Why You Need: Squalane

When it comes to serious moisture, there’s no sillier-sounding-but-hyper-effective skincare ingredient than squalane…

The beauty industry has no shortage of ingredients with adorable names. Rosehip, pea flour, calendula, milk thistle, meadowfoam, tocos, camelina, horsetail, baobab, tamanu…can you even?

But just like you’re never supposed to underestimate someone because of their size, don’t discount a skincare product because its label is packed with delightful-sounding botanicals. These ingredients may have names that could double as one of the fairies in a Shakespeare play or a newborn farm animal in a kid’s movie, but every single one of them does an impressive job for your skin and body. And when it comes to serious moisture, there’s no sillier-sounding-but-hyper-effective skincare ingredient than squalane. Here’s the deal.

What is it?

The first thing you need to know is that both squalene and squalane exist. The former is the purer form of the ingredient as the later has been hydrogenated. And while purer is almost always better, it’s important to note here that squalene with an E isn’t stable enough to use on your skin regularly.

Squalene with an E is unsaturated, meaning it oxidizes quickly and doesn’t do much in the way of protecting your skin from free radicals. It’s totally fine when produced naturally by your body (which it is, but more on that later), but it goes bad pretty quickly when bottled, so its shelf-stability is crap. Squalane with an A, on the other hand, is saturated, so it’s stable, oxidizes less quickly and lasts way, way longer in your medicine cabinet.

Plus, squalane is lighter, making it way better for daily use, especially on skin that’s reactive. Lighter products are often less likely to clog sensitive pores, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less effective than their heavier counterparts.

Now let’s back up: What exactly is squalene? In short, it’s a fat-soluble antioxidant that’s naturally produced by our sebaceous glands when your body synthesis cholesterol (science!). It’s found in sebum and its job is to lubricate and protect your skin, making up 10-12% of your skin’s oil. So while your body does product squalene naturally, it doesn’t hurt to add more to your topical routine.

Where does it come from?

Traditionally, squalene was harvested from sharks. These creatures of the deep depend on the stuff for survival: a huge percentage of the oil in many sharks’ livers is made up of squalene and a shark’s liver makes up about 25% of its mass so, you do the math. As fun as it would be to imagine sharks caring about the hydration of their skin, the substance is so vital to deep sea dwellers because it makes sure the body is using its oxygen supply efficiently.

Since hunting sharks for the sake of our skin is no bueno, it’s now more common that the squalene and squalane you find in self-care products come from plant sources like olives, wheat germ oil, amaranth seeds and rice bran.

Why do I need more of it?

Oh let me count the ways!

1.It’s shelf-stable, so unlike a lot of other natural, botanical ingredients, you don’t have to worry about using it all up too quickly as it’ll be good for almost two years.

2. It has emollient properties, so it rocks at helping skin hold onto the moisturizing ingredients you apply via other products. And locking in all that moisture means healthier, plumper, smoother skin without any greasy or slick residue.

3. Those same emollient properties make it awesome at gently removing makeup without stripping skin of natural oils. If you’re not already double cleansing, grab some squalane oil and GET ON IT.

4. It absorbs crazy-quick; you can literally apply squalane to your skin and watch it get sink in before your eyes. That absorption speed means you won’t be left with oily residue or need to do any vigorous massaging to get excess oil to penetrate your skin.

5. It’s antibacterial, so fight acne and inflammation with a single product.

6. It promotes cell growth, one of the reasons it also makes your skin look so young and healthy. New, younger cells = better-looking skin.

7. Because it can sink so deeply into the skin, squalane helps lighten skin discoloration and pigmentation by fighting free radicals in the skin caused by UV rays.

8. It’ll help regulate your skin’s oil production.

Ok, how do I use it?

Just like you would with any other oil in your arsenal. Double cleanse with it, moisturize with it, use it as a base layer for your nighttime routine so all the other stuff you apply sinks in and stays put, comb some through the ends of your hair to condition your strands, find a product that incorporates squalane oil so you get the best of all the worlds.

Here are a few product recommendations to get you started on the squalane squad if you’re not ready to just douse yourself in a vat of the stuff:

+Be sure to read more from Allie on beauty and wellness here

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The pink packaging!!! And I didn’t know anything about squalane (and squalene, haha) so thanks for getting me informed about that!

Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog

nin chn

That’s the first time I heard of this product. Many thanks for the info.


Hi Allie,
I purchased The Ordinary Granactive Retinoid 5% in Squalane and had concerns about oxidation because my skin is hormonal and prone to acne.
Thanks for clarification between the A and E squalane/squalene.