Although coconut oil, shea butter and glycolic acid are some of the most commonly known skin care ingredients used to treat dry skin, you may have started to hear more and more about squalene (and a related ingredient called squalane), especially since this ingredient seems to be included in many hydrating creams and treatments from big-name brands.
If you’re unfamiliar with squalene and what it does for your skin, the Environmental Working Group defines it as a compound that is a naturally occurring lipid in both plants and animals.
Because of this, the EWG suggests that squalene is an adequate low-risk hair and skin-conditioning agent suitable for all skin types, making it no real surprise that it’s suddenly being included in cosmetic products everywhere.
Squalene (with an e) does have a younger sister with a similar name. Cosmetic scientist Shuting Hu told HuffPost that squalane (with an a) is a more stable derivation of squalene (meaning its shelf life is longer, and it won’t go rancid as quickly) that is created through a saturation process.
“This creates a longer shelf life by eliminating the factor of oxidation, and is usually the form used in skin care products,” she said. “This means it turns the squalene from an unsaturated oil into a 100% saturated oil, which is more efficacious in skin care products.”
We talked more with Hu and board-certified dermatologists to break down everything you need to know about this moisturizing superstar and how to incorporate it into your daily routine.
What is squalene?
Board-certified dermatologist Harold Lancer explained to HuffPost that squalene is an oil found in plants, animals and ... humans. He noted that squalene has become popular as a cosmetic ingredient for the compound’s humectant properties, which allow the skin to protect itself from dehydration.
“It is also a natural fat that is produced in the body in order to protect skin barrier function, and reduce water loss from evaporation,” Lancer said.
Since squalene is one of the many lipids that are naturally found in human sebum, cosmetic chemist Matthew Mileo suggests it’s suitable for most skin types to use.
“In fact, squalene actually makes up between 10% and 12% of your skin’s oil,” Mileo told HuffPost.
However, vegans should be aware that squalene traditionally is derived from shark liver, making it important to find plant-based alternatives made from vegetable sources, according to Mileo.
“People [can buy] squalene from vegetable sources such as white camellia seed oil, olive oil, amaranth seed extract and rice bran oil,” he added.
Is there any research backing squalene’s effectiveness?
Like many buzzworthy cosmetic ingredients, squalene claims to increase moisture in skin and reduce oxidative damage. And these claims do have research to support them.
A 2012 study published in Advances in Food and Nutrition Research lauds squalene for its emollient and detoxifying properties. Similarly, a 2009 study published in Molecules stated that the ingredient is critical in reducing free radical oxidative damage to the skin.
Hydration aside, a 2018 study published in the International Journal of Agronomy also suggested that the ingredient boasts anti-cancer and anti-tumor properties. The study, which examined the plant sources and extraction methods of squalene, concluded that the most important biological effects of squalene stand out as a cancer inhibitor as well as anti-tumor and antioxidant agent in the skin.
Who should use squalene?
Since squalene is a basic biological component that is already in the body, it’s suitable for people with all skin types, Lancer told HuffPost.
“Squalene is safe for people with oily and acne-prone skin, as it is lighter than some other oils, and generally doesn’t clog pores,” he said.
And since squalene also boasts remarkable hydrating and non-comedogenic (doesn’t clog pores) properties, it can be safely used on the skin around the lips and eyes, Lancer added.
However, Mileo suggested that there are individuals who should be cautious of using squalene.
“People aged 20 (and under) need to stay away from squalene, as their hormones are making sure they have plenty of it already,” he said. “Very oily skin types also need not apply, as their goal is trying to normalize the sebaceous output from their pores, and teach their skin to produce less oil.”
How can I include squalene in my daily routine?
Squalene is a fantastic ingredient to use every day, according to Mileo, but using it at full strength isn’t recommended.
“Using squalene even close to full strength is a bit overkill for any skin type, because it’s very rich in only a few essential lipids that your skin uses,” he explained. “You’ll want to be sure to balance squalene use out with other skin nourishing oils and ingredients like oleic acid, linoleic acids and ceramides.”
Similarly, Hu said that because squalene is an emollient, it’s wise to find squalene-infused moisturizers.
“Squalene is relatively suitable for all skin types, though due to its emollient nature, it can most benefit individuals with dry or mature skin barriers,” Hu said. “Your skin care regimen can include squalene as a moisturizer during winter, or even when you travel to cold and dry areas.”
Dermatologist-approved squalene products
While the market is saturated with many squalene products, board-certified dermatologist Mamina Turegano told HuffPost there are some superstar products to keep in mind. Below are six squalene (and squalane) essentials to include in your daily regimen, should your dry skin need the reset.
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