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Squalane versus squalene, are you aware of what you may be paying for?

By Michelle Yeomans+

25-Apr-2014
Last updated on 25-Apr-2014 at 14:56 GMT2014-04-25T14:56:56Z

Squalane versus squalene, are you aware of what you may be paying for?

Pop quiz: Do you know the difference between squalane and squalene? And if so, are you certain which one you may be getting from suppliers? 

Two very similar words, yet the 'e' in one of them makes all the difference. 

Squalene is shark liver oil that had been used as one of the most common moisturizers in cosmetics before sourcing began endangering the species and a plant based version became viable for products.

Squalane is derived by hydrogenation of squalene. It is naturally present in the skin lipid barrier of plants, animals and humans, preventing moisture loss while restoring skin’s suppleness and flexibility. 

Due to the complete saturation of squalane, it is not subject to auto-oxidation. This coupled with lower costs make it desirable for cosmetics where it is used as an emollient and moisturizer.

The EU took steps to ban targeted deep‐sea shark fisheries back in 2010. However, consumers willing to buy ethical products cannot choose specific plant based squalane ones because differentiation between the substance of origin is not required in labeling requirements.  

Do you know what you are getting from your supplier?

The main on-going use of animal squalene today is said to be down to financial reasons in that plant squalane like olive oil for example, is 30% more expensive than that of the moisturizing, non‐greasy substance of the deep sea shark liver (8 to 12 euros per kilo), some of which are now in danger of extinction.

In fact experts believe that despite various cosmetic companies investing in more sustainable alternatives, there are still issues with supply in that some specialised producers may be passing off shark squalene as that of the more expensive plant alternative, unbeknownst to large multinationals.

A study carried out by Bloom and investigative journalist Romain Chabrol  found that around 90% of world shark liver oil production feeds the needs of the cosmetics industry, which corresponds to 2.7 million deep-sea sharks caught every year.

"Although Western cosmetic corporations have taken a sharp turn in favour of plant-based squalane, the industry is still largely supplied by animal squalane,” says founder of Bloom Association, Claire Nouvian. 

The industry is working on cheaper sugar based alternatives

Fully aware of this issue facing the industry, companies like Amyris have been working on sugar-based squalane, a renewable alternative to shark oil and even the expensive olive oil. 

The renewable ingredients developer uses its industrial synthetic biology platform to convert plant sugars into a variety of molecules, flexible building blocks that can be used in a wide range of products.

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