What's Squalene and Why Should You Care?


Sollina Images/Getty


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's the difference between squalene and squalane, and what are the best products to try? Keep reading to find out.

What is Squalene?

Squalene is a colorless poly-unsaturated hydrocarbon liquid that’s found naturally in many animals and plants, including human sebum. Essentially, it’s one of the many natural lipids your body produces to lubricate and protect your skin.

Squalene is estimated to make up about 10 to 12 percent of your skin’s oil. It’s incredibly important to your skin. 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. They're both equally effective, but squalane has a longer shelf life because it's more stable.

What Is Squalane?

Squalane is a derivative of squalene and is much lighter (and thus a better option for acne-prone skin). It also has a longer shelf life than squalene as it does not go through oxidization, which is why it's more commonly used in skincare.

squalene vs squalane
Michela Buttignol/Byrdie

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 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 and ease dry patches. Anyone can use either version, but squalene may be heavier, potentially making it helpful for extra-dry or mature skin, while squalane may be better for acne-prone or oily skin.

Creme de Corps
Kiehl’s Creme de Corps $32.00

Looking for a body lotion that is non-tacky but still does what it promises? Kiehl’s Creme de Corps ($32) has been a top seller since the 1980's, and it's full of hydrating, skin-loving ingredients like squalene, beta-carotene, and sesame oil.

Joanna Vargas Rescue Serum
Joanna Vargas Rescue Serum $150.00

Celebrity facialist Joanna Vargas calls this her "red-carpet cornerstone for glowing skin," and after trying it, we get why. It combines all the things you want in a serum—Vitamin C, moisturizing squalane, fatty acids and antioxidants—and none of the stuff you don't, as every product is vegan and cruelty free.

bareMinerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream
bareMinerals Complexion Rescue Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream $37.00

The issue with most tinted moisturizers is that they're, well, not moisturizing enough—particularly if they have SPF. But there's a reason bareMinerals' Complexion Rescue Tinted Hydrating Gel Cream ($37) is a favorite of off-duty celebs. Thanks to squalene, it provides the perfect mixture of hydration, SPF, and coverage to give your face a natural-looking, even glow.

Tatcha Luminous deep hydration firming eye serum
Tatcha Luminous Deep Hydration Firming Eye Serum $88.00

Tatcha is one of those brands where you can pick anything up and use it without doing any research, and the product will blow you away. They use squalane, but the real hero of the product is red algae extract—it both restores and hydrates the skin around your eyes, according to the brand, which can feel life-saving after a long night.

Patrick Ta Major glow body oil
Patrick Ta Major Glow Body Oil $52.00

Okay, the packaging for Patrick Ta's Major Glow Body Oil ($52) may be a bit hard to get the hang of. But the product inside—a nourishing, brightening formula with Vitamin E as well as squalane—is so great that it's worth just finding a way around it. It's not tacky, and the shimmer is not for the faint of heart. Use an applicator like Patrick Ta's Body Brush ($35) for maximum glow.

Superberry Hydrate + Glow Dream Mask
Youth to the People Superberry Hydrate + Glow Dream Mask $48.00

Because squalane is such a hydrating ingredient, it makes sense that it would be included in this super-hydrating overnight mask from Youth to the People. Hyaluronic acid and glycerin are meant to help round out the hydrating effects, and a stable form of Vitamin C promises to let you wake up with glowing, happy-looking skin.

Tata Harper Nourishing Oil Cleanser
Tata Harper Nourishing Oil Cleanser $86.00

Tata Harper's all-natural ethos extends to their squalane, which is plant-derived. Combined with Alfalfa and Vitamin A, this cleanser promises to keep your face hydrated and nourished while eliminating free radicals and damaging chemicals. It's perfect for anyone who double-cleanses or gets dry skin from their face masks.

Squalane + Glycolic Renewal Facial
Biossance Squalane + Glycolic Renewal Facial $48.00

Biossance loves squalane so much that they've based their entire brand around it, making them one of the few fully EWG-certified beauty brands out there. But with their Glycolic Renewal Facial ($48), they've created something not only moisturizing but renewing. Fans of Drunk Elephant's Babyfacial ($80), meet your new favorite mask.

Indie Lee Daily Vitamin Infusion
Indie Lee Daily Vitamin Infusion $67.00

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 ($67,) 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.

  • Is squalene sustainable?

    Plant-based squalene is sustainable, but squalene is also commonly derived from shark livers (which is cheaper than the plant-based alternative). To find out if a product's squalane is ethically sourced, look for a Shark-Free Seal created by the Shark Allies.

  • Can you use squalane and squalene on your lips?

    Yes. Thanks to both squalane's and squalene's moisturizing properties, they work well at treating dry, chapped lips. You can apply squalane or squalene oil directly to lips or use lip products that contain either ingredient.

  • Is squalane a retinol?

    No, squalane is not a retinol. However, squalane works well with retinol and certain products may contain both squalane and retinol. For example, The Ordinary offers products with 0.2 percent, 0.5 percent, and 1 percent retinol in squalane.

Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
  1. Micera M, Botto A, Geddo F, et al. Squalene: more than a step toward sterols. Antioxidants (Basel). 2020;9(8):688. doi:10.3390/antiox9080688

  2. Sethi A, Kaur T, Malhotra SK, Gambhir ML. Moisturizers: the slippery roadIndian J Dermatol. 2016;61(3):279-287. doi:10.4103/0019-5154.182427

  3. Huang ZR, Lin YK, Fang JY. Biological and pharmacological activities of squalene and related compounds: potential uses in cosmetic dermatologyMolecules. 2009;14(1):540-554. doi:10.3390/molecules14010540

  4. Sport Diver. "Shark Allies Launches Shark-Free Label for Consumer Products." 2020.

Related Stories