This Secret Ingredient Is a Savior for Super-Dry Skin

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 apart 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—which brings me to squalane.

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 Dr. Ryan Turner, founder of Turner Dermatology, Dr. Marie Hayag, board-certified dermatologist and founder of 5th Avenue Aesthetics, and Cheryl Woodman, scientist, skincare formulator, and founder of Honesty For Your Skin to get the details on the benefits of squalene.

Meet the Expert

  • Dr. Ryan Turner is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Turner Dermatology. He specializes in cosmetic dermatology, general dermatology, surgical dermatology, and laser surgery.
  • Dr. Marie Hayag is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of 5th Avenue Aesthetics.

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," Dr. Ryan Turner, board-certified dermatologist, 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 the 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 including 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. 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 also a compound that we naturally produce, Dr. Marie Hayag, board-certified dermatologist, 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. 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 of using squalane aren't common. However, if you have an adverse reaction, be sure to consult with your healthcare provider. Since squalane isn't a reactive ingredient, Cheryl Woodman, scientist, skincare formulator, and founder of Honesty For Your Skin, says it will typically play nice with other products.

"If squalane is the main or only active in a face oil, there will typically be no issues mixing it into a routine containing cosmeceutical strength skincare," she 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 and 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, and 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 it's 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 and be most effective," she explains. So layering a moisturizer after applying squalane can ensure all of the good stuff sinks in. "This pulls a face oil like squalane deeper into skin for long-lasting benefits."

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 is sustainable."

NFZD Beauty Infused Sheet Masks
NFZD Beauty Beauty Infused Sheet Mask $15
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Packed with CBD, hyaluronic acid, squalane, and niacinamide, this mask hydrates, calms, and can help even the skin tone.

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 combated with 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 will wash away makeup and oil without stripping the skin.

Tatcha The Serum Stick
Tatcha The Serum Stick: Treatment & Touch Up Balm $48
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Packed with 80% olive oil derived squalane, hyaluronic acid, and Japanese lemon balm, this stick hydrating balm can be used to nourish isolated areas that require a little extra moisture, including fine lines. 

Previous story

Sandpaper, the desert, saltine crackers—all things that have their merits, but we would prefer not to compare them to our skin. Alas, the quest for a softly hydrated complexion can feel like a never-ending journey for those with skin that naturally flakes and cracks—which is where an ingredient called squalane comes in. If hyaluronic acid is a tall glass of water for your skin, think of squalane as the warm, fuzzy blanket that keeps hydration in. Should you be using this secret ingredient? What’s the difference between squalane and squalene? Is a dewy, glowing complexion within reach? Keep scrolling to find out everything you need to know about squalane.

Imaxtree

What is squalane? 

So, what exactly is squalane, or squalene? Squalene is an antioxidant that naturally occurs in our own skin and has the power to fight wrinkle-forming free radicals—and sadly, the amount of it in our skin decreases naturally over time. Sharks, of all things, happen to possess a large amount of squalene, as do olive plants (the latter of which most skincare companies now get the ingredient from, thankfully). Squalane is derived from squalene in a process called hydrogenation—this increases its shelf life and makes it more stable. To put it bluntly: “Squalane is similar to squalene with a slightly different chemical structure, which makes it more stable and cheaper to make,” says Dr. Anne Chapas, director at Union Square Laser Dermatology

So, now that we’ve covered the bases, let’s move onto the benefits…

What makes squalane a superstar hydrator?

Hyaluronic acid has long been touted as the hydrating ingredient—the most popular girl in the high school hallway of skincare. But squalane, like the quiet, unassuming bookworm who blossoms into a swan, has been getting more attention as of late for the simple reason that it keeps moisture in. “Squalane increases skin hydration by occluding the skin and preventing moisture from escaping,” explains Dr. Chapas. “Ingredients such as hyaluronic acid bind water and increase water content in the skin, but do not necessarily keep it in place.” Since squalane and squalene are components of your skin's natural sebum, they’re considered “natural protection agents” for your epidermis, according to Dr. Vic Narurkar, founder of Bay Area Laser Institute. He notes that our squalene levels peak during adolescence and diminish as we get older; thus, using products with squalane can heal dry and chapped skin and soften rough texture—plus, it even has antibacterial properties. 

The one thing…

Before you start slathering squalane all over your face, know this: Both dermatologists recommend it for only normal to drier skin types, and suggest avoiding it completely if you have acne-prone skin. “Because it is an ingredient found in sebaceous glands, it may be comedogenic and cause breakouts in acne-prone skin,” Dr. Narurkar says. Mature skin can benefit the most from products with squalane, and you’ll see results like lessened fine lines, a more hydrated overall appearance, and radiance instead of dullness. 

Now that you’re schooled on squalane, keep scrolling to shop some some squalane-infused skincare products!

Biossance The Revitalizer Universal Moisturizing Concentrate $58
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The ingredients list on this serum is short: It’s simply 100% plant-derived squalane. One study found that it was 53% better at accelerating cell turnover than argan oil, and 95% of women said their skin felt instantly hydrated.

Restorsea Pro Rebalancing Lotion $150
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Dull, irritated skin doesn’t stand a chance against this soothing moisturizer. Designed to alleviate inflammation after in-office procedures, all you need is a pea-sized amount to calm redness and irritation. 

[Available through licensed physicians.]

Onomie Powerful Priming Serum $50
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Made with a trio of ingredients—from a retinol to radiance-boosting daisy flower extract—this serum from Onomie promises a more even skin tone over time. Plus, squalane, hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and more work to create a soft-focus, hydrated finish—like a Snapchat filter IRL.

Tatcha Overnight Memory Serum Concentrate $110
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Made with Okinawa red algae and seven different botanical extracts, this bouncy gel-like treatment refines your skin’s texture and plumps up fine lines—helping you wake up with more hydrated skin.

Pestle & Mortar Hydrate Lightweight Moisturizer $74
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In addition to powerful antioxidants such as pomegranate, green tea, and vitamin E, this moisturizer also features a slew of naturally moisturizing ingredients like jojoba and, yes, squalane. 

Have you tried any squalane skincare products? Tell us your favorites below!

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. Pai VV, Shukla P, Kikkeri NN. Antioxidants in dermatologyIndian Dermatol Online J. 2014;5(2):210‐214. doi:10.4103/2229-5178.131127

  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

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