What is squalene and how does it help your skin?
May 29, 2023
The skin care world is vast and constantly full of new products and buzzy ingredients to talk about. Sometimes the hype is, well, just that. Other times, however, the chatter is rightfully deserved. Squalene, a natural substance your body produces to keep your skin lubricated, falls into the latter category, according to dermatologists we spoke to.
Squalene can moisturize the skin and help keep your complexion feeling soft and smooth, while also delivering anti-inflammatory benefits and calming redness and inflammation, says Dr. Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Cornell.
Many skin care products on the market today actually use squalane in place of squalene. Squalane, with an a, is another form of squalene with similar moisturizing benefits. Squalane is either derived directly from plants or made by adding hydrogen to squalene. It also has a longer shelf life than squalene, which is why it’s commonly used in skin care products.
To help you determine if your skin could benefit from the extra moisture that squalene provides, we spoke to board-certified dermatologists about its benefits, who should use it and the best serums, moisturizers and oils you can buy with it.
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We spoke with board-certified dermatologists about their favorite products with squalene. We also asked them for tips and tricks on how to incorporate squalene-rich products into your skin care routine. Here’s what they recommend keeping in mind while shopping:
The below products are all expert-recommended and have squalane as an active ingredient in their formulas.
If you have dry skin, Garshick recommends using this face oil daily in the morning before applying your SPF. “It incorporates vitamin C, a known antioxidant, as well as squalane to offer brightening and hydrating benefits,” she says. “The result is an improvement in overall texture and tone.” You can add a drop or two to your foundation or apply it on its own by gently massaging a few drops onto your face and neck.
This Mele nourishing cream comes recommended by Garshick for its combination of squalane and niacinamide, which she says can improve dryness while evening out skin tone. The oil-free formula is lightweight, so it absorbs quickly and shouldn’t feel slick or greasy, according to Mele.
Camp recommends this squalane-based serum for those dealing with hyperpigmentation. It combines squalane with vitamin C to brighten and improve dark spots while keeping skin moisturized and soft, he says. It’s also formulated with adaptogens like reishi and ginseng to address redness and irritation, according to the brand. You can use it both morning and night after washing your face.
“This body moisturizer contains squalane and glycerin, both of which help to provide moisture,” according to Garshick, who says that while this rich cream is very hydrating, her skin isn’t left feeling greasy. The fast-absorbing lotion works on all skin types, but is particularly good for those dealing with lots of dryness, according to the brand. Kiehl’s recommends applying it directly after bathing or showering, but you can also use it anytime you notice any dry patches.
This serum has just one ingredient — squalane. It feels lightweight on the skin but still delivers a lot of hydration, plus it’s affordable, says Garshick, who notes you can just pat a few drops onto a clean face before using your go-to moisturizer. You can also use this solution on your nails or hair if you notice dryness in those areas, says Garshick.
After your evening skincare routine, apply this overnight mask and go to bed. Squalane is the hero ingredient in this formula, so you’ll wake up with hydrated skin, says Camp. There’s no need to wash it off in the morning — just apply your daily moisturizer and SPF and you’re good to go. It also absorbs quickly so it doesn’t rub off on your pillow, according to Camp. To keep your skin moisturized, you can use this once or twice a week, according to the brand.
Similar to The Ordinary serum, this face oil is solely made of squalane. While some people fear that using a facial oil will cause breakouts, Garshick says she has not experienced any while using this formula. A little goes a long way — you just need a drop or two to moisturize your entire face, according to the brand.
Before shopping for beauty products that contain squalene, our experts recommend arming yourself with a few key pieces of information.
Squalene is naturally produced by your body (by the sebaceous glands specifically) and helps keep your skin lubricated and moisturized. Squalene is also found in certain plants. Squalane, on the other hand, can also be found in plants, and is commonly derived from squalene by adding hydrogen. Squalane is more stable and, therefore, easier to make skin care products with, says Garshick. Most squalane that is used in beauty products is sourced from plants like olive trees, sugar cane and rice bran.
Squalane, like squalene, is an emollient. “It can smooth small cracks and crevices that can make skin feel rough in texture,” says Camp. Along with softening and smoothing, it can help calm and soothe redness and irritation, says Garshick.
“Squalane is safe for most skin types. It can help hydrate dry skin or can help to balance sebum production for those with acne prone skin, says Camp. It is also safe to use while pregnant, adds Garshick.
Given that squalane can soothe inflammation and address redness, it is generally considered helpful for those with sensitive skin. Still, it’s a good idea to check with your dermatologist before using something new. Our experts also recommend incorporating any new ingredients to your skin care routine, slowly — especially when you have sensitive skin.
If you have super oily skin, squalene-rich products may not be right for you. That’s because when you have oily skin, you may not need as much additional moisture as squalane delivers, says Garshick.
Beauty brands will often pair squalane with other ingredients to improve tolerability of any harsh ingredients, says Garshick. “Because it is both hydrating and soothing, it couples particularly well with ingredients that have the potential to cause dryness or irritation, such as retinols,” says Camp. Retinol, a form of vitamin A, increases cell production. This can help unclog pores, exfoliate skin and boost collagen production, though it can be irritating and may also dry skin out. Squalane can counteract this, according to Camp.
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
Bethany Heitman is a contributor at NBC Select and a journalist who regularly covers topics like beauty, home and lifestyle. For this story, she interviewed two board-certified dermatologists to gather their guidance on what to look for when shopping for beauty products with squalene.
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Bethany Heitman has spent over fifteen years creating engaging content. She is the former editor-in-chief of People StyleWatch and has held senior leadership positions at Cosmopolitan, Health, and Seventeen.SKIP AHEADOur top picks | How we picked the best squalene products in 2023 | The best squalene products in 2023 | Squalene versus squalaneBest overall:Best budget pick:Best for melanated skin: Formulation: Product type:Skin type:Biossance Squalane and Vitamin C Rose Firming OilDr. Marisa GarshickDr. Brendan CampCatch up on Select’s in-depth coverage of personal finance, tech and tools, wellness and more, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok to stay up to date.