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How Squalane Can Level Up Your Skin Care Routine

When you think of moisturizing ingredients that quench dry skin, classics like hyaluronic acid and aloe vera might come to mind. Or perhaps you envision your rosewater mist or tub of ultra-hydrating Vaseline. But there’s also squalane for skin, which can do plenty of great things to your beauty regimen.

Squalane is not to be confused with squalene, however, though they’re often conflated. To help you better understand how to incorporate squalane into your beauty regimen, Bustle spoke with experts to get the complete rundown.

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Much like hyaluronic acid and ceramides, squalene is a naturally occurring substance within your body that helps keep your skin healthy. But, as is often the case with your skin’s naturally hydrating elements, all three deplete as you get older, explains Shiri Sarfati, a Miami-based beauty expert and licensed esthetician. And that’s why hyaluronic acid, ceramides, and the more stable version of squalene — aka squalane — are found in thousands of beauty products.

“Squalene is produced by sebaceous glands and found in the skin,” Dr. Marisa Garshick, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Cornell University, tells Bustle. “Squalene and sebum help to keep the skin moisturized.”

Since your squalene levels deplete as you age, you have drier skin when you get older. Hence: Beauty consumers turning to supplemental squalene — which is usually squalane — into their skin care routines. “Squalane is the hydrogenated version of squalene, which helps to make it more stable and more easily incorporated into products,” Garshick explains, adding that squalene is converted to squalane through a process called hydrogenation — aka a chemical reaction that reduces and/or saturates organic compounds. “If squalene was not hydrogenated, it would oxidize when exposed to air and no longer have its benefits. As a result, squalane may be considered more stable,” she says.

Squalene is also a highly controversial ingredient because, historically, it’s been harvested from shark liver oil. Thus, squalane can be considered the “vegan” version of the compound, as it doesn’t come from sharks or any other animal. “Squalane is more widely used in the cosmetic industry today, as it is derived from plant sources including olives and sugarcane and works well in a variety of formulas,” Sarfati explains.

The main perk of using squalane is its hydrating prowess. “Using squalane is thought to help replenish our natural oils by mimicking our natural sebum,” says Garshick. “It can work for hair, nails, and skin.” In fact, Vince Spinnato, a cosmetic chemist and CEO and founder of TurnKey Beauty Inc., notes that squalane’s moisturizing benefits have brought it beyond skin care. “It’s now in hair care, skin care, bath, and body,” he tells Bustle.

Squalane is also known to be soothing for the complexion. “Squalane is an amazing anti-inflammatory,” says Spinnato. Because of this, it’s a great ingredient to use if your skin barrier is damaged. “More clients are experiencing compromised skin barriers due to harsh chemicals, over-exfoliation, and aggressive treatments that have left skin red, irritated, inflamed, dry, and compromised,” says Sarfati. “Squalane is perfect to address the immediate concerns of clients with this condition as it provides ample hydration.” She adds that it works as a barrier to help keep moisture within the skin, which is key for keeping your complexion healthy.

According to Spinnato, squalane can also help other ingredients in your skin care product work more effectively. “It helps all the other oils in a formulation be more soluble,” he says, meaning squalane helps other ingredients absorb into your skin — and stay there.

That said, squalane is best to use as part of a moisturizer, oil, or serum as opposed to on its own. “Squalane is often found in products designed to moisturize the skin or in conjunction with other active ingredients to help improve tolerability,” Garshick tells Bustle. “Independently, it still doesn’t replace a moisturizing cream or lotion so it is still important to incorporate that into a routine, but can be used in conjunction.”

Generally speaking, experts suggest squalane for those looking to increase moisture in their skin. “Squalane is a skin-friendly ingredient that is wonderful for dry, dehydrated, sensitive, and even oily skin types,” Sarfati tells Bustle. It’s also easy to add into a skin care routine: It’s very lightweight and hydrates without clogging pores, says Spinnato.

Still, Garshick suggests that people with acne-prone, very oily, and/or sensitive skin use caution when incorporating new oils into their skin care routine. “While squalane is not thought to be particularly irritating, it is always important to be cautious when starting new products to make sure your skin can tolerate it.”

Garshick recommends Indeed Labs’ Squalane Facial Oil, as it improves hydration without clogging the pores. It only contains 100% sugarcane-derived squalane, so if your complexion needs a moisture boost, a few drops of this elixir will do the trick.

Sarfati recommends products from Repechage, a brand that produces a multitude of squalane-based formulas. If your skin’s on the sensitive side, try this gentle serum, which also contains moisturizing aloe vera.

This oil incorporates vitamin C, a brightening antioxidant, as well as squalane to offer brightening and hydrating benefits for the skin. While it can be used once or twice daily, Garshick suggests using it in the morning.

Garshick loves this face cream for both improving dryness and evening out skin tone with its combo of squalane, vitamin B5, and niacinamide.

Garshick is also a fan of The Ordinary’s squalane oil: The lightweight solution helps to replenish moisture and can be used daily on the skin, hair, or nails, she says.

Studies referenced:

Makrantonaki, E., Ganceviciene, R., & Zouboulis, C. (2011). An update on the role of the sebaceous gland in the pathogenesis of acne. Dermato-endocrinology, 3(1), 41–49. https://doi.org/10.4161/derm.3.1.13900

Passi, S., De Pità, O., Puddu, P., & Littarru, G. P. (2002). Lipophilic antioxidants in human sebum and aging. Free radical research, 36(4), 471–477. https://doi.org/10.1080/10715760290021342

Pandarus, V., Ciriminna, R., Béland, F., Pagliaro, M., & Kaliaguine, S. (2017). Solvent-Free Chemoselective Hydrogenation of Squalene to Squalane. ACS omega, 2(7), 3989–3996. https://doi.org/10.1021/acsomega.7b00625

Experts:

Dr. Marisa Garshick, M.D., F.A.A.D., board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Cornell University

Shiri Sarfati, beauty expert and licensed esthetician

Vince Spinnato, cosmetic chemist and CEO and founder of TurnKey Beauty Inc.