Medically reviewed by Kristin Hall, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 2/01/2021
If you’ve ever spent time researching moisturizer ingredients, you’ve almost certainly heard of squalane and squalene.
Squalane and squalene are naturally-occurring substances found in certain fish oils, including shark liver oil. Squalane, the hydrogenated form of squalene, is a common ingredient in skin care products such as moisturizers and anti-aging creams.
Squalene is also found in the sebum, or oil, that’s secreted by your sebaceous glands to keep your skin moisturized, healthy and protected.
Squalane and squalene sound similar for a reason — they’re very similar to each other, at least from a chemical perspective. Nonetheless, there’s one main difference that’s important to learn if you’d like to start using these ingredients in your skincare routine.
Below, we’ve explained the key difference between squalane and squalene. We’ve also talked about the numerous benefits that ingredients like squalane can offer for your skin.
Squalene is a naturally-occurring, polyunsaturated hydrocarbon that’s found in many types of fish oil.
Most squalene today is sourced from shark liver oil. In fact, the name “squalene” is based on the Squalidae family of sharks from which squalene was first extracted at the beginning of the 20th century.
Squalene is found in small quantities throughout the human body. It’s created in your liver and can be found primarily in your blood. Your sebum — the oil that’s produced by your sebaceous glands — is also around 12 percent squalene.
The squalene in your sebum plays an important role in keeping your skin hydrated. It helps to repair damaged skin and rejuvenate your skin as it ages. Research also shows that it plays a role in protecting your skin from free radical oxidative damage.
As with many other important substances for healthy skin, your body’s production of squalene slows over time. Research shows that the amount of squalene in your sebum usually begins to decline after the age of thirty.
Because of its numerous benefits, squalene is widely viewed as one of the highest quality natural emollients.
You can think of squalene as a protective component for your skin. Its job is to create a barrier that keeps your skin moisturized, healthy and protected from common sources of damage.
There’s just one problem. Although squalene is highly effective at moisturizing and protecting your skin, it’s not very stable from a chemical perspective.
In fact, when squalene is exposed to oxygen, it has a tendency to become rancid. This short shelf life makes squalene a relatively difficult ingredient to use in moisturizers and other skin care products.
Enter squalane. Squalane is a hydrogenated version of squalene. Because squalane contains hydrogen, it doesn’t react with oxygen in the same way as squalene, making it suitable for use in cosmetics, moisturizers and other skin care products.
While squalene spoils quickly, products that use squalane can sit on the shelf for a long period of time without going bad when they’re repeatedly opened and exposed to air.
Squalane offers the same benefits as squalene. It helps to protect the skin from sun exposure and free radical damage. It moisturizes and maintains the skin. It also has antibacterial effects that may provide protection against certain types of bacteria.
Because squalane and squalene are almost identical from a chemical perspective, they offer the same benefits for your skin.
We’ve listed these benefits below, along with further information on how squalane and squalene can help in maintaining your skin health:
Hydration. Squalene and squalane are incredibly effective moisturizers. In fact, both are often referred to as nature’s “great” emollients. Squalene and squalane are both rapidly absorbed by the skin to trap in moisture and maintain its suppleness and flexibility.
Lack of oiliness. Unlike many other common ingredients in moisturizers, squalane and squalene aren’t overly oily. Both are absorbed deep into the skin without leaving behind an oily residue.
Antioxidant effects. Research shows both that squalene and squalane may provide an antioxidant effect. This may help to control damage to your skin from sun exposure and subsequent oxidative stress.
Squalane is a safe, effective ingredient that’s used in a large range of cosmetics and skin care products. It’s been around for decades and is used in everything from moisturizers to makeup, cleansers, sunscreen, hair care products and more.
Research largely shows that squalane and squalene are safe for most people. For example, a report on the safety of squalane and squalene from the early 1990s found that both ingredients were safe to use at normal concentrations in cosmetics.
Thanks to its antioxidant properties, ability to trap moisture in your skin and lack of noticeable oiliness, squalane is a useful ingredient to look for when you’re shopping for moisturizers and other skin care products.
Squalane can be a particularly good ingredient to look for if you have acne-prone skin, as it’s non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t contribute to blocked pores and acne like other oil-based moisturizers).
Its anti-inflammatory effects also make it a good choice if your skin gets irritated easily due to acne breakouts, dryness, psoriasis or atopic dermatitis (eczema).
Overall, squalane is definitely worth considering if you’re looking for a skin-friendly ingredient that’s available over the counter. You can find it in many moisturizers and other products — to check for it, just look at the list of ingredients on the product’s label.
From retaining moisture to preventing acne breakouts, effective skin care is all about achieving balance through the right combination of products and skin-friendly habits.
Our guide to working out your skin type and caring for your skin goes into more detail about how to identify your skin care priorities, choose the right products and keep your skin free of dryness, damage and blemishes year round.