Squalene and Squalane in skin care

Written by: Dr. Leslie Baumann



Time to read 6 min

Squalene and squalane - you may have seen these ingredient names on your favorite moisturizer or facial oil. But what exactly are they, and what benefits do they provide for the skin?

In this blog post, we'll explore the differences between squalene and squalane and examine the research on their effects and uses for various skin types. With both molecules being lipids derived from olives, sharks, and other natural sources, it's easy to confuse the two. However, their chemical structures differ in key ways that impact factors like comedogenicity, making one more suitable for acne-prone skin than the other.

The best way to know which of these antioxidant, moisturizing, quick-absorbing ingredients is right for you is to take the Baumann Skin Type quiz for free!

What is squalene

What is Squalene?

Squalene is an unsaturated hydrocarbon lipid related to beta-carotene that occurs naturally in various plant sources such as olive oil, palm oil, amaranth oil, and rice bran oil. It is also found in shark liver oil. The name squalene comes from the Italian word for shark, squalo. In its natural state, squalene is comedogenicand inflammatoryto some skin types. For other types, when applied to skin, it provides benefits such as moisturization, antioxidant protection, and absorption enhancement of other ingredients. Keep in mind that it is comedogenic so can clog pores and cause breakouts. Squalene can even be found in human sebum, which is one of the reasons the oil from your sebaceous glands may be comedogenic.

Benefits of Squalene

Squalene is a versatile ingredient for many kinds of skin concerns. 

One of squalene's beneficial properties is its antioxidant ability. Studies show it prevents lipid peroxidation caused by UV radiation, helping to protect skin from oxidative damage from sun exposure (1). Another use of squalene is as a moisturizing ingredient. Squalene has emollient properties and prevents transepidermal water loss by physically blocking water from leaving the face (1). 

Squalene is also quick-absorbing and can be used to help other ingredients penetrate the skin. Some studies even suggest that squalene has anti-cancer benefits. (1,5) As with all cancer treatments, more research is needed before a definitive claim can be made.

Here are some great products that you can use to take advantage of squalene's benefits:

Squalene side-effects

Squalene is not a good choice for acne prone skin types. Research shows squalene is comedogenic, meaning it has the potential to clog pores. This may make it problematic for many sensitive skin types. When oxidized, squalene can also cause inflammation leading to acne breakouts. The oxidized form is more comedogenic than regular squalene. (2,3)

Best Squalene products

If you are not prone to acne, these are some products I recommend containing squalene:

What is squlane

What is Squalane

Squalane is a saturated and stable lipid compound derived from hydrogenating squalene. It occurs naturally in various plant sources like olive oil as well as in sharks and other animals. In skin care, squalane is valued for its emollient properties and ability to hydrate without clogging pores. It is rapidly absorbed, non-comedogenic, and exhibits anti-aging benefits (4,5,6,7).

Squalane is one of the most common ingredients in skin care, so there are tons of great products to choose from. To help narrow it down, here are some of my favorite squalane products:

Is Squalane an oil?

While squalane can be derived from oils and shares similar properties, it is actually not an oil itself. Its chemical structure is different enough that it is scientifically classified as a lipid, not an oil. Specifically, it is a triterpenoid hydrocarbon. However, it is common to see squalane referred to as an "oil" in skin care marketing. 

Benefits of Squalane

Squalane is a lipid, like squalene, but it is the saturated and hydrogenated version of squalene (5). Chemically, squalane is much more stable and less reactive than its unsaturated predecessor. For the skin, this translates to the following benefits:

  • Facilitates absorption of other ingredients (4). Enhances penetration of active ingredients.
  • Rapidly absorbed and non-greasy (4). Leaves skin feeling smooth, not oily.
  • Protects against UV damage (6). Stops lipid peroxidation from radiation and eliminates free radicals.
  • Not comedogenic (7,8). Generally safe for acne and clog-prone skin types.
  • Has anti-aging properties (4,5,6,7). Antioxidants eliminate wrinkle causing free radicals.
  • Less susceptible to oxidation than squalene (9). More shelf-stable in products.

Due to its stability, emollience, and low comedogenic rating, squalane is extremely common in skin care, hair care, and cosmetic products. It moisturizes without clogging pores, making it suitable for all skin types, including acne-prone. Squalane's saturated structure also gives it a much longer shelf-life than unsaturated squalene. Here are some more great squalane products to consider:

Squalene vs Squalane for your skin

When it comes to selecting between squalane and squalene, consider the following factors:

  • Skin type: Squalane is great for acne-prone and dry skin types alike. This is unlike squalene, which may be too comedogenic for breakout-vulnerable skin.
  • Product type: Squalane has a longer shelf life in products. 
  • Environmental conditions: Squalane is more stable in heat, light exposure, and other environmental conditions.
  • Source: Both can be derived from olives and other botanical sources. 
  • Budget: Squalane is more expensive to produce than squalene, so it costs more.

While both ingredients offer proven skin care benefits, squalane's stability and comedogenic rating make it the preferred option for most skin types. Acne-prone skin responds particularly well to squalane's light, fast-absorbing non-comedogenic nature.

Despite being comedogenic, squalene's antioxidant activity helps confer protection from environmental damage. Just be sure to opt for plant-derived squalene if you prefer vegan products.

Olive Squalane vs Sugarcane Squalane

Squalane can be derived from various plant sources, with olive oil and sugar cane being the most common. Some key differences between olive and cane squalane include:

  • Stability - Sugar cane squalane is more stable with a longer shelf life (9).
  • Color - Olive oil squalane has a darker color while cane is clear.
  • Sustainability - Sugar cane squalane production has a lower environmental impact.
  • Price - Olive squalane is generally more expensive than sugar cane.
  • Composition - The lipid composition is nearly identical between the two sources.


Squalene and squalane may share similar names, but they have distinct chemical structures that translate to different behavior and benefits on the skin. Both provide tremendous hydration, smoothing, and antioxidant qualities. However, squalane's saturated structure makes it more stable, less comedogenic, and ideal for finicky, acne-prone complexions. You can see our full collection of squalene and squalane products in this collection! To find out which is right for your skin type, take the Baumann Skin Type quiz for free today!

Level up your skin care knowledge with medical advice from dermatologists

Best References and Scientific Publications on Squalene and Squalane:

  1. Huang, Z. R., Lin, Y. K., & Fang, J. Y. (2009). Biological and pharmacological activities of squalene and related compounds: potential uses in cosmetic dermatology. Molecules14(1), 540-554.

  2. Chiba, K., Yoshizawa, K., Makino, I., Kawakami, K., & Onoue, M. (2000). Comedogenicity of squalene monohydroperoxide in the skin after topical application. The Journal of toxicological sciences25(2), 77-83.

  3. Ottaviani, M., Alestas, T., Flori, E., Mastrofrancesco, A., Zouboulis, C. C., & Picardo, M. (2006). Peroxidated squalene induces the production of inflammatory mediators in HaCaT keratinocytes: a possible role in acne vulgaris. Journal of Investigative Dermatology126(11), 2430-2437.

  4. Oliveira, A. L., Valente, D., Moreira, H. R., Pintado, M., & Costa, P. (2022). Effect of squalane-based emulsion on polyphenols skin penetration: Ex vivo skin study. Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces218, 112779.

  5. Newmark, H. L. (1997). Squalene, olive oil, and cancer risk: a review and hypothesis. Cancer epidemiology, biomarkers & prevention: a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research, cosponsored by the American Society of Preventive Oncology6(12), 1101-1103.

  6. Kim, S. K., & Karadeniz, F. (2012). Biological importance and applications of squalene and squalane. Advances in food and nutrition research65, 223-233.

  7. Condrò, G., Sciortino, R., & Perugini, P. (2023). Squalene Peroxidation and Biophysical Parameters in Acne-Prone Skin: A Pilot “In Vivo” Study. Pharmaceuticals16(12), 1704.

  8. Ottaviani, M., Camera, E., & Picardo, M. (2010). Lipid mediators in acne. Mediators of inflammation2010.

  9. Sethi, A., Kaur, T., Malhotra, S. K., & Gambhir, M. L. (2016). Moisturizers: the slippery road. 
  10. Indian journal of dermatology 61(3), 279.
  11. Baumann L. Antiaging Ingredients in Ch. 37 of Baumann's Cosmetic Dermatology Ed 3. (McGraw Hill 2022)
  12. Baumann, L. Ch. Cosmeceuticals and cosmetic Ingredients (McGraw Hill 2015)
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