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