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Even if you don't know much about skincare, you've probably heard that a good moisturizer is key to a healthy, glowing complexion.
That's exactly why ingredients like squalene and squalane are becoming so popular in the beauty industry. Not only do they have natural hydrating properties, but they can benefit your skin in a variety of other ways.
This includes minimizing common signs of aging, combatting free radical damage, and reducing inflammation.
In this article, we outline the key differences between squalene and squalane and how they work. We've also included a list of powerful ingredient combinations to use with squalene or squalane, as well as the best ways to incorporate squalene or squalane into your daily skincare routine.
Given that squalane and squalene sound almost identical, it can be difficult for the layperson to distinguish between the two.
Both are moisturizing agents that have similar benefits when used on the skin.
The most significant difference between the two is how they’re derived—one is natural, and one is synthetic.
Let's take a closer look.
Squalene is a lipid molecule produced naturally by the human body. In the skin, our sebaceous glands combine squalene with other fats and acids to create sebum—the oily substance that keeps skin moisturized.
When used as a skincare ingredient, squalene is often extracted from shark liver oil.
The concentration of squalene in shark livers is the highest compared to plant-based sources and other fish oils. Because of this, harvesting squalene has been linked to cases of animal cruelty, and many brands in the cosmetics industry now do not use naturally sourced squalene.
Enter squalane—a plant-based version of squalene made to mimic the skin’s natural oil.
Squalane is derived from plants like olives, rice bran, and wheat germ, with many of the same benefits as squalene.
It also has a longer shelf life and is generally considered more stable than squalene. This is because squalane’s synthetic nature doesn’t allow it to oxidize—a process that changes the chemical makeup of a product and makes it less effective.
Skincare ingredients normally oxidize when frequently exposed to UV light.
Squalane and squalene both have similar properties and benefits for the skin, so it doesn't really matter which you choose.
If you have very dry, dehydrated, or mature skin, squalene has a thicker consistency that may be able to moisturize more effectively.
Plant-based squalane is more suitable for normal and sensitive skin types. Its consistency isn’t as thick compared with squalene, which makes it less likely to irritate acne-prone skin.
Although there are a few exceptions, the benefits of using squalene and squalane are similar.
Squalene's primary function is to help keep the skin barrier moisturized and protected.
As a skincare ingredient, it creates a protective seal that helps the complexion retain moisture to keep it nourished and supple. This “seal” also reduces the impact of external stressors like UV radiation and pollution.
Since externally derived squalene and squalane mimic the skin's natural oils, they can also act as emollients, contributing to soft and smooth skin.
Free radicals are unstable atoms that cause damage to healthy skin cells.
These molecules cause elastin and collagen fibers to break down, two components that are essential for maintaining the skin's structure and firmness.
The loss of collagen and elastin can contribute to sagging skin and the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
Squalene can help prevent free radicals from damaging the skin through oxidation.
During this process, squalene can add one of its electrons to a free radical atom to neutralize it. Once the free radical is neutralized, it can’t damage skin structures. This process also helps squalene protect the skin against oxidative stress. When the skin is under oxidative stress, collagen fibers break down and the aging process speeds up. This leaves the skin vulnerable to sagging and wrinkling.
💡 Key Point
Squalene's chemical composition gives it the antioxidant properties it needs to help fight free radicals effectively.
Because squalane is synthetic, its antioxidant properties aren't as potent as squalene’s. This means that it may be less effective in combating free radicals and oxidative stress.
Although our bodies produce squalene naturally, this process slows down with age.
This means that the skin has less squalene available to maintain its normal moisture levels, leaving it prone to dryness and sagging.
When skin is dry, dead cells also remain on its surface for longer, and damage that contributes to the formation of fine lines can’t be repaired as quickly. This is why common signs of aging become more noticeable.
Skincare products containing squalane can help the complexion maintain adequate moisture while also replenishing usually squalene molecules that are lost during the aging process.
Research shows that both squalene and squalane have anti-inflammatory properties.
This allows them to prevent or stop inflammatory responses that damage the skin. These responses cause elastin fibers to break down, leaving the complexion vulnerable to sagging and other visible signs of aging.
Inflammation can also contribute to blemishes, dryness, and itchy skin.
Squalene and squalane’s anti-inflammatory properties can help soothe skin conditions like acne, eczema, and rosacea by:
Squalane and squalene are available in all kinds of skincare products; however, most dermatologists agree that a serum or facial oil may be most effective.
These products resemble the consistency of the skin's natural oils and can be formulated to have high concentrations of moisturizing ingredients like squalane.
Serums can often effectively work deeper within the skin to provide visible results faster than other moisturizers.
Squalane is generally a well-tolerated ingredient that doesn't cause adverse reactions.
It's also much more stable and has a longer shelf life than squalene, which becomes unstable when it's exposed to light—like when you open a product every day.
When squalene becomes unstable, it may also contribute to the formation of acne, irritation, and other skin sensitivities.
Both squalane and squalene are gentle compared to many other skincare ingredients, allowing them to work well alongside a variety of other formulas.
A combination of squalene or squalane and other ingredients can create a powerful, targeted treatment to address a variety of skin concerns.
Vitamin C is a water-soluble ascorbic acid that's essential for our overall body and skin health.
In skincare, vitamin C is used for its wound-healing, hydrating, and antioxidant benefits. These properties allow vitamin C to help prevent and treat breakouts. It also helps the skin to fight free radical damage and protects it from UV radiation.
Squalene's antioxidant properties can also enhance those of vitamin C. This means that the skin gets twice as much protection from external stressors.
Retinoids are derivatives of vitamin A—a substance that's known for its anti-aging and healing properties.
Retinoids stimulate the cell turnover process—when new cells are produced, and old ones are removed from the surface of the skin––to smooth wrinkles and heal blemishes. The process also helps the skin to get rid of excess oil, dirt, and bacteria.
Retinoids are some of the most effective ingredients for skin care used by dermatologists.
However, since retinoids are so potent, skin irritation like redness and irritation are common side effects.
When paired with the squalene or squalane, these effects can be minimized due to their anti-inflammatory properties. Squalene and squalane can also prevent flaking and help the skin to stay hydrated.
This reduces the risk of severe reactions occurring like:
Niacinamide is a vitamin B derivative—an essential nutrient that our bodies need to keep major organs, like the skin, functioning properly.
When used on the skin, niacinamide is a key moisturizing and anti-inflammatory ingredient that improves skin elasticity.
This helps promote a clear and youthful-looking appearance.
Niacinamide is also intended to help the skin retain water while strengthening its outer layer to protect the complexion from environmental stressors.
When used with squalene or squalane, niacinamide’s moisturizing properties can be enhanced.
At Nava MD, we help women and men achieve healthier skin and treat common skin conditions like acne, scarring, and even wrinkles. Our dermatologists prescribe personalized skincare formulas virtually, done online and delivered to your door, if approved.
We've made it easier than ever to get prescription beauty formulas with the help of a board-certified dermatologist, from home – start your online consultation today.
This article is intended for informational purposes only and should not be considered medical advice.
Consult a healthcare professional or call a doctor in the case of a medical emergency