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Even though there are several elements that damage our skin’s integrity (UV, pollution, screens), we are surrounded by an abundance of topical ingredients to undo the damage. Plus, more and more of these new skincare ingredients seem to mimic our skin’s components. Fatty acids, ceramides, hyaluronic acid; the list goes on. And now, we have squalane as a skincare ingredient. It’s another constituent of our skin’s composition.
Apparently, we have this in common with sharks! Confused? No worries. Here’s everything you need to know about the use of squalane for skin, including its benefits, and the best way to use it. For starters, let’s clear the air. Because you can’t talk about squalane without talking about squalene, with an “e”!
But first things first! This article is reviewed by Fatih Karadeniz, Ph.D. He is the co-author of Biological Importance and Applications of Squalene and Squalane and an assistant research professor at the Marine Biotechnology Center for Pharmaceuticals and Foods at Silla University in Busan, Korea.
What is Squalene?
Squalene is an oil that’s part of your skin’s natural oils, a.k.a sebum. The sebum present in your skin is made of triglycerides, fatty acids, ceramides, and squalene (1).
Squalene, together with other oils, keeps your skin barrier intact and your skin moisturized and soft. Besides your skin, squalene is found in large amounts in shark liver oil.
When the word got out, it worried a lot of people as sharks should not be the main source of skincare products. But luckily, squalene is also commonly found in olive oil, wheat-germ oil, palm oil, amaranth oil, and rice bran oil (2). So not all squalene products are actually derived from shark liver.
What is Squalane?
Squalane (with an “a”) is a saturated form of squalene (3). Basically, it’s a modified version. The reason is the same as any other ingredient; stabilization. We can say that squalane is the stable version of squalene.
So unlike popular opinion, the main difference between squalane and squalene is not that one is derived from sharks and the other one is cruelty-free. Both squalane and squalene can be derived from plant and animal sources.
The only difference is their structure. Squalane has a better shelf life and doesn’t oxidize easily. That’s why squalane is more common in skincare products than squalene. Even though squalane is an oil, it doesn’t have a heavy, oily feel to it.
Why Would Squalane Be Derived From Shark Liver?
You’d think that a shark-based moisturizer would be much more expensive than a plant-based one, right? Not really! Plant-derived squalane is actually more expensive.
According to Dr. Ebru Karpuzoglu MSc., PhD., founder of the clean beauty brand AveSeena, there’s a simple explanation.
“It takes around 70 hours of processing time to obtain olive oil squalane with purity more than 92%. However, only 10 hours is needed to obtain shark squalane with 98% purity. Furthermore, 50 kg of olive oil squalane can be produced from 2.5 acre of land, which needs much more manpower and time. This can explain why plant-derived squalane has been more expensive than the shark squalane” (4).
So money is the answer. But as we’ve established, there are great plant sources for squalane. And as long as you pay attention to your products and question the origin of the ingredient, you’re good.
What Does Squalene Do For Your Skin?
Concerning your skin, the squalene (with an “e”) that your own body produces, the one that is already present on your skin, has a lot of benefits. It’s an emollient that moisturizes the skin and keeps the skin supple.
It also has antioxidant properties. So it protects the skin from the damaging effects of oxidative stress caused by UV exposure or other stressors.
When you look it up even just a little bit, you’ll see that squalene has excellent benefits for your skin and for your body. Here’s the thing.
When you’re talking about skincare in the context of topical products, you need to take everything with a grain of salt. This time, try a pile of salt!
Because all of these benefits are valid for squalene that is on your skin -not the one that comes in skincare products! There’s no human study that confirms that topical squalene provides antioxidant benefits for the skin.
How Does Squalane Work in Skincare?
Not all of the benefits mentioned above can be attributed to squalane found in topical skincare products. So let’s not get ahead of ourselves here.
The most important (and proven) benefit of squalane used in skincare products is its emollience. This makes it a great moisturizer for all skin types. It’s great for dry skin, but excellent for oily and acne-prone skin as it’s non-comedogenic.
It’s a common base of a lot of face creams to effectively moisturize the skin without leaving a greasy feel while also delivering active ingredients into the skin.
As this emollient provides a non-comedogenic occlusion on the skin, it also prevents water loss, which leads to increased hydration. It’s a constituent of your skin’s sebum, so it’s basically a lubricant to keep the skin moisturized.
With hydration, wrinkles, and fine lines appear softer. So squalane can reduce the appearance of wrinkles simply by moisturizing the skin. It can also help repair a compromised skin barrier by restoring the skin.
That’s it. It’s NOT an antioxidant. Just because it works as an antioxidant on your skin doesn’t mean that it’ll work the same way when you put it in a face cream.
Can You Use Squalane For Oily Skin?
Here’s what you need to know about squalane if you’re someone who has oily skin. We’ve established that squalene that is present in your skin’s sebum is prone to oxidation.
When you’re exposed to UV, squalene oxidizes and even causes inflammation and acne. It is already comedogenic (5). Squalane, on the other hand, is stripped of the parts (the six double bonds), that make it comedogenic.
There’s no logic in putting something back on your skin when you know it can cause trouble. So, steer clear from squalene and go for squalane if you don’t want to worsen acne.
How To Use Squalane in Skincare
To get the most out of squalane, use squalane oils that don’t contain anything else. Squalane oils work for all skin types, even sensitive ones.
If you have dry skin, you’ll benefit from it the most if you use products that also contain similar ingredients. Squalane is a naturally-occurring lipid.
So moisturizers that combine squalane with ceramides and fatty acids will be more helpful in getting rid of dryness, and irritation caused by dryness. You can also try squalane cleansers to avoid drying your skin post-cleanse.
If you have oily and acne-prone skin, make sure your squalane moisturizer doesn’t contain comedogenic ingredients. Use squalane moisturizers that are obviously oil-free.
If you’re using anti-aging products that contain actives like retinol, you might be experiencing sensitivity or irritation.
In that case, using squalane oil or a moisturizer made with squalane and the like before applying your retinol cream will reduce irritation. That way, you prevent the actives from disrupting your skin barrier.
So this is how squalane works, its benefits, how to use it, and the difference between squalane and squalene. If you’re ready to give it a try and see some squalane oils or creams, here are the best squalane skincare products to get started.
- Pappas, A., Johnsen, S., Liu, J. C., & Eisinger, M. (2009). Sebum analysis of individuals with and without acne. Dermato-endocrinology, 1(3), 157–161. https://doi.org/10.4161/derm.1.3.8473
- Huang, Z. R., Lin, Y. K., & Fang, J. Y. (2009). Biological and pharmacological activities of squalene and related compounds: potential uses in cosmetic dermatology. Molecules (Basel, Switzerland), 14(1), 540–554. https://doi.org/10.3390/molecules14010540
- Sethi, A., Kaur, T., Malhotra, S. K., & Gambhir, M. L. (2016). Moisturizers: The Slippery Road. Indian journal of dermatology, 61(3), 279–287. https://doi.org/10.4103/0019-5154.182427
- Karpuzoglu, E. (2018, March 24). What is Squalane in skincare? Why should you care? AveSeena. https://www.aveseena.com/squalane-skincare-care/
- Pham, D.‐M., Boussouira, B., Moyal, D. and Nguyen, Q. (2015), Oxidization of squalene, a human skin lipid: a new and reliable marker of environmental pollution studies. Int J Cosmet Sci, 37: 357-365. https://doi.org/10.1111/ics.12208