from this liver oil. It is mostly used as an emollient in beauty products, in nutraceutical products (in capsule form) for its so-called “benefits” against conditions such as psoriasis and cancer (which are a pure fable), and in pharmaceutical products (mainly as an ingredient in adjuvants for vaccines).

To provide for these needs, an estimated 3 million sharks die each year. A “livering” phenomenon has taken place, very similar to shark finning as it consists in removing the liver and throwing back the shark overboard.

Deep sea sharks such as Gulper sharks, Kitefin sharks, Portuguese Dogfish and chimaeras are targeted by this specific industry. Indeed, these sharks all have an especially high concentration of oil in their livers, livers which can reach 20% of their total body weight.

Because of this industry, most of those sharks are now listed on the IUCN Red list of Threatened species. Deep sea sharks are long-lived, slow growing and slow reproducing animals – their population cannot cope with the intensive fishing pressure they are exposed to.

It is important to underline the fact that plant-based squalenes (derived from olives, wheat germ and amaranth) are well-known alternatives to shark oil. Plant-based alternatives are effective but more expensive than shark livers which have a higher oil concentration. After many environmental campaigns against the use of shark oil, Europe mostly uses plant-based squalene but, on a global scale, plant-based squalene is almost non-existent.


Shark cartilage is increasingly used for health supplements as it is considered to be beneficial to cure asthma, eczema, phlebitis, haemorrhoids, rheumatism, cancer and many other troubles. Cartilage powder, tablets and capsules are highly priced and feed a growing market. According to the FAO, the major producing and consuming countries are the USA, Japan, Australia and India.

Shark cartilage comes from deep sea but also tropical sharks, but blue shark’s cartilage is the most valued as it is said to contain more chondroitin (believed to help for various health problems).

Obviously, these “healing” assertions are not scientifically-based. In fact, like any part of a shark, cartilage is dangerous for humans if consumed, as it can include toxic methyl-mercury.

Photo: Shark Conservation Australia

Hervé Salessethreats