From calming irritation to boosting hydration, squalane is the under-the-radar yet highly efficacious ingredient that’s quickly becoming a skin-care essential.
If you take a peek inside your bathroom cabinet, you might find at least one of your favorite creams or serums has squalane in it, which is no surprise to us, as members of the all-hail-squalane fan club. The ingredient—commonly used in skin-care products due to its long shelf life—is the hydrogenated form of squalene (they sound the same, but the substitution of the “e” makes a big difference when it comes to the ingredient’s function).
“Squalene is a natural hydrator made by our sebaceous glands until we’re about 30 years old, which keeps our skin’s outer layer protected,” says Ramya Viswanathan, director of new product development for squalane-based skin-care brand Biossance. “The ingredient works in the same way as squalane when it’s applied to the skin as it does when it’s produced by our own glands.” But, squalene and its similarly spelled derivative both have the same claims to fame as far as benefits go, and according to experts, they’re crucial for helping skin bear the harsh conditions that can come with colder months.
It Maintains the Skin’s Moisture Barrier
No matter which skin type they’re formulated for, moisturizers contain a variety of different ingredients, but the main softening agent is typically called an emollient—this is the category squalane falls under, explains cosmetic formulator Stephen Alain Ko. “Squalane reduces water evaporation from the epidermis, helping to soften and moisturize the barrier of the skin.” Montclair, NJ dermatologist Jeanine B. Downie, MD says, “Squalane is often derived from vegan sources like olives and sugarcane, or extracted from shark liver.”
There’s no right or wrong way to use squalane.
—Stephen Alain Ko
It’s also naturally produced by the skin. “As we get older, our bodies’ squalene levels decrease,” says Viswanathan, which is why using a high percentage of topical squalane in skin-care products is essential for keeping the skin’s moisture barrier intact and healthy. “The higher the concentration in the product, the more moisturizing the ingredient will be,” adds New York dermatologist Marina Peredo, MD, who offers this tip: “But make sure the ingredient is 100-percent plant-derived.
It’s Incredibly Anti-Inflammatory
The constant rubbing of cloth masks against our faces has caused a lot of newly discovered irritation, including rosacea and acne. A product that’s anti-inflammatory can work wonders for a struggling skin barrier, and Dr. Downie says squalane may suffice. “I often prescribe antibiotics or prescriptions for patients struggling with inflammation, however, squalane works great on the side because it reduces the redness often associated with acne,” she explains. “Many of my patients with oily skin also benefit from squalane because it is mattifying. It sucks up any excess oil and deeply nourishes without clogging pores. It’s also gentle for those with sensitive skin—I’ve never heard of anyone having a problem with it.
It’s a Team Player
While everyone has their preferences for what they like to use on their skin, squalane has a reputation for being a people-pleaser. Although the ingredient works fantastic on its own, it’s often used as a soothing addition to skin-care formulas. “You can often find it in the mix with other emollients like plant butters, cholesterol and ceramides, or in combination with topical antioxidants like vitamin E,” explains Ko. Likewise, Viswanathan praises it for its carrier abilities: “Including squalane in an ingredient lineup will help deliver the other active ingredients included in the formula to the skin more effectively.”