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What Is Squalane, Exactly, and Should You Be Using It?

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Squalane doesn’t get as much cred as hyaluronic acid and ceramides, but this master moisturizer deserves a special shoutout. And if you don’t know what squalane is—or how to use it—consider this article your crash course.

Among the many benefits of squalane, the experts we consulted agree that it’s both super hydrating and safe to use on even the most sensitive skin. Here, dermatologists explain everything squalane can do, how to decide if it’s right for you, and the best ways to incorporate it into your skin care routine.

What is squalane oil, exactly?

There’s a difference between squalene and squalane—aside from the spelling. The former, with an e, is naturally produced by the body’s sebaceous glands and, to get more specific, is part of sebum, Mary Stevenson, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at NYU Langone Medical Center, tells SELF.

Sebum, Dr. Stevenson explains, is a cocktail of wax, triglycerides (a type of fat), and, yep, squalene.1 The oily substance creates a protective coat on the outermost layer of skin (or the stratum corneum) to maintain moisture.2 Oh, and maybe you’ve heard something about sharks? Squalene is also commonly found in shark livers, it’s true, but most major companies now get it from plant sources like olive oil, Dr. Stevenson adds.3

Okay, so what about squalane (with an a)? It’s just squalene, but hydrogenated—meaning manufacturers add hydrogen atoms to make it more shelf-stable and therefore easier to use in skin care products, Dr. Stevenson says.4

What are the main benefits of squalane?

There’s a surprising lack of studies in humans showing what topical squalane can do for skin—even though it’s something our bodies naturally produce, Rajani Katta, MD, board-certified dermatologist and clinical assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine, tells SELF. Still, experts say there are plenty of good reasons to consider using it.

It can support your skin barrier.

If you’re dealing with dryness, squalane is your gal. Again, one of its most notable (and well-researched) benefits is strengthening your skin barrier, Cheri Frey, MD, board-certified dermatologist and assistant professor at Howard University in Washington, DC, tells SELF.5

“It hydrates the skin by acting as an emollient, meaning it helps trap water in,” Dr. Frey says. More technically, squalene (or squalane) can squeeze into the spaces between skin cells and strengthen that outer layer, making it difficult for water to evaporate.5 Another notable perk: Unlike many face oils, squalane isn’t comedogenic (pore-clogging)—making it a great lightweight option for anyone who’s prone to zits or hates greasiness.4

It may help with acne—depending on your skin type.

Remember: Squalene is a part of sebum, which, in excess, can contribute to acne. So if you have really oily skin that tends to break out, you might want to think twice about slathering on squalane, Dr. Stevenson says—since you’re probably making plenty of sebum already.6 (Plus, some research suggests that squalene naturally plays a role in the formation of acne—so why add more?)7

However, squalane can be a game-changer if you’re wrestling with dehydrated and acne-prone skin, according to Dr. Frey. Just like excess oil can lead to pimples, stubborn breakouts might also be a sign that your face is thirsty—especially if your blemishes are flaky, itchy, or peeling, as SELF previously reported. (Lack of moisture can trigger your body to make more oil and clog your pores.) Squalane can hydrate your skin without causing irritation—a win-win for folks with dryness and acne.8

It can make wrinkles less noticeable.

The science behind its purported smoothing benefits isn’t well-documented, Dr. Frey acknowledges, but here’s what we do know: Dry skin can emphasize the look of wrinkles and fine lines.5 And as you get older, your skin produces fewer oils (including squalene), so using a serum, lotion—whatever—with squalane can provide moisture, Dr. Frey says, and give your face a more plump appearance.4

It can relieve itchy skin.

If you have a hard time finding ingredients that don’t bother your annoyingly sensitive skin, here’s some good news: Squalane is highly unlikely to cause irritation. In fact, thanks to its barrier-supporting superpowers mentioned above, it can actually soothe certain eczema symptoms, like dryness, cracking, and flaking.3 That said, “squalane isn’t a formal treatment for eczema,” Dr. Frey warns. (If you have this inflammatory condition, it’s best to see a dermatologist, who can recommend long-term solutions, she says.)

One study that did involve human participants (specifically, folks dealing with a chronic kidney condition called uremic pruritis, which causes itching) also found that using a squalane-containing gel improved dryness as well as the urge to scratch.9 These results may sound promising to anyone looking for a DIY remedy for itchy skin, but keep in mind that this was a pretty small study (on 20 people) with some drawbacks—including the fact that the gel contained other ingredients as well. So it’s hard to know for sure what effect the squalane had on its own.

How to incorporate squalane into your skin care routine

It’s pretty much foolproof: Dr. Frey says it’s safe to use squalane with most other skin care ingredients, including actives like retinol and niacinamide. But there are a few things to consider:

“If you have dry skin, try using a moisturizer with squalane twice a day, especially in the winter,” Dr. Frey suggests. In general, moisturizers, compared to serums, are more hydrating, she explains. But if you’re on the oilier side (or it’s just the humid summertime), it’s fine to moisturize only once a day, or opt for a serum instead, she says.

One final thing to know if you do go with a serum: It should be one of the last steps in your routine (after cleansing, but before moisturizer), since squalane is a lipid (a fatty molecule).10 Simply put, it’s pretty thick, so it’s great at sealing everything in—which includes any dirt, oil, or makeup residue on your face, according to Dr. Frey.

If you’re not sure where to start, try one of the SELF-approved squalane products below. Who knows, maybe this natural wonder will be the solution to your winter dryness or flaky little facial bumps.

Squalane + Omega Repair Deep Hydration Moisturizer

$60.00, Sephora

Resurrection Polypeptide Cream

$27.00, Ulta

100% Plant-Derived Squalane

$10.00, Sephora

Cellular Hydration Repair Cream

$69.00, Sephora

Sources:

  1. Dermato Endocrinology, Sebum Analysis of Individuals With and Without Acne

  2. StatPearls, Histology, Stratum Corneum

  3. Journal of Cosmetic Science, The Importance and Perspective of Plant-Based Squalene in Cosmetology

  4. Indian Journal of Dermatology, Moisturizers: The Slippery Road

  5. Molecules, Biological and Pharmacological Activities of Squalene and Related Compounds: Potential Uses in Cosmetic Dermatology

  6. Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, Oily Skin: A Review of Treatment Options

  7. British Journal of Dermatology, A Possible Role for Squalene in the Pathogenesis of Acne. II. In Vivo Study of Squalene Oxides in Skin Surface and Intra-Comedonal Lipids of Acne Patients

  8. International Journal of Toxicology, Final Report on the Safety Assessment of Squalane and Squalene

  9. Therapeutic Apheresis and Dialysis, Effect of Skin Care With an Emollient Containing a High Water Content on Mild Uremic Pruritus

  10. Dermato Endocrinology, Epidermal Surface Lipids

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Originally Appeared on SELF