What's Squalene and Why Should You Care?

Updated 06/04/19

Kristen Stewart put it best when she said that the key to beautiful skin is moisture, but even layering your favorite products in cold weather sometimes isn’t enough. That’s why you always need a powerhouse ingredient to deliver hydration and protect your skin—especially if you live in a climate that freezes. Our suggestion? Squalane! What is it, what does it do, and what are the best products to try? Keep reading to find out.

What is it?

Squalene is a colorless poly-unsaturated hydrocarbon liquid that’s found naturally in many animals and plants, including human sebum. Yes, the word ‘sebum’ sounds gross, but it’s incredibly important to your skin. Essentially, it’s one of the many natural lipids your body produces to lubricate and protect your skin. (It’s estimated to make up about 10 to 12 percent of your skin’s oil.) Unfortunately, because of its efficacy, it's often harvested in unethical ways—however, as long as you're responsible about where you get it, it's all good.

It can be, and is commonly, harvested from plant sources like olives, wheat germ oil, and rice bran. The ingredient comes in two forms: squalene and squalane, a more common, lighter, hydrogenated version.

What does it do?

Squalene and squalane are used in skincare products as a highly-effective emollient and natural antioxidant. Historically, they’ve been used in the medical field to treat wounds and skin problems. Over time, using squalane in skincare can reduce wrinkles, eliminate scars, reverse UV damage, lighten freckles and erase skin pigmentation, all while fighting free radicals. On some people, it can even be used as a spot treatment.

Who should use it?

Squalene and squalane both make great skin moisturizers. They’re natural emollients, so they lock moisture into your skin, help prevent fine lines, and ease dry patches. Anyone can use either version, but squalene is heavier, making it helpful for extra-dry or mature skin, while squalane is great for acne-prone or oily skin.

Bobbi Brown Hydrating Eye Cream $49
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Bobbi Brown’s Hydrating Eye Cream ($49) packs jojoba seed extract, avocado oil, and squalane for soft, moisturized skin.

Glamglow Youthmud Tinglexfoliate Treatment
Glamglow Youthmud Tinglexfoliate Treatment $59
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Apply Glamglow’s Youthmud Tingleexfoliate Treatment ($69) for ten minutes, then rinse, for smoother, softer, and more hydrated skin. It has squalene, natural clay, antioxidants, and more good-for-your-skin ingredients.

Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Toner $16
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Looking for a toner that won’t dry out your skin? Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Toner ($16) is full of hydrating ingredients like squalene, apricot kernel oil, avocado oil, and vitamin E.

Koh Gen Do Maifanshi Lip Gloss $25
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Lips need hydrating ingredients, too! Koh Gen Do’s Maifanshi Lip Gloss ($25) is full of shea butter, jojoba oil, squalane from olives, and more.

Life Flo Pure Olive Squalene Oil $20
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Life-Flo’s Pure Olive Squalene Oil ($20) is a mix of olive-harvested squalane and vitamin E. Add a few drops to your body lotion to cure dry skin all winter.

Natura Bisse Ceutical Intensive Tolerance Booster Serum $240
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Natura Bisse’s Ceutical Intensive Tolerance Booster Serum ($240) is packed with a blend of sea extracts like fermented red algae, plus squalene-rich amaranthus causatus seed extract.

Peter Thomas Roth Oiless Oil 100 Percent Purified Squalane $38
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Peter Thomas Roth’s Oilless Oil 100 Percent Purified Squalane ($38) is pure squalane, a great treatment alone or as a hydrating addition to your moisturizer.

Tatcha Radiant Deep Brightening Serum $150
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Tatcha’s Radiant Deep Brightening Serum ($150) is a mixture of Asian botanicals like licorice root, jujuba, scutellaria, and green tea, an anti-aging complex, and squalane.

Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil
Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil $72
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Biossance loves squalane so much that they've based their entire brand around it. But they've made a fan favorite out of their Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil ($72,) a facial oil that's beautiful enough to sit proudly in your #shelfie and effective enough to firm skin and increase its radiance.

Indie Lee Daily Vitamin Infusion
Indie Lee Daily Vitamin Infusion $65
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Squalane is an admitted favorite ingredient of skincare master Indie Lee (she once said she doesn't go a day without it,) so naturally, we had to include a product from her eponymous line. The brand's Daily Vitamin Infusion ($65,) uses squalane as its main ingredient but blends it with rosehip seed and avocado oils, and Vitamins A, E, and C, for a true one-and-done facial oil.

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