A Deep Dive Into Using Squalane in Your Skincare

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To say I knew about the benefits of using squalane before I worked in beauty would be a fib. The skincare market boom and work-related research are why ingredients like hyaluronic acid, retinol, niacinamide, and squalane are now part of my routine. With that said, adding new items to our evolving skincare rotation has never been easier. However, understanding how these super ingredients work alone and with other products can present a challenge, even if you're an avid researcher.

If you've researched the oil, you've likely noticed that there are two different spellings for the rich emollient: squalane and squalene. In essence, the two vowels make a difference in shelf life and the oil's overall efficiency (more on that later). To grasp a better understanding of squalane, we spoke to Ryan Turner, MD, founder of Turner Dermatology, Marie Hayag, MD, board-certified dermatologist and founder of 5th Avenue Aesthetics, and Cheryl Woodman, scientist, skincare formulator, and founder of Honesty For Your Skin to get details on the benefits of squalene.

Meet the Expert

  • Ryan Turner, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Turner Dermatology. He specializes in cosmetic dermatology, general dermatology, surgical dermatology, and laser surgery.
  • Marie Hayag, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of 5th Avenue Aesthetics.
  • Cheryl Woodman is a scientist, skincare formulator, and founder of Honesty for Your Skin.

Squalane

  • Type of Ingredient: Emollient
  • Main Benefits: Calms inflammation, supports the outer skin barrier, and works well with actives like retinol.
  • Who Should Use It: It is recommended for all skin types.
  • How Often Can You Use It: Plant-based squalane is safe to use daily, morning and night.
  • Works Well With: Actives.
  • Don't Use With: Squalane is safe to use with most ingredients.

What Is Squalane?

Before we learn about the benefits of this rich emollient, let's discuss how the vowels a and e make a difference in their chemical makeup. "Squalane is the hydrogenated form of squalene," Turner tells Byrdie. "[It is] a lipid (or fat) that is naturally found in the skin and secreted by the sebaceous (oil) glands. Squalene is not very stable for use in skincare products, so squalane is used for its longer shelf life." 

The use of this emollient in the beauty industry has long been controversial due to the fact that squalane found in cosmetics, not to be confused with squalene, was sourced from shark liver. However, most companies are now using plant-based forms of squalane in their products. "Squalane can be naturally sourced from plants, for example, olives and sugar cane," says Turner.

Benefits of Squalane for Skin

"Squalane is great for softening or smoothing the skin, as it may help to support the natural outer barrier of the skin," says Turner. "It is a good option for dry and irritated skin, as it has been shown to help calm redness and inflammation." He always recommends squalane for those with dry or and sensitive skin. "Squalane is non-comedogenic, so it can be used for all skin types. Those with dry, irritated, or sensitive skin will see the most effect from squalane oil, but we can all benefit from this superstar skincare ingredient."

Since squalane is a compound that we naturally produce, Hayag says the compound doesn't just hydrate but is essential for our skin barrier. "This substance is known for locking in hydration by creating a protective barrier on the skin's surface," she explains.

"It is most beneficial for those with dry or mature skin because of its great moisturizing and emollient properties," she says. "It is also wonderful for people exposed to environmental factors such as sunburn, where the skin tends to lose moisture. Despite popular belief, people with oily acne-prone skin would benefit greatly from using squalane oil. Since it mimics what we naturally produce, introducing squalane oil can help regulate the amount of sebum the body makes." 

Side Effects of Squalane

Side effects from using squalane aren't common. However, if you have an adverse reaction, be sure to consult with your doctor. Since squalane isn't a reactive ingredient, Woodman says it will typically play nice with other products.

"If squalane is the main or only active in a face oil, there typically will be no issues mixing it into a routine that contains cosmeceutical-strength skincare," Woodman tells Byrdie. For that reason, squalane, she says, makes a great base for actives like retinol and niacinamide. "Niacinamide, in particular, is a great pairing, as both help to repair and promote a healthy, happy skin barrier."

How to Use Squalane

"One of the most sustainable ways to add squalane to your skincare routine is to look for a 100% plant-based oil, then use a few drops daily on your skin," says Turner. Once you find your squalane product of choice, Turner says you can add a few drops to your favorite moisturizer. You can also use it before applying retinol to cut down on irritation. "As a dermatologist, I often recommend that sensitive-skin patients, or those initiating use of a retinoid, use a moisturizer first and then apply the retinol/retinoid," Turner explains. "This can decrease the immediate contact of the retinol with the skin and slow its penetration, decreasing irritability. In addition, squalane has anti-inflammatory properties in and of itself that can help decrease irritation."

When using oils, you may have noticed that they sometimes seem to sit on the skin without fully absorbing. To combat this, Woodman recommends what she calls the oil sandwich. "Face oils can sometimes feel like they're [sitting] on top of [the] skin—a sign that they're not absorbing deeply." She notes that this can prevent the skin from gaining the benefits from any active ingredients applied with oil, like squalane. 

"Creams and moisturizers contain actives, which help oils sink into skin to be most effective," she explains. So layering a moisturizer after applying squalane can ensure that all of the good stuff sinks in. "This pulls a face oil like squalane deeper into the skin for long-lasting benefits," Woodman says,

The Best Products with Squalane

Oilless Oil 100% Purified Squalane
Peter Thomas Roth Oilless Oil 100% Purified Squalane $38
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"This is a great product because it’s absorbed very quickly by the skin and doesn’t leave a greasy texture," says Hayag. "Another added benefit is that this oil is derived from sugarcane as opposed to olives and it's sustainable."

Sea Vitamin C Serum
Mara Sea Vitamin C Serum $96
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Fighting hyperpigmentation without irritation takes a mix of the right ingredients. Infused with 15% THD Ascorbate, calming adaptogens, chlorella, and reishi to prevent irritation and squalane for added hydration, this powerhouse serum is a skincare dream.

Retinol 1% in Squalane
The Ordinary Retinol 1% in Squalane $7
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"This solution is made of 1% pure retinol, which provides younger-looking skin by reducing the look of fine lines while also tightening the skin," says Hayag. "The squalane in the solution leaves the skin feeling soft and moisturized. Plus, the formula absorbs quickly and is not greasy. The possibility of dryness with this retinol is countered by the moisturizing effect of the squalane."

Epi.Logic Double Feature Retinol + AHA Overnight Facial
Epi.logic Skincare Double Feature Retinol + AHA Overnight Facial $140
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With a combination of retinol, lactic acid, glycolic acid, algae extract, and squalane, this overnight facial serum is designed to promote cell turnover and collagen production while you get your beauty rest. 

Hydra+ Oil Gel Facial Cleanser
Grown Alchemist Hydra+ Oil Gel Facial Cleanser $47
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No matter your skin type, anyone can benefit from adding a squalane-based oil cleanser to their skincare routine. Made with olive-derived squalane, this cleansing oil-gel washes away makeup and oil without stripping the skin.

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