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Is lipgloss made of whale sperm? Debunking fact and fiction in online hoax

Eve Edwards June 16, 2022
Palm Angels - Backstage - Milan Men's Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2019
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Sure, you may have heard of the urban legend that petroleum jelly products such as Vaseline are made of whale blubber, but a newer, far more disturbing rumour is circulating over the ingredients used in lipgloss.

Let’s separate truth from fiction so you won’t have to worry about ditching your fave lip products.

Photo by Ross Hailey/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

No, lip products do not contain any whale products

If you’ve been on social media lately and seen a claim that lip gloss, and other lip products, contains ‘whale sperm’, then you might have some concerns. Contrary to what the resurfaced rumour would have you to believe, modern-day make-up does not contain any whale-derived products – sperm or otherwise.

As a child or teenager, you might have come across the rumour that petroleum jelly products are made of whales. This is false. But there is a historical link between petroleum jelly and whales, which is where the rumour has its origins.

Let’s take a look at the true story to see how the lipgloss ‘whale sperm’ rumour came to be.

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The lipgloss ‘whale sperm’ rumour gets make-up’s history wrong

Sir Robert Chesebrough was the inventor of Vaseline, a petroleum jelly product that can be used for a range of treatments on the body. Many use it specifically as a balm for the lips, although it can also be used to help heal wounds and moisturise skin. Chesebrough, before making his discovery of petroleum’s health benefits, worked as a chemist producing sperm oil from the sperm whale. Note that sperm oil is different to regular whale oil, which came from rendering the blubber of another genus of whales.

The name ‘sperm whale’ comes from the word spermaceti, an organ found in the sperm whale’s head. The spermaceti would be removed and treated with sulfur to make sperm oil. This oil was used as a lubricant for machinery, as fuel for lamps, and even later in the aerospace industry. It was replaced by a cheaper and more accessible alternative, kerosene, in the late 19th century.

Sperm oil was never used on humans or in products for humans to apply to themselves.

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Separating fact from fiction

While Sir Robert Chesebrough did work producing sperm oil, that never went into any of his Vaseline products. So, while he serves as the link between sperm whales and lip products, the claim that lipgloss is made of whale sperm is a false one.

But what, then, is modern lipgloss made of?

Byrdie reports that one of the key ingredients found in lipgloss is emollients. These oils give the gloss “its slick, wet texture, and shine.” These oils can either be synthetic e.g., petroleum-based; or they can be natural e.g, coconut oil, or jojoba oil. Modern lipglosses also contain waxes and clays which serve as thickeners. These can also either be synthetic or natural.

With the amount of clean and vegan products flying off the shelves these days, you’d be hard-pressed to find any animal products, let alone those from a sperm whale, included in lipgloss. So, you needn’t fear the online rumour!

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Eve spends her days writing about everything culture-related. From celebrity news to music, film and television, Eve covers all bases. When she’s not writing you can find her making music or mastering the art of homemade pasta.