Should Your Skin-Care Routine Include Squalane? Experts Break Down the Hydrating Ingredient

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The hyaluronic acid–craze is still very much alive, but many dewy sights have been set on a newcomer that's actually not new at all: squalane. Here, experts break down everything to know about the hydrating ingredient. 

What is squalane?
Squalane is the hydrogenated version of squalene, an ingredient found naturally in many plants and animals, including our very own sebum that works on a cellular level to keep our skin moist. "The composition of sebum includes squalene, which is 13 percent of the mix of wax esters and triglycerides," explains Santa Monica, CA dermatologist Ava Shamban, MD. Simply put, squalane is a hydrogenated and lighter version of squalene. (It also has a longer shelf life than squalene because it's more stable.)

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Unfortunately, because of its efficacy, sourcing squalane can be pretty unethical—a popular source is shark liver oil—but, thankfully, many companies have shifted away from animal sources, and now rely on plant sources for squalane, such as olive oil. 

What does squalane do to the skin?
Historically, squalane has been used to treat wounds and scarring. Our favorite use: keeping skin dewy, fresh and looking youthful. "The amount of sebum in the skin decreases as we age, leaving skin dry and vulnerable," says Catherine Gore, president of Biossance, a skin-care brand whose entire line is based on the hydrating ingredient. This is where squalane comes in: because the ingredient is recognized by the skin, it easily penetrates the barrier and helps boost moisture retention in all skin types. Other skin-perfecting byproducts of squalane: reversing UV damage, lightening hyperpigmentation and reducing wrinkles.

Is squalane good for dry skin?
Yes—even for superdry and sensitive skin types. "It’s certainly great for people with dry or combination skin who naturally have low levels of this lipid," says Dr. Shamban.

Squalane is so safe and gentle on the skin, that Pipette, a new clean baby-care brand, decided to make it its hero ingredient. "We understand how delicate and vulnerable baby skin is, which is why we decided to use squalane as the main ingredient in all of our products for baby and mom," says Mimi Lu, director of new product development and product marketing for Pipette. "The hydrating ingredient can be used daily head to toe to keep the family comfortable and calm—especially rough areas like the knees and elbows."

Is squalane good for acne prone skin?
If your skin is usually oily, Dr. Shamban says squalane might make you greasier—but that doesn't guarantee acne will be exacerbated. However, if you have dry skin and acne, you "could definitely benefit from the ingredient," she says. Many users (likely with normal-to-dry skin types) have reported success using squalane as an acne treatment.

Which squalane products are best?
Not sure where to start? Dr. Shamban's favorite squalane-powered product is Instytutum Powerful RetinOil ($110); Biossance Squalane + Marine Algae Eye Cream ($54) keeps the eye area smooth and looking firm; Pipette Belly Butter ($18) keeps a growing tummy hydrated and calm; Tata Harper Nourishing Oil Cleanser ($82), melts makeup and boasts plant-derived squalane, and Indie Lee Squalane Facial Oil ($34) bottles 100-percent pure olive-derived squalane for a soft, nongreasy glow.