Squalane oil has been growing in popularity in recent years thanks to proponents claiming it can moisturize skin, restore hair health, and treat a variety of skin conditions. This oil is a common ingredient in moisturizers and skin exfoliants but is also available as a separate, stand-alone product.
Despite the similarity in names, squalane and squalene are different compounds. Squalene is a natural lipid that all animals and plants produce. It is a precursor for many sterols, like cholesterol and steroid hormones. Around 12% of the squalene in humans comes from oily sebum and helps moisturize the skin and hair.
Squalene is far less stable than squalane, though, and decays rather quickly. Through a process called hydrogenation, squalene becomes squalane, which provides the same benefits but has a much longer shelf life.
While researchers are still uncovering the full extent of squalane oil’s effects, most experts believe it maintains many of the same benefits of unsaturated squalene, which has been the focus of many studies.
Most notably, squalene appears to have skin hydrating and emollient qualities, making it an ideal moisturizer. It also appears to have antioxidant, anticancer, and detoxifying activity. Some research even indicates that it improves the delivery of medications.
Squalane oil is one of the most common moisturizing agents in a wide range of cosmetic products, thanks to a few key characteristics. It is a strong emollient, meaning that it helps soften the skin. It also has excellent skin penetration and possesses a strong affinity with the human epidermis.
In a study of subjects managing a chronic itching condition called mild uremic pruritus, a squalane oil solution provided significant relief and reduced dryness.
Squalane oil has the potential to prevent wrinkles and reduce the visibility of those that are already present. Dry skin can lead to premature fine lines and wrinkles. Moisturizing allows the skin to trap water, keeping it plump and reducing the visibility of these lines.
As an antioxidant, squalane oil fights oxidative stress that often contributes to common signs of aging, like wrinkles. Additionally, because squalene improves drug absorption, squalane oil may improve the efficacy of other skin products like hyaluronic acid.
Many people mistakenly believe that oil directly contributes to acne and then avoid moisturizing their skin. While oily skin can be a risk factor, blemishes only develop when dead skin and oil clog hair follicles.
Squalane oil does not actively fight acne, though it can help prevent it. Regularly hydrating and moisturizing the skin supports the moisture barrier and prevents skin barrier dysfunction. Experts believe this dysfunction is one of the leading contributors to acne. Plus, many acne medications dry out the skin and cause irritation, an issue moisturizers can help alleviate.
Unlike many standard moisturizers, which could further irritate the skin, squalane oil is a helpful ingredient in treatments for eczema and contact dermatitis. The emollient properties are a key reason for this, but it is also due, again, to the oil’s ability to improve drug absorption.
Corticosteroid creams, gels, and ointments are extremely common treatments for conditions like dermatitis and squalane oil can improve their efficacy.
Beyond its uses as a skin moisturizer, squalane oil may also benefit hair health. Squalene’s presence in sebum allows it to keep hair healthy and hydrated. However, frequent shampooing can eliminate helpful oils from the hair, causing it to become dry, brittle, and difficult to manage. Applying squalane oil to the hair can prevent these negative outcomes while also adding shine and rejuvenating split ends. Additionally, while squalane is technically an oil, it is far less greasy than natural sebum and is completely odorless.
As a natural compound that all organisms create, squalene is non-irritating, non-allergenic, and non-comedogenic. Numerous toxicology reports confirm that in the concentrations that cosmetic products typically use, squalene and squalane are unlikely to be toxic.
Some groups have attempted to link squalene and squalane to conditions like Gulf War Syndrome and adverse vaccine reactions, but there is no evidence to support these claims.
Though squalane oil and squalene are safe, there is always the potential for an allergic reaction. Dermatologists and other experts recommend always performing an allergic spot test on the inner arm with new products, to ensure no adverse reaction. There is some environmental concern for how companies source their squalene, but most major brands have shifted to more ecologically-friendly methods of obtaining the compound.
Originally, the primary source of squalene was the livers of sharks. It took approximately 3000 sharks to produce one ton of squalane. Due to environmental and moral concerns, most major companies have shifted to sources like rice, olive oil, and sugar cane. Different sources of squalene may have other lipids and nutrients, so many researchers are attempting to determine which is the "best" source.
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