Breaking Down All The Facts About Squalane In Skincare

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Squalane: we hear a lot about it, but what it actually does for the skin? And is it really worth incorporating into your skincare routine? Spoiler: yes, it is — lightweight, non-greasy, sebum-balancing, skin regenerating, and moisture sealing; there’s not much squalane in skincare can’t do. Here we take a deep dive into the benefits of squalane for skin to better understand this buzzy compound and where it fits in an effective routine.

Squalane vs squalene

You’ll often come across two terms: squalane and squalene. But what is the difference between the two? Here’s the gist: our sebaceous glands produce sebum, which has the role of protecting and moisturizing the skin. One of the three integral parts of sebum is squalene, making up 10-12% of the skin’s sebum.[1] Simply put, squalene is a lipid made by the body to keep the skin moist and plump. On the other hand, squalane is a hydrogenated, stabilized version of squalene which is more resistant to oxidation and degradation. In other words, squalane is a more shelf-stable, effective, and lighter squalene derivative.

As far as skincare is concerned, squalane is an emollient with occlusive properties, meaning it coats the surface with a protective film to trap moisture, soften, and shield the skin against external damage.

Hard pass on shark-derived squalene 

While squalene is a lipid made by the oil glands, it is also naturally found in shark livers, while squalane, on the other hand, can be extracted from sugarcane and plants such as olives and rice bran. So you want to give a hard pass to any cosmetic made with squalene sourced from shark liver. Sadly, the practice of extracting squalene from shark liver is still pretty common. For decades, as many as 50 species of sharks were hunted and killed, causing a lot of controversies.

Fortunately, over time, most people have become selective and conscious of their product choice and are more interested in understanding the origins of compounds in their skincare products. The greatest cosmetics brands have turned to more environmental-friendly alternatives, extracting squalane from plants, such as olives, sugarcane, amaranth seeds, rice bran, wheat germ, and fungi. Also, campaigns like Oceana’s 2008 push for the cosmetic industry to stop using shark liver oil exist, and consumers are joining in urging the skincare industry to implement stronger labeling regulations around the sourcing of squalane.[2]

Is squalane an oil?

Squalane is a lightweight oil-like substance with high emollient benefits that mimics the sebum in our skin and has a key role in preventing moisture loss and softening the complexion. Although it’s technically an oil, squalane doesn’t have a greasy feeling, is non-comedogenic, antibacterial, and suitable for all skin types, including sensitive ones.[3]

The benefits of squalane in skincare

Here’s how using skincare products with squalane can benefit your skin:

  • Seals moisture into the skin: Squalane coats the skin and acts as a seal to prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL), helping you avoid dehydration.
  • Plumps fine lines and wrinkles: Due to its high emollient properties, squalane makes fine lines and wrinkles less noticeable while plumping skin.
  • Enhances barrier repair: Squalane creates an invisible film on the skin’s surface that hinders moisture loss, having a pivotal role in supporting barrier repair. 
  • Helps relieve dryness: Squalane mimics sebum, and low sebum levels are the primary cause of dryness. Thus, applying squalane regularly alleviates dryness and increases moisture.
  • Eases inflammation: Squalane is a gentle compound with anti-inflammatory properties that helps calm redness, irritation, inflammation, and swelling.[4]
  • Balances sebum production: Because it imitates sebum, squalane can “trick” the sebaceous glands into producing less sebum, making it an excellent pick for oily and breakout-prone skin folks.
  • Softens skin: As an effective emollient, squalane softens and smooths the skin’s surface, comforting and relieving the complexion.

Is squalane safe?

Squalane is a gentle compound, and no side effects have been reported so far from using it. Generally, it’s safe for all skin types, including acne-prone, oily and sensitive. Even though it is an oil, squalane doesn’t feel heavy or greasy and never congests pores as it’s non-comedogenic.

If, however, your squalane-infused product triggers a reaction, you should consider talking to your dermatologist to check whether squalane or other compounds in the product have caused your sensitivities.

How to use squalane for skin?

Squalane can be found in a plethora of products that cover all essential skincare steps, from squalane cleansers to serums, oils, and squalane-infused face creams. However, so that your skin gets most of the benefits, you should consider using it on its own as part of your daily routine. There are a lot of products with 100% squalane, and here is how you should use one:

  • Cleanse your skin with a gentle face wash and lukewarm water
  • Use a toner to balance pH and remove impurities
  • Apply water-based serum (optionally)
  • Layer squalane oil
  • Apply moisturizer to trap squalane’s perks into the skin
  • Use sunscreen with at least 30 SPF

Squalane is a mild and versatile compound that can be mixed with other potent actives. For instance, squalane and vitamin C make a great pair for thickening the skin, leading to a more resilient protective barrier, increased firmness, and moisture retention.[5] Also, squalane can be used in tandem with retinol to cut down the possible side effects associated with retinoid use. Layering squalane before retinol creates a barrier that doesn’t allow the skin to have direct contact with retinol, so it’s less likely to give you any reaction, which is especially good for sensitive complexions.


Sources

Women’s Concepts uses reliable sources, including dermatologists’ insights, clinical trials, and scientific journals, to find accurate information and support all the facts shared in our articles. All statements and claims have clear and legit references. Read our editorial policy to learn more about our sources of information, our process of researching and fact-checking the content, and how our team strives to keep all articles updated, completed, and trustworthy.

References
  1. Picardo M, Ottaviani M, Camera E, Mastrofrancesco A. Sebaceous gland lipids. Dermatoendocrinol. 2009 Mar;1(2):68-71. doi: 10.4161/derm.1.2.8472. PMID: 20224686; PMCID: PMC2835893.
  2. Oceana, Protecting the World’s Oceans, Unilever to Wash Squalane from its Beauty Line
  3. Sethi A, Kaur T, Malhotra SK, Gambhir ML. Moisturizers: The Slippery Road. Indian J Dermatol. 2016 May-Jun;61(3):279-87. doi: 10.4103/0019-5154.182427. PMID: 27293248; PMCID: PMC4885180.
  4. Lou-Bonafonte JM, Martínez-Beamonte R, Sanclemente T, Surra JC, Herrera-Marcos LV, Sanchez-Marco J, Arnal C, Osada J. Current Insights into the Biological Action of Squalene. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2018 Jun 8:e1800136. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201800136. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 29883523.
  5. Gref, R., Deloménie, C., Maksimenko, A. et al. Vitamin C–squalene bioconjugate promotes epidermal thickening and collagen production in human skin. Sci Rep 10, 16883 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-72704-1
Who wrote this?
Ana Vasilescu
Ana Vasilescu
Ana is a sociologist and feminist with a shared passion for literature, psychology, and skincare, the combo that made her determined to start Women's Concepts. With over five years of experience in dermatological research, she has now become a certified skincare consultant keen to convince others of the importance of a diligent routine. Her close relationships with dermatologists around the globe, along with years of researching, analyzing studies, and hand-testing products on a daily basis, made Ana one of the best persons you can get advice from.
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