Many of the chemicals and compounds you’ll find in skincare products are made to mimic the effects of natural ingredients. These lab-generated synthetics are often favored throughout the industry because they’re inexpensive and accessible. But many of nature’s most impressive benefits aren’t easily reproduced in the lab.
That’s why the health and beauty industry also relies on plenty of time-tested, natural ingredients. But even today, far too many of those natural components aren’t sourced ethically or humanely. Squalene is a prime example. When you’re committed to using skincare products made with effective, sustainable, cruelty-free ingredients, it’s important to consider the source of the squalene in your serums and moisturizers.
What is Squalene? How Might My Skin Benefit?
Squalene is a fatty molecule found in all plant and animal life. This fat-soluble oil makes up about 13% of the oily substance (sebum) in your skin that helps keep your complexion soft and supple. But like collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid, production begins to drop off in your 20s and 30s.1
That fatty substance that helps your skin retain essential moisture is also added to personal care products to mimic the effects of those protective oils. You’ll often find squalene added to sunscreen, foundation, lipstick, serums, and moisturizers. But helping your skin stay hydrated isn’t the only possible benefit.
Current investigations also show that squalene has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant potential, properties that could help calm irritation and neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are highly unstable molecules that can age your skin prematurely.2,3
Squalene vs Squalane: How Do They Compare?
If you’ve been investigating natural skincare ingredients, you may have noticed that some sources highlight the value of squalene while others make a case for using products made with squalane. Although you might assume the names are used interchangeably, squalene and squalane are not the same.
By nature, squalene is highly unstable and has a relatively short shelf-life. As the oil oxidizes, it can darken or develop an unpleasant odor. The oil can also clog your pores. That’s why you’re much more likely to find squalane listed on product labels.4
Squalane is the hydrogenated form of squalene, a highly refined alternative. Although some natural components are removed, squalane is significantly more stable. Once converted, the molecular composition of the oil makes it much easier for your skin to absorb. With its performance optimized, squalane (with an “a”) is far less likely to cause irritation than squalene (with and “e”).
Understanding the Possible Origins of Squalane
Squalane is an excellent skin-penetrating emollient, a softening agent. It’s also non-allergenic, non-comedogenic, and won’t leave an oily residue on your skin. Exceptionally versatile, squalane can be just as beneficial for dry, aging complexions as oily, congested skin. That makes squalane-infused serums and moisturizers an attractive proposition for all skin types.5
Squalane-infused products also pair nicely with alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), beta-hydroxy acids (BHAs), and retinol, chemical exfoliants that can cause dryness and flaking. But not everyone who might benefit from squalane-infused skincare products is comfortable using them.
Much of that hesitancy stems from the fact that product manufacturers aren’t required to reveal the source of the squalane in their products. That burden is often left to the consumer to resolve. Once you understand the origins of this natural oil, it’s much easier to sympathize with the ethical dilemma.
There was a time shark liver oil was the number one source of squalene worldwide, used in everything from cosmetics and supplements to pharmaceuticals. As the population of some species steadily declined, nearly 100 million sharks were killed every year. Even today, deep-sea sharks are most often targeted because their large livers are about 96% squalene. Carcasses are often tossed back into the ocean once the liver is removed.
Although consumers and advocacy groups are fueling change and several major cosmetic manufacturers have abandoned the use of shark-sourced squalane, it can be difficult for consumers to shop confidently. Even a “cruelty-free” label is no guarantee of ethically sourced squalane.6,7
Globally, most squalane is still sourced from sharks. But many people now consider the practice unethical. That’s why you might find at least somewhat reassuring to know that many companies now relying on plant-sourced squalane. Chemically, the composition is the same. But not all companies are on board. It costs manufacturers about 30 percent more to used squalane sourced from plants than shark liver oil. Plant-derived squalane also takes about seven times longer to refine.
That likely explains why some companies are still unwilling to give up shark liver oil entirely. Instead, they acknowledge consumer demand for cruelty-free ingredients by using a blend of plant-sourced and shark-sourced squalane. Yet, product labels often reflect only the plant-sourced components. If this alarms you, look for “100% plant-derived,” “vegetable-based,” or “shark-free” squalane on product labels.7,8
Which Plants Are Harvested for Squalane?
Back in 2012, about 90% of shark-sourced squalene was purchased by companies in the cosmetic industry.9 Since then, there have been considerable improvements as more companies shift towards plant-sourced ingredients. Although all plants make varying amounts of squalene, you’re more likely to find companies using squalane made from rice bran, wheat germ, sugarcane, amaranth seeds, or olives.9 However, the process is a bit more complex than simple extraction.
For example, obtaining squalane from sugarcane requires the use of bioengineered yeast to feed on the sugar cane. It’s the yeast that produces the squalene. After hydrogenation, sugarcane squalane tends to be somewhat lighter in comparison to olive-sourced squalane. Olive squalane is made from the oil extracted from the pulp, pit, and skin of the fruit. Once extracted, the olive oil is converted to squalane by combining the extracts with hydrogen through a multi-step process.10
Are You Intrigued by the Power of Plant-Sourced Ingredients?
Squalane is just one natural ingredient that could help keep your skin hydrated or calm irritation. There are many more.If you’re intrigued by the possibility of using plant-sourced ingredients to nurture your complexion or revive your skin, visit BOTA™ to browse our Complete Guide to Natural Skin Care. Then consider how your complexion might respond to our botanical skincare products enhanced with the many potential skin benefits of hemp-derived CBD.
As the full-spectrum CBD oil in BOTA™ plant-powered products mimics the effects of natural skin lipids, the cannabinoid also absorbs into tissues far below the surface. That’s where it interacts with important receptors found on nearly every type of skin cell, including the receptors regulating oil production, moisture retention, and inflammation.11 You can shop with confidence knowing all BOTA™ CBD toners, serums, and moisturizers are third-party tested for purity, cruelty-free, and made with ethically sourced ingredients.
- Health. S Brickell (2018 November 13) What Exactly is Squalane? Plus, The Best Skin Care Products with Squalane You Should Be Using.
- Paloy. R Clark. (2021 August 09) Squalane Vs. Squalene: What’s the Difference and Why Should You Care?
- Dermatology Research and Practice. B Poljsak, R Dahmane. (2012 February 29) Free Radicals and Extrinsic Skin Aging.
- Allure. R Dancer. (2019 November 04) The Subtle Yet Significant Difference Between Squalane and Squalene in Skin Care.
- Byrdie. B Lambert. (2021 September 02) Squalane for Skin: Benefits and How to Use.
- Axiology. (2018 August 17) The Truth Behind One Of the Cosmetic Industry’s Deadliest Ingredients: Squalane.
- Focus on Wildlife. Supertrooper. (2021 May 03) Squalene: How Sharks are Killed to Extract This Oil fro Their Liver to Make Daily Products and Supplements.
- Reefcause Conservation. (2021 July 05) Everything You Need to Know About Shark Squalene.
- Vegan Foundry. (2021) Is Squalene Really Derived from Sharks? Here’s Why It Depends.
- Pipette. Sugarcane Squalane vs Olive Squalane: What’s the Difference?
- Molecules. (2019 March) Cannabinoid Signalling in the Skin: Therapeutic Potential of the “C(ut)annabinoid” System.