Squalene vs Squalane: What’s the Difference?

Squalene is a polyunsaturated oil produced naturally by our bodies. Unsaturated fatty acids are required for making skin, especially ceramides which are lipids that make up 50% of our skin’s barriers.

Squalene is present within the oil that our sebaceous glands make, sebum. It’s actually about 14% of sebaceous sebum. Squalene comes out of our pores and coats the surface in order to maintain our skin’s barrier. Moreover, squalene is very abundant in fish oil. It’s particularly rich in shark oil, but fortunately, large skincare companies mostly extract it from plant oils such as olive oils. 

Squalene protects our skin barrier by being an antioxidant. Squalene is a powerful scavenger of reactive singlet oxygen on the surface of human skin. More simply, it protects the skin from reactive oxygen species like these that can damage the skin.

Singlet oxygen is a reactive oxygen species that can trigger the formation of free radicals.Free radicals possess an unpaired electron and therefore are destructive to other molecules in our skin. As the electron seeks to pair itself by stealing from another molecule, free radicals can damage all macromolecules, including lipids, proteins, and nucleic acids. All of these are crucial to the makeup and maintenance of our skin (collagen production, elasticity, healthiness, etc.)

As mentioned before, squalene is an antioxidant that can help with this. Additionally, it can protect the skin from oxidative stress (unbalance and degradation) caused by exposure to ultraviolet light.  However, the production of squalene slows drastically after age thirty, thus creating the consumer demand for squalene in products. 

However, the problem with squalene is that it gets old and rancid easily. So, squalane (with an “a”), a modified version of squalene, was created. Basically, squalene is hydrogenated into squalane.

Hydrogenation is the process of converting an unsaturated oil like squalene into a saturated oil such as squalane. Saturated oils are more skin-friendly and have an increased shelf life. This is the key difference between squalene and squalane. Not much else changes. So, if this sounds interesting, the ordinary has a great hydrating squalane product.

The Ordinary 100% Plant Derived Squalane -$7.90



Just like squalene, squalane is hydrating and an emollient. Emollients smooths out small particles between the skin. Depending on the moisturizer it’s in, squalane can function similarly to occlusives like mineral oil or petrolatum jelly. When squalane forms an occlusive barrier, it can slow down trans epidermal water loss. Transepidermal water loss is when the air around you starts evaporating the water from your epidermis. 

The skin is comprised of three primary layers: 

  1. The epidermis, the outermost layer

  1. The dermis, the middle layer

  1. The hypodermis, the undermost layer. 

When water passes from the dermis through the epidermis and evaporates from the skin’s surface, this is known as transepidermal water loss. Transepidermal water loss causes dryness and a loss of suppleness.

But by using an occlusive squalane product, you can work to strengthen your natural barrier, prevent dehydrated skin, and oxidative stress. Plus, it doesn’t feel greasy or oily. 

Furthermore, while squalane is a natural part of the skin, adding more of it may be problematic for those with acne-prone skin. However, squalane is lightweight, non-comedogenic, and very unlikely to cause inflammation or irritation which can be a culprit of acne. It is a strong lipid that can hydrate or even lock in moisture without clogging pores. Squalane is most effective when paired with regular exfoliation, and it is ultimately known to be feasible for all skin types.