Everything you need to know about squalane, the skincare ingredient you keep hearing about
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In the world of skincare ingredients, squalane has quickly gone from under the radar to everywhere. It is famous for its healing and hydrating magic, and it is referenced in clean beauty conversations. But what exactly is squalane? And what do you need to know to make the most of its moisturizing potential on your skin, hair and body? We talk to key experts, from biochemists and international ingredient specialists to dermatologists and estheticians, to learn more about the latest skincare hero. Here’s what you need to know about this white-hot ingredient.
What is squalane?
Truly understanding squalane means first understanding squalene – with a E. Squalene is a molecule we are born with in abundance, but like the hyaluronic acid molecule, squalene amounts decrease with age. It is a main component of sebum, the oily, waxy substance produced by the body’s sebaceous glands that moisturizes and protects our skin. Sebum is essential for protecting the skin barrier, helps prevent water loss, and may also provide anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant benefits.
“It’s kind of like baby’s first moisturizer,” says Mimi Lu, the scientist behind Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s own beauty brand, Rose Inc, which uses squalane in every product, from its pomegranate infused exfoliating cleanser to the whole range of make-up. “We see the benefits of squalene from birth through age,” says Lu. That being said, “Of course, like with other things, squalene starts to decline [with age].”
This face oil is, frankly, heaven. Fusion of aromatherapy with vitamin C; omega 3, 6 and 9; and, yes, squalane, the oil gently seals in moisturizer and serum without clogging pores, leaving a noticeable afterglow.
Enter squalane-with a A. Squalane is a more stable version of this natural emollient. It is biomimetic, meaning it mimics the function of a natural substance (in this case, sebum). “If you think of emollients in moisturizers, this is probably one of the best skincare products you can use because the skin already recognizes it and knows what it’s doing,” says chemist Ramya Viswanathan. chief at Amyris, the renewable biotechnology and cosmetics company. behind brands such as Biossance, JVN and Rose Inc. “It’s really about regenerating and nourishing what the skin might be lacking.”
While squalane is currently enjoying a moment in the spotlight, it is even more popular than you might have imagined. “Squalane is widely used by hundreds of brands,” says Viswanathan. However, they are now paying more attention to it in their formulas as customers have become more aware of its benefits. “No one called it before, but many brands use it just because it’s so amazing and very beneficial for the skin,” adds Viswanathan.
Where does squalane come from?
Squalene and squalane can be developed in several ways. Historically, squalene was derived from the liver of sharks. (Yes, really.) Sharks are unique in that they naturally have extra fat in their livers to maintain buoyancy in deep waters. The main ingredient in shark liver oil? Squalene. Currently, around six million sharks are killed each year for their liver, with around 3,000 sharks needed to make one tonne of squalene. This method has consequences on biodiversity and obvious ethical concerns.
This CBD + adaptogen oil, also infused with squalane, is lightweight and perfect for dry, stressed skin. It also comes in a fun Mary Jane-inspired shade, with a matching scent.
Fortunately, there are other herbal ways to produce squalane. Amyris, for example, develops its vegan squalane from fermenting sugarcane in Brazil, grown far from the Amazon rainforest to avoid deforestation. This substitution saves the lives of two million sharks a year. Not to mention that the ingredient is just as effective. “It’s a molecular match to the moisture in our own skin, and absorbs 10 times faster than other plant-derived oils, and blends well with other ingredients,” says Catherine Gore, president of Biossance ( and previously the mastermind behind Marc Jacobs Beauty) of the group’s sugarcane-based biotech. “It’s the perfect vehicle to use in formulation because it really helps other the ingredients perform better and penetrate deeper into the skin.
Squalane derived from sugar cane is a particularly stable form of vegetable squalane. It can also come from olive oil, amaranth seeds, rice bran, wheat germ, date palm and even some mushrooms.
To ensure ethical sourcing, look for a label that specifies 100% plant-derived squalane. It should also be noted that some plant-based production methods are more sustainable than others, crop yields, labor practices, water irrigation, location and other factors come into play. Game.
You can also check the certification status of a mark; Amyris, for her part, is Bonsucro Certified, which means that its sugarcane production meets global sustainability standards. Others, like Dr. Barbara Sturm and Azorean luxury skincare line Ignae, are certified by Positive luxuryan independent organization that verifies that companies adhere to sustainable social, environmental and innovation practices.
What are the benefits of squalane?
As mentioned, squalane mimics the chemical structure of squalene in the body and has many benefits. The most important being hydration, but it also soothes, calms and protects the skin barrier. “It’s so good for the skin, no matter how compromised the skin barrier or the type of skin cell,” says Miguel Borges Pombo, founder of Ignae, a clean skincare line based in the Azores with its own biotechnology, and an international ingredient specialist.
Due to its moisturizing properties, it is a star for dry skin. But its texture is also light and non-greasy, which also makes it a great option for oily or acne-prone skin. “It’s almost immune to skin type, so it’s great for young people, it’s great for older people, whether your skin is drier or more hydrated,” says Borges Pombo. It can also help soothe conditions like eczema and psoriasis, calm skin after sun exposure, and even tame frizz.
This oil combines brightening vitamin C with soothing Damask rose and squalane from Biossance sugar cane. “It penetrates deeper into the skin than other carrier oils, so you don’t have to overuse certain ingredients,” says Viswanathan.
Certified Esthetician Morgan Rackley, owner of Luminous Skin Atlantasays it best, “Those with a dry skin type (lack of oil) can definitely benefit from using squalane in their regimen, as it mimics the oil naturally present in your skin. But it also helps oily ones, because squalane tricks your skin into producing less oil because you’ve already applied it topically, so it doesn’t need to produce as much,” she says, adding, “ I personally love using squalane on my clients who have dry, patchy, and inflamed skin because it helps repair the skin’s natural barrier.
So, are there any side effects or risks when using squalane? “It’s not a miracle cure for dry skin,” notes Geeta Yadav, board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Science Dermatology in Toronto. “People with very dry skin will need more than squalane to repair the moisture barrier in depth.”
It’s also worth doing a patch test before full use if you have sensitive or acne-prone skin. “Other than that,” Rackley says, “everyone can benefit from using squalane!”
What are the best Squalane products?
Now for the fun part. Squalane mixes well with a variety of hero ingredients, enhancing their properties and helping them retain moisture and last longer. You can find it in hair products (weird eyeby Jonathan Van Ness draws on emollient for their hair care line, JVN), all types of skincare and, more recently, makeup. For a product like mascara, this can be a lifesaver: “Add a little squalane to a tube of mascara and shake it up, and it helps refresh it, especially when it dries,” Viswanathan advises.
Although specially formulated for colored skin, this moisturizer is suitable for all skin types. It specifically tackles melasma and dark spots, while working to repair the skin barrier with snow fungus, peptides, ceramides and squalane.
Squalane is a difficult ingredient to abuse. “I use squalane every day for my family,” says Gore. “We use it daily as face and body moisturizer, for cracked skin, as a bath oil, shower oil, hair serum, and the list goes on.”
Our favorite Squalane products
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