Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 9/24/2020
Whether you’re looking for an effective acne treatment or are far along in your journey to find the perfect moisturizer for your skin, there will always be cool new products on the market begging to be bought.
From miracle elixirs, to organic age-old remedies and futuristic “patent pending” pharmaceutical formulas, it’s always something — or someone — just waiting to change your skin forever.
And you sit there and think: “what do I have to lose?”
Well, money, first of all. But in addition to potentially throwing your money away, buying a skin care product just because it’s “hot” or your favorite social media influencer uses it could make your skin worse off than it was before.
Due diligence involves getting background on a product before you “add to cart.” When it comes to squalane oil, you’ll likely find it to be safe for acne-prone skin, but not pack any magical anti-acne powers. Read on for details and to help decide if squalane is a good addition to your skin care routine.
Squalane is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless oil. It naturally occurs in the fatty layers of your skin, in small amounts. Commercially, for use in cosmetics and other products, it is derived from the very similarly spelled squalene oil.
Research suggests that squalene accounts for up to 13 percent of the total fats produced by your oil (sebaceous) glands. However, in order to make commercial products, human squalene oil or sebum aren’t used.
Historically, squalene was derived from shark liver oil. Then, it could be converted to squalane through the process of hydrogenation. Now, however, most squalane is converted from squalene found in plant oils.
Squalane is used in cosmetic products such as conditioners, lotions, lipsticks, sunscreens, bath oils, face oils, foundations and other creams. It’s said to have a high capacity for penetration, and is used to increase the absorption of other active ingredients in such products.
An estimated 40 percent of the squalane industry is derived from shark liver oil, but 46 percent comes from olive oil and 10 percent from sugarcane. As with squalane from shark, the plant-based versions of this oil are first derived as squalene, which is converted to squalane.
Squalane from shark liver oil is believed to be purer than that derived from olive oil or sugarcane. Squalane from both olive oil and sugar cane may be less pure, containing things like sterol esters and paraffin in addition to the desirable compounds.
However, researchers in the journal Cosmetics and Toiletries point out that shark-derived squalane can also have impurities, namely environmental pollutants that the shark may have been exposed to in the ocean.
One important difference between vegetable-derived and animal-derived products: Sharks are not renewable. Sugarcane and olive oil are more affordable, renewable options, and with advancements in the production process, these sources are able to provide high quality squalane, too.
Because squalane oil is derived from squalene oil, it stands to reason they have many similarities. But they have differences too. We’ll leave things like chemical structure out of it, but here are two key differences:
Squalane is odorless, while squalene has a slight odor. Squalane is also colorless and tasteless and is safe for sensitive skin.
Squalane is water soluble, but squalene generally isn’t.
Both of the oils are used in countless cosmetic products for all skin types, primarily as a base or vehicle for other active ingredients, and as a moisturizer or emollient. Both are considered safe to use topically on a frequent and repeated basis.
There isn’t an overwhelming amount of research on the benefits of squalane oil in skin care products. Because it’s primarily used as a hydrating agent or simply a vehicle for the other active ingredients, its inclusion in studies is often a side-topic.
For example, one study looked at the use of an anti-wrinkled medication dissolved inside squalane. The researchers found this combination to improve moisture content and suppleness while reducing wrinkle and fine lines formation. However, we don’t know if it was the squalane or the compound dissolved within it that brought about these benefits.
The proven benefits of squalane are simply: as an odorless, colorless, safe moisturizer.
Little has been researched on the effects of squalane on acne. However, you can find anecdotal accounts of potential benefits on personal blogs and social media accounts.
We do know that squalane is often found as a moisturizing (or emollient) agent within anti-acne creams and lotions. We also know that it is noncomedonal, which means it doesn’t cause acne. These two characteristics — moisturizing and noncomedonal — make it a good candidate for keeping acne-prone skin moisturized without worsening breakouts.
Can squalane play a role in actively fighting acne? It isn’t clear. But it’s presence in acne moisturizers is unlikely to worsen your condition and its noncomedogenic properties mean it could be safe sensitive skin.
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