Wait, Are there Really Fish Scales in Makeup?
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.