Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist - Written by Shreya Singh (Pharmacist) on 06th Oct 2020
Squalane Vs. Squalene For Skin: The Subtle Yet Profound Difference
As it was rightly stated by many dermatologists, beauty editors, and skincare fanatics alike, that “the key to healthy and beautiful skin is adequate moisture content.”
And sometimes, especially during freezing climate, applying your favorite daily moisturizer isn’t enough. You might require a powerhouse ingredient to supply sufficient hydration and ease away the dryness.
Our recommendation? Squalene or rather Squalane!
And we bet that if you’ve been inquisitive enough to look out for the composition label in your skincare cabinet, you might probably have found a product or two with ingredients such as squalene or squalane constantly popping up.
If you are not exactly sure about the difference between these two, where they come from, and what their benefits for the skin are, worry not!
We are here to help you out with this. Keep reading along to find out everything about this peculiar but effective ingredient!
What is Squalene?
Squalene is a colorless, poly-unsaturated hydrocarbon liquid naturally found in human sebum; in various fish oils, particularly shark liver oil; and found in several plants and non-animal species such as rice bran oil, palm oil and olive oil.
It is one amongst the numerous lipids naturally produced in our body to provide lubrication and protection to our skin.
Several studies have shown that human sebum contains almost 12-13% of squalene.
Do you know the sebum that we all want to have under control? It is produced by the sebaceous (oil) glands in our skin, and it consists of triglycerides, wax esters, and squalene.
Although excess oil on the skin could sometimes be problematic, all of its components, squalene included, help keep our skin moisturized and protected.
When talking in scientific terms, squalene is a hydrocarbon consisting of 6 non-conjugated double bonds, which implies that it is extremely unstable and prone to undergo degradation easily.
It is highly susceptible to oxidation due to 6 carbon double bonds when exposed to pollutants such as ozone and cigarette smoke and sensitive to free radicals created by UV A and UV B radiation.
History and source of squalene:
Squalene was first discovered in shark livers by a Japanese researcher in 1906. The word Squalene comes from the Latin word “Squalus,” which translates to a genus of sharks.
Since then, the researchers have learned a lot about this ingredient’s stability and realized that obtaining squalene from sharks isn’t exactly sustainable or humane.
While in some products, you may still find shark liver-derived squalene, manufacturers with the help of science and innovations, have come up with a better, vegan and stable alternative.
And therefore, due to obvious ethical reasons, modern-day’s squalene in skincare products is mostly derived from various plant sources such as olives, rice bran, amaranth seed, wheat germ or even sugarcane.
Good to know.
Ever wondered where some of the bomb ingredients in your skincare products come from?
Some of the sources of your cosmetic ingredients could be as weird as crushed fish scales to grounded horns, nails, feathers, bones and even hairs! But the great thing is that there are still vegan alternatives available for all of these ingredients.
For example: Mostly animal-derived squalene is derived from shark liver oil- yes, an actual shark from the ocean! But fortunately, there are plant-derived or non-animal based options for people seeking vegan and cruelty-free skincare products.
Squalane vs. Squalene
Although, both squalane and squalene are lipids and share similar goals for your skin and can be found in various skincare products such as moisturizers at concentrations ranging from 0.1 to 50%. But that one letter (an “a” instead of “e” in squalane) makes all the difference when it comes to their potency and stability.
Squalane (with an “a”) is nothing but a derivative of squalene obtained by the process of hydrogenation. It has a much lighter consistency than squalene and is a better option for oily and acne-prone skin.
One of the major differences between them is that Squalene is extremely unstable and deteriorates quickly to undergo oxidation, and therefore, it doesn’t function effectively on the skin.
On the other hand, Squalane is incredibly stable and more shelf friendly. It is not prone to oxidation, so it is more commonly put into skincare and personal care products.
However, the transformation from squalene to squalane does not change the biology or utility of squalene, and both of them are equally effective. Still, squalane is more stable and has a longer shelf life.
What are the benefits of squalene or squalane for the skin?
Acts as an emollient:
Both squalene and squalane mimic your skin’s natural oils, making them an excellent emollient which is the reason why they are extensively used in manufacturing various moisturizers for the skin.
They act as an occlusive emollient and work by forming a moisture barrier on the skin's topmost layer. This helps in trapping and locking in moisture within the skin, thereby preventing TEWL (transepidermal water loss).
However, since squalene has a heavier consistency, it is best suited for extra dry and mature skin, making it helpful in easing away dryness and rough patches from the skin.
Whereas, squalane, due to its lighter consistency, is useful for oily and acne-prone skin.
Maintains outer skin barrier:
As their emollient properties help in naturally sealing in moisture, they can help strengthen and repair the compromised lipid barrier of the skin.
This helps treat various skin concerns in which the skin barrier is disrupted, and transepidermal water loss (TEWL) is an issue such as eczema and psoriasis.
Unfortunately, the natural production of squalene in our bodies by the sebaceous glands slows down after 30, which results in an extremely dry, saggy & rippled skin and further leads to the development of early signs of premature aging of the skin.
This is when an external source of squalene is much needed to restore its content in the skin.
However, bottling up squalene may not be the right thing to do because of its highly unstable nature. And that’s where the job of squalane comes in!
Slathering up skincare products containing squalane as a critical ingredient, in the long run, helps in restoring the moisture levels in the skin, making it youthful, radiant and wrinkle-free.
Acts as a free radical scavenger:
Our body releases free radicals in the skin due to continuous exposure to oxidative stress from pollution and UV radiation. These are unstable, oxygen-containing molecules with a deficient number of electrons. These free radicals often attach to the protein and cause cellular damage in the skin, leading to premature aging.
Squalene, due to its unstable nature, exhibits antioxidant properties. It can undergo oxidation by donating its electrons to the free radicals and neutralize it so that it’s no longer toxic for the skin.
This helps in alleviating oxidative stress and reversing the photodamage caused to the skin and defends it against various environmental assaults including pollution, smoke and UV rays.
Whereas, squalane is more stable than squalene and is not subject to oxidation and thus does not possess effective antioxidant properties compared to squalene.
Words of wisdom from minimalist:
Be conscious of the environment. Use ethically produced plant-derived squalene.
Risk factors of squalene or squalane for skin:
One additional benefit of squalane is that it’s odorless and not a common irritant or allergen, so there are very few to minimal chances of adverse reactions, even in the sensitive skin types. .
Both squalene and squalane are considered to be safe as a cosmetic ingredient and for daily practical use.
That being said, squalane is non-comedogenic and particularly safe & beneficial for all skin types & conditions.
Whereas, squalene is unstable and oxidized easily, making it rancid, rendering it ineffective for topical use.
Minimalist’s expert advice:
Despite the fact that squalane or squalene is not thought to be irritating for the skin, it is always important to be cautious when starting new ingredients to make sure your skin can tolerate it. Therefore, always perform a patch test before using it on the face, to prevent the risk of irritation or allergic reaction.
As your body ages, squalene production can decelerate, making the appearance of dry and scaly patches a common occurrence.
However, as squalene imitates your body’s natural sebum, it can boost the hydration and accelerate the skin's moisture content.
This can enhance the skin's overall health and appearance, making it radiant and youthful and can help improve various skin conditions ranging from acne to eczema.