Squalane oil is becoming increasingly popular as a skincare ingredient — in fact, there's a good chance that it's already in one of the products you're currently using. The buzzy ingredient promises ultra-moisturizing effects as well as anti-aging benefits, but is it essential to include in your skincare routine? We talked to dermatologists to find out everything you need to know about squalane oil, including where squalane comes from, its benefits, and how to use it to improve your skin.
What is squalane oil?
The first thing to know about squalane is that it's the hydrogenated, shelf-stable version of squalene (with an "e"). "Squalene is a lipid, a.k.a. a fat, that is naturally produced by the oil glands in our skin to hydrate and maintain the barrier of our skin," explains Charlotte Birnbaum, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist at Spring Street Dermatology in New York City.
So how is squalene different from squalane (with an "a") and why are we bottling it up? Like many other natural compounds with beauty benefits, our body's production of squalene declines with age. Scientists have found a way to obtain squalene from plant and animal sources, but since the fatty molecule is unstable in its natural state, it needs to be hydrogenated (or combined with hydrogen) into squalane, a more stable version that still acts like the same molecule and lends similar benefits, before it can be incorporated into skincare products.
Where does squalane come from?
Traditionally, squalene is sourced from the livers of sharks, where it can be naturally found in high concentrations. (In fact, this is where squalene gets its name from, as Squalus is a genus of sharks.) However, because of ethical concerns, many major beauty companies have thankfully shifted away from shark-derived squalane and instead have turned to other sources, since the natural organic compound can also be derived from many plants. Squalene is also abundant in olive oil, and can be sourced from rice bran, wheat germ, and sugar cane.
What are the benefits of squalane oil?
Squalane oil has excellent emollient properties, meaning it can keep your skin hydrated and moisturized. "Squalane is a great moisturizer as it is easily absorbed and prevents water loss from the skin," says Dr. Birnbaum. One of the reasons it makes for such an effective moisturizer is that our skin recognizes it instantly, since it's a form of a substance our bodies naturally produce. Translation: The lightweight oil absorbs into even the deepest parts of our skin quickly and easily.
Squalane oil also has a number of other skincare and beauty benefits. According to Loretta Ciraldo, M.D., F.A.A.D., a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Dr. Loretta Skincare, squalane can also increase the luminosity and vibrancy of skin, lessen the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and even help reduce redness. "Squalane oil actually helps to repair the barrier of your skin," explains Dr. Ciraldo. "So when you put it on, you're not only preventing water loss, you're also helping to protect the skin from harsh stuff in the environment." In addition to these hydrating and anti-aging benefits, squalene has natural antioxidant properties that have been found to fight free radical damage in skin, Dr. Birnbaum notes.
What type of skin is squalane oil best for?
Due to its powerful moisturizing and soothing abilities, the dermatologists we spoke with find squalane oil particularly useful for soothing dry skin and inflamed skin conditions such as eczema. But one of the great things about squalane oil is that it's safe and beneficial to all types of skin — even if you have sensitive skin or are prone to acne. "[Squalane] is not a common irritant or allergen, so even the most sensitive skin is unlikely to react to it," explains Dr. Birnbaum. "While most oils clog pores, squalane is one of the few that may be used even on acne-prone skin."
Similarly, Dr. Ciraldo recommends squalane oil for all skin types, even oily skin, noting that it's lightweight and non-greasy, so it's unlikely to clog pores or lead to breakouts. "Even if you have oily skin it's important to still try to nourish your skin with healthy oils," she says.
What's the best way to use squalane oil?
If you're interested in incorporating squalane oil into your daily skincare routine, it's always best to check in with your derm, but generally Dr. Ciraldo recommends the following steps twice a day, for both morning and night:
Cleanse skin and apply any serums first.
Massage in a few drops of squalane oil.
You can also use squalane oil on your hair and nails to reap the same hydrating effects. To leave your hair softer and shinier, apply several drops of squalane oil to your scalp. "Massage it into your scalp and then comb through so that you get it to your ends," advises Dr. Ciraldo. As for your fingernails, dabbing a few drops of squalane oil into your cuticles will ensure you get the hydrating benefits, especially if you have dry, damaged nails.
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