Fishing: Goggle eyed at shark practice

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The Independent Online
A PRESS release from Estee Lauder set me puzzling this week about some of life's great mysteries. I don't mean boring stuff like who first thought of milking a cow and why is duelling still legal in Paraguay as long as both parties are registered blood donors. Far greater issues occupied my mind.

Inspired by the golden words of Annette Alvarenga-Johnson, Estee's richly named public relations officer, I started to ponder over who found out which parts of a puffer fish are lethally poisonous, and which bits are a Japanese gourmet's dream. I wondered how salmon find their way back thousands of miles to their natal river when the people who fish for them get lost in Perth town centre. And what genius in a cosmetic company's laboratories thought of using fish cartilage to remove the bags from under your eyes?

This is serious stuff. As someone with the eyes of a panda from an earlier life where dawn meant it was time for bed, I was fascinated to read about Uncircle. This is a cream (or creme, according to the press release) "designed to diminish the appearance of dark circles around the eyes and prevent their reappearance". You may think you've heard it all before, but this product has one special quality. Its secret ingredient is fish cartilage extract.

I can do no better than quote Ms Alvarenga-Johnson's purple prose. "The extract helps to restore the elasticity of the eye-area microcapillaries. Whey proteins boost collagen production to rebuild and strengthen the thin and fragile eye-area skin. Special hydrating ingredients target the delicate eye area to relieve dry skin, restore its protective barrier and gently smooth away fine, dry lines. Plus, soothing agents protect and comfort. The result? Eyes that appear brighter and younger looking and virtually free of dark circles. Uncircle eye treatment for dark circles. The difference is night and day."

I would like to tell you more, at least to have enlightened you about the Zen message in that final line. But Estee Lauder's press department, while charming and unfailingly polite, have so far failed to give me an answer. Nor do they seem willing to reveal that most pressing of questions: which fish?

There is so much more I would like to know, like how the unnamed genius who discovered this came up with the idea of using fish cartilage in the first place - and especially how they thought: "Hmm, I bet this would be good for getting rid of the bags under my eyes." Sadly, these are clearly trade secrets. But by combining my knowledge, research and intuition, I have been able to piece together much of the story for readers.

I can reveal that the original idea for a debagging cream was inspired by Harry, often portrayed as a black sheep of the Lauder family. This has been hushed up, but I am assured that pictures of the music-hall entertainer can still be found in the vaults. You can understand it: I'm sure those snooty French couturiers would not treat Estee Lauder with the same deference, if they discovered that the company's early money came from a fat Irishman belting out encores of "I'll take you home, Kathleen".

Now I have to admit that some of that is surmise. But this bit isn't. Though Estee Lauder won't tell me, the cartilage is almost certainly from sharks. They are being chopped up in research labs all around the world. You can understand it. You never see sharks suffering from baggy eyes, cataracts or a runny nose. Ergo, they know something we don't. Let's cut 'em up and find out what it is.

This has already benefited acne sufferers with a lotion called Isolutrol, which uses a synthetic version of a product found in shark liver. It was inspired by a Japanese scientist who had been studying fishermen. He noticed that handling sharks was having a beneficial effect on their skin.

When I uncovered this story, I was told that other discoveries using shark parts were likely. Could it be that Uncircle is what my source was hinting at? If true, it's very sad, killing such fine fish for our vanity. I for one will never be able to look a shark in the eye again.