Check the ingredients on the package of some of your skincare products and you may find squalene, a common emollient. This compound can be derived from olives, but in some cases, it comes from shark liver oil. Deep-sea shark fishing laws, not to mention consumer disapproval, have motivated beauty brands to move towards using exclusively olive-derived squalene.
Despite manufacturer promises, there has been no way to hold companies accountable, as there was no known technique to distinguish the source their squalene. Now, however, Italian scientists have found a way to differentiate shark liver squalene from olive squalene.
The team analyzed the carbon isotopes in over a dozen samples of olive oil and shark liver oil. They found that the ratio of carbon-12 to carbon-13 in the olive oil was markedly different than in the shark liver oil. This allows for the detection of anything greater than 10% shark squalene in a cosmetic formula.
“The new method could be proposed as an official way of detecting whether any batch of squalene or squalane has come from animal or plant sources, allowing manufacturers to make clear claims about the ethical status of their products,” researcher Federica Camin wrote. “Our method will protect both cosmetics firms and consumers from commercial fraud and will make it possible to promote the production of squalene from olive oil. It will also allow the origin of squalane within a finished product to be determined.”
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