Everything you need to know about squalane
In the ever-evolving world of skincare, people are constantly on the lookout for ingredients that can deliver great results.
One ingredient which has gained significant attention of late is squalane – the squalane hashtag has over 36 million views on TikTok, while over on Instagram the hashtag has over 60k posts.
Whether you’re looking to stay ahead of the curve when it comes to incorporating trending ingredients in your treatments, or you simply want to satisfy the curiosity of your clients asking about it, here’s everything you need to know about squalane.
What is squalane?
While squalane is getting all the hype, you may have also seen the term squalene popping up too – and no, it’s not a spelling mistake; squalane is actually derived from squalene.
Squalene is a type of lipid (the building blocks of cells) which is found in many plants and animals, including humans. In fact, it’s estimated that 10-12% of human sebum consists of squalene, according to Rebecca Jones, a trainer and ambassador for Noon Aesthetics.
Squalene is a natural emollient, helping to keep skin soft and moisturised, and protecting it from the environment.
Traditionally, the squalene we used in products was primarily sourced from shark liver oil – its name comes from ‘Squalus’, which is a genus of shark.
However, due to the ethical and sustainability concerns which come from sourcing squalene from animals, we’ve now developed alternative sources, including biosynthetic squalene made from yeast and bacteria.
Understanding the difference: squalene vs squalane
When it comes to the difference between squalene and squalane, they are both natural organic compounds derived from the same source, but they differ in terms of their structure and properties.
Cigdem Kemal Yilmaz, a skincare formulator and founder of Skin Masterclass, explains it in technical terms: “Squalene is an unsaturated high hydrocarbon compound naturally found in certain oils, while squalane is the hydrogenated and most stable form of squalene.
“Squalane possesses a unique molecular structure which imparts several notable properties, including excellent stability, low viscosity, and high oxidative stability. Furthermore, its lack of double bonds renders squalane highly resistant to oxidation and degradation, making it an ideal ingredient for use in skincare products.”
The squalane we use in skincare usually comes from natural sources. “Today, the majority of squalane is sourced from plant derived oils using advanced extraction techniques such as molecular distillation and fractionation,” comments Kemal Yilmaz.
She adds, “Squalane is a more sustainable and ethical alternative to squalene because it can be sourced from plant-based ingredients like sugar cane, olives, or rice bran, reducing the environmental impact associated with harvesting squalene from sharks.”
All of these factors mean that squalane is more frequently found in skincare than squalene.
The benefits of squalane for skincare
Squalane has emollient properties, so it helps to moisturise the skin and prevent transepidermal water loss.
It also has anti-inflammatory properties that can soothe and calm the skin, helping to reduce redness, irritation, and sensitivity. “This makes it great for conditions like acne and eczema, and even helping to reduce redness,” comments Kelly Saynor, clinical director of Medica Forte, creator of The Perfect Peel Superblend.
“Squalane also has natural antioxidant properties, which helps protect the skin from free radicals and oxidative stress,” adds Kemal Yilmaz.
“By neutralising free radicals, squalane helps reduce the signs of ageing and promote healthier-looking skin.
“Additionally, it can promote skin cell regeneration and renewal by maintaining the skin’s barrier function, supporting the skin’s natural exfoliation process and improving the overall texture of the skin.
“It is also non-comedogenic, meaning it does not clog pores, and it has a lightweight, non-greasy texture that makes it suitable for a wide range of skin types.”
Skincare products utilising squalane
Squalane is usually found in moisturisers, lotions, serums and cleansers which are designed to enhance hydration and protect the skin barrier.
“It can also be found in facial oils combined with other oils such as argan oil and jojoba oil to nourish and soften the skin, as well as lip balms and sun protection products to provide additional hydration and improve the product’s texture,” adds Kemal Yilmaz.
Saint adds that squalane can also be found in sheet masks and haircare products.
Suitability of squalane for different skin types
Squalane is generally well-tolerated and suitable for most skin types.
“This is the TLC of ingredients,” says Jane Saint, national trainer at +maskology. “It’s suitable for anyone who needs moisture and nourishment such as those with naturally dry skin, eczema, psoriasis and dermatitis.
“It can be a particularly lovely treatment for any patients receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy,” she adds
However, if a client has overactive sebaceous glands, then squalane might not be the best to use since it’s very similar to sebum.
Additionally, as with any skincare ingredient, individual reactions may vary.
“Anyone with known allergies or skin sensitivities should perform a patch test before using new products containing squalane,” advises Saynor.
Combining squalane with other ingredients
Squalane is very stable and isn’t an active, so it pairs well with a variety of other skincare ingredients.
“You'll often find it in formulations with other hydrators like hyaluronic acid or ceramides,” says Saynor.
Saint advises using squalane with hyaluronic acid to maintain the skin's natural barrier. She explains, “Apply the hyaluronic acid to the skin first to increase the moisture levels and then lock it in with squalane for deep nourishment.”
Squalane can also be used to reduce the drying effects of some retinoid products.
Although standalone squalane products are available, it’s more often found in the combinations mentioned above.
This is because of its small molecular size, which means it can penetrate deeper into the skin – so it’s often used as a carrier for other ingredients.
Of course, any skincare aficionado worth their salt will be checking whether the combination of ingredients they’re using are cancelling each other out or risking skin irritation.
The good news is that there aren't really any ingredients that you should avoid using with squalane.
“It's quite a gentle and neutral ingredient, and doesn't tend to react adversely with other common skincare ingredients,” says Saynor.
However, when it comes to formulating products, manufacturers still need to be wary.
Kemal Yilmaz explains, “It’s generally advisable to avoid using squalane in formulations with other ingredients that are known to be highly reactive or unstable, as it could potentially affect the overall stability and efficacy of the product.
“For example, strong oxidising agents or certain acidic compounds may degrade squalane over time.
“Therefore, it's best to avoid combining squalane with ingredients like strong acids (for example, high concentrations of alpha hydroxy acids), hydrogen peroxide, or other potent oxidising agents.”
Can you use squalane in professional treatments?
Absolutely! “Squalane can be found in a number of professional skincare treatments, including facials and chemical peels,” Saynor says.
“It's often used in these treatments for its moisturising and calming properties, making it a great choice to soothe the skin post-treatment.
“It's also used in some post-procedure products to help promote healing and reduce inflammation.”