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Wait, Are there Really Fish Scales in Makeup?

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Main image credit: Camille Brodard/Pexels

Yes, although that question might sound like a pretty weird one, believe it or not, fish scales have actually been a fairly common ingredient in cosmetics for years.

Often sourced from herring, the shimmer found in lipsticks, eyeshadows or nail polish could actually be thanks to crushed fish scales (hint: look out for the chemical names Guanine or CI 75170 on a product’s ingredient list).

A protein with a crystal-like structure, Guanine can offer an iridescent effect which adds the shimmer we so often crave in our products.

We’ve spoken to some beauty experts about the inclusion of fish scales in cosmetics – and asked them about other bizarre beauty product ingredients…

 


 

This is new, up-to-date information. We updated this article in July 2023 to add our further thoughts on animal products in beauty and some new product recommendations.

 


What makeup products use fish scales?

As well as being seen in some lipsticks, eyeshadows, and nail polishes, guanine has even been found in some shimmering shampoos, conditioners, shower gels, and even facial cleansers.

Healthline says “Guanine is sourced from fish scales, meaning some mascaras do contain an animal derivative. Guanine is typically added to mascaras to give them a glossy, iridescent quality.

“However, it’s becoming more common for brands to opt for the vegan chemical bismuth oxychloride instead,” it adds.

Celebrity makeup artist Pilar DeMann explains that, “Guanine is the crystalline compound made from fish scales, it is what adds shimmer to everything from lipstick, nail polish, skincare, haircare, mascara, eyeshadow.”

Makeup artist and brand owner Stephanie G-M adds that, “In my experience, larger manufacturers are where you will find ingredients like Guanine.

“Indie manufacturers are focusing more on the ethics of ingredients and more innovative ways to achieve the gloss and shine you get from fish scales. Products that can have guanine in them vary from nail polish to lipsticks mascaras and eyeshadows.”

 


What other unusual ingredients can be found in beauty products?

And according to asbestos expert, Angel Gil of asbestos.com, fish scales aren’t the only thing we need to look out for in makeup.  He told Live That Glow: “Asbestos can occasionally find its way into certain makeup products through contamination during the sourcing or manufacturing process.”

He explained: “Asbestos is a naturally occurring mineral that may be present in talc, a common ingredient used in cosmetics. Talc mines can be located near asbestos deposits, resulting in the potential for cross-contamination. If proper quality control measures and testing are not implemented, asbestos fibres may unknowingly contaminate talc used in makeup production.”

WebMD backs this up, saying that “Talc is a mineral mined from the earth. Because it’s so good at absorbing moisture and easing friction, cosmetic companies often use it in baby powder, blush, eye shadow, and other products.

“There have been some concerns in recent years about whether talc, especially in talcum powder, could cause cancer and whether it contains asbestos, a known toxin,” it adds.

 

Wait, Are there Really Fish Scales in Makeup?

Image – SergiiShalimov/Adobe

 

This means it’s more important than ever to check the beauty brands we are use are registered companies and comply with all health and safety standards.

And while fish scales are considered low-risk for allergies, cancer and the environment by the Environmental Working Group, cruelty-free fans may still prefer their cosmetics without a side of fish scales.

Other unusual animal-related products to find their way into beauty include allantoin (cow’s urine) and gelatin (made from the bones and ligaments of cows and pigs).

G-M also draws attention to some stomach-churning makeup product ingredients.

She reveals, “Other questionable ingredients you can find in cosmetics are Carmine which comes from crushed up bugs and gives red pigments their colour and pig fat in lipsticks – among other toxins that you want to avoid consuming.”

DeMann takes things a step further, pointing out, “My other favourite and perhaps grosser, is what I call ‘baby dicks’ used in skin care. The stem cells from newborn foreskins are harvested and used in much anti-ageing skincare.

“There is also snail mucus skincare found in a lot of KBrands and making its way across,” she adds.

Luckily, minerals mica and titanium dioxide provide non-animal derived, vegan-friendly alternatives, and many mainstream brands have taken note.

So seeing as shimmer is *everything*, we’ve rounded up some cruelty-free (and guanine-free) shimmering picks.



Nail polish

Nailberry

One of the biggest brands in the toxic-free nail game, Nailberry creates 12-Free, water permeable, vegan and cruelty-free polishes in a series of beautiful shades, including this party-ready shimmer, Pink Sand.

Wait, Are there Really Fish Scales in Makeup?

Image – Nailberry

 


Lip gloss

Fenty Beauty

A regular favourite on the cruelty-free scene, Fenty Beauty is also happily fully on board with the mineral shimmer trend.

For an iridescent (and vegan) pop that can be worn over any lip colour, check out their Gloss Bomb Universal Lip Luminizer.

And for more on Fenty’s stunning formulas, take a look at our review of their Mattemoiselle lipstick here.

 

Wait, Are there Really Fish Scales in Makeup?

Image – Fenty Beauty

 


Eyeshadow

Kosas

Managing to bring together cruelty-free beauty with some serious skin-nourishing ingredients, Kosas’s range of eye products, the 10-Second Liquid Eyeshadow offers a line of 8 shimmer shades.

Wait, Are there Really Fish Scales in Makeup?

Image – Kosas

 

Bybi

Ok, so this only comes in one shade- but what a shade it is. Bybi’s Babe Balm Bronze is one of our all time favourite multi-purpose products for the stunning copper shimmer it offers on eyelids, cheekbones, lips, and even collarbones.


Vegan and cruelty-free, this babe uses minerals for its pigment and lasts forever.



Body oil

Nuxe

And because it shouldn’t just be our faces that benefit from some shimmer I’ve also included one of my favourite French pharmacy finds, Nuxe’s Huile Prodigieuse Or.

Containing over 98% natural ingredients, as well as moisturising blend of macadamia seed, sweet almond, hazel seed and olive fruit oils, this multi-purpose product also adds a golden shimmer to both hair and body.

Wait, Are there Really Fish Scales in Makeup?

Image – Nuxe

 

 


The takeaway

While increasing numbers of brands and beginning to take the vegan beauty issue more seriously, there are still a number of ingredients to look out for if you want to avoid any animal products ending up in your skincare and makeup.

Even then, it’s important to keep an eye out for whether beauty companies are properly registered and complying with health and safety regulations.  What we use does go onto our skin and hair after all.

Luckily there are plenty of companies not only committed to creating cruelty-free and vegan products but who have consistently shown to comply with safety laws and win positive reviews for the effectiveness of their products.

Kosas, Fenty, Nuxe and Bybi are just a handful of the brands we regularly use at Live That Glow HQ.  For more reviews of products we can genuinely recommend, take a look at our Drunk Elephant D Bronzi review, one of our all-time faves.

 

Meet the experts

Stephanie G-M is a celebrity makeup artist and the founder of Ouli’s Ointment.

 

Pilar DeMann is a makeup artist and the founder of Pilar BLLaC.

 

Angel Gil is an outreach specialist for The Mesothelioma Center at Asbestos.com.

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Editor-in-Chief

Sally Underwood is a journalist, *serious* beauty fan, and Editor-in-Chief of Live That Glow. Formerly Editorial Director of one of Europe's largest newspaper groups, Sally has been a beauty obsessive since her teen years spent dragging her long-suffering (but immaculately-groomed) friends around every beauty counter in London. She now leads Live That Glow's editorial operations.

Expertise: Skincare, Body care
Education: University College London
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