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Why are there Fish Scales in my Makeup?

Posted Dec 01 2012 1:01am

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Cindy’s fond of fish…I read on the interwebs that nail polish is sparkly because it has ground up fish in it. Are there really fish scales in my make up?

The Right Brain responds:

Yes all that’s glittery and good comes from fish scales, a slice of mermaid tail, and a dash of powdered unicorn corn. Nah, I’m just kidding. It really is fish scales.  Sort of.

The ingredient in question is “guanine” which is indeed made from fish scales. It’s related to “guano” as in bird poo which is used to make Geisha facials . But I digress…

You’ll find this ichthyotic ingredient used in makeup, bath products, cleansers, perfumes, conditioners, lipsticks, nail polishes, and so on. For legal purposes the FDA considers guanine to be a color additive since it imparts a sparkly, white color to cosmetics. It can also reduce the transparency of powdered products so it’s useful in makeup to cover zits and other blemishes. (Hmmm, note to self: pick up a gallon of this stuff for Sarah Bellum’s Christmas present.)

Other than the mild gross out factor, there’s nothing dangerous or toxic about putting fish scales in cosmetics. And, according to the EWG’s Skin Deep Data base, guanine is “Not suspected to be an environmental toxin.” That’s a good thing because if it was we’d have to EXTERMINATE ALL FISH. (Sheesh.)

As with other naturally derived ingredients, the ingredient name doesn’t necessarily tell you where it comes from. You won’t see “fish scales” listed on back of the pack so look for one of these names instead: Guanine, C.I. 75170, Natural Pearl Essence or, my personal favorite, 6-Amino-6-Hydroxypurine. If you’re freaked out by fish you can also look for these glittery alternatives: synthetic pearl, aluminum and bronze particles, and titanium dioxide covered mica works pretty well too.

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