The compound, which is the hydrogenated version of squalene, is widely used as a protective agent in cosmetics. It is made either by using olive oil distillates or, more controversially, with the liver oil of rare deep sea sharks.
Despite significant ethical concerns about its use, shark oil-derived squalane remains attractive to formulators as it requires shorter processing times and produces a higher yield than its olive oil counterpart.
In 2006, the EU imposed deep sea shark fishing limits in the North-East Atlantic, and pressure from environmental groups prompted companies such as L’Oreal and Unilever to begin phasing out the use of squalane in their products.
Despite such efforts, identifying the origin of the compound has been impossible, thus cosmetics manufacturers cannot confidently say where their squalane comes from.
Now, however, researchers in Italy claim to have developed a method to distinguish olive oil from shark squalene and squalane samples, and detect the illegal addition of shark derivatives in olive oil based products.
The team measured the ratio of Carbon-13 and Carobn-12 in authentic olive oil and shark oil samples from several countries representative of the production area of squalene, including Spain, Italy and Japan.
Thirteen olive oil and 15 shark liver oil samples were analysed, and it was found that the carbon-12/carbon-12 ratios of olive oil samples were significantly different to those derived from shark oil.
According to the study, the method makes it possible to detect the presence of more than 10 per cent shark squalane in a formulation.
Determining finished product squalane origin
The author, Federica Camin, from the IASMA Research and Innovation Centre Fondazione Edmund Mach, said the approach could help protect deepwater sharks and allow product manufacturers to communicate ethical practices.
“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,” said Camin.
“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.”
Source: Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry
Rapid Commun. Mass Spectrom. 2010; 24: 1810–1816, doi: 10.1002/rcm.4581
Stable isotope ratios of carbon and hydrogen to distinguish olive oil from shark squalene-squalane
Federica Camin, Luana Bontempo, Luca Ziller, Cristiana Piangiolino and Gianni Morchio