As consumers become more savvy and want to know the science behind the claims that their skincare products make, our interest in ingredients has grown, as has the market for products that highlight hero ingredients – such as vitamin C, hyaluronic acid and, now, squalane.
Squalene – with an E – is a lipid that occurs naturally in our bodies. It is produced by the sebaceous glands, which produce sebum, helping to hydrate and maintain our skin’s barrier.
As with many other naturally occurring fats, our bodies’ ability to produce squalene slows with age, so there are benefits to applying it topically.
Squalane – with an A – is a stable derivative of squalene (the latter oxidises and therefore loses its potency when exposed to air). It acts as a very effective moisturiser and emollient in skincare, helping to keep the skin barrier intact and protecting it from environmental damage.
Those with oily skin may be alarmed by the idea of applying something so closely related to sebum to the skin, but squalane can actually help regulate oil production, preventing your body producing an excess of it.
While its benefits will be appreciated by all, it is particularly good for those with dry skin, mature skin or skin conditions where the barrier is disrupted, such as eczema.
Aside from the human body, squalene is found in high concentrations in shark livers, and as a result shark liver oil has long been a common source of it in cosmetics. Most companies have now moved away from this due to ethical and environmental concerns, and instead derive their squalane from plant-based sources, usually olives or sugarcane. None of our recommended products contain squalene sourced from sharks.
Pure squalane is a lightweight, non-greasy oil, but it isn’t only available in this form. We’ve tested it in cleansers, masks and moisturisers, as well as oils, looking for texture and application experience, and instantaneous and long-term results.
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The Ordinary 100% plant-derived squalane
Disruptor brand The Ordinary has been at the forefront of the drive for transparency and ingredient-led formulas, so you can trust them to do good things with squalane. There are no other ingredients involved here, just 100 per cent pure squalane. On application it gives instant relief to dryness and irritation, and the next morning our skin is soft, smooth and plumped – and it stays like that through the day.
Biossance squalane + vitamin C rose oil
Biossance is a brand that’s all about combining scientific evidence with high environmental and ethical standards, and its entire range is formulated around squalane. Our pick is this oil, which combines squalane with two other powerhouse ingredients: tetrahexyldecyl ascorbate (vitamin C) and damascus rose extract. Both work to create brighter complexion that is protected from environmental damage.
Kiehl’s ultra facial cream
This is Kiehl’s most iconic, best-selling product, and it shows that while squalane may be a new word to most, it has been a key ingredient in skincare for a long time. It combines squalane derived from olives with a protein found in sea glaciers, which withstands extreme climates, in one of the most deeply nourishing and soothing yet lightweight creams we’ve come across. It’s a constant favourite.
Dr Dennis Gross alpha beta exfoliating moisturiser
This is a slightly different formula as rather than being designed solely to condition and moisturise skin, it’s an exfoliator, with a blend of seven alpha and beta acids, including lactic, glycolic and salicylic, to slough away dead skin cells, improving smoothness and brightness. Here, squalane’s soothing, moisturising effects work to combat any irritation caused by exfoliation.
Indeed labs squalane facial oil
Indeed Labs is another brand that produces highly effective formulas at affordable price points, and we’re yet to try a product from them we didn’t like. Its 100 per cent squalane oil is lightweight and highly moisturising. We recently applied it before a flight (yes, a real flight) and it prevented the air circulation from drying out our skin, so we’ve got big expectations of it come the colder winter months.
Drunk Elephant f-balm electrolyte waterfacial
Perhaps it’s just our dry skin talking, but a “waterfacial” sounds very appealing. With squalane, niacinamide, sodium PCA (which attracts water from the air), omega fatty acids, vitamin F and antioxidants, it’s a powerful blend of barrier-boosting, deeply hydrating ingredients. Apply a fairly thick layer as the last step of your skincare routine before bed. We found skin was baby-soft in the morning and held moisture longer throughout the day.
Aesop seeking silence facial hydrator
The name alone of this product is soothing. Packed with squalane, jojoba seed oil, bisabolol and ginger root, it’s an incredibly gentle, restorative moisturiser that immediately calms irritation and helps reduce redness over time. We often recommend it for sensitive or temporarily irritated skin.
The Ordinary squalane cleanser
Another entry from The Ordinary, this is a different formulation for squalane: a cleanser. Straight out of the tube it has a balm-like consistency, but it transforms into an oil when warmed in your hands. It dissolves make-up and grime, leaving skin clean but not squeaky; rather, well balanced and moisturised.
Indie Lee squalane facial oil
Indie Lee is an eco-chic brand with a real focus on the purest, most natural ingredients. Its 100 per cent squalane oil is derived from olives and is incredibly lightweight and absorbs very quickly, meaning you don’t get the slippery residue some oils leave behind. It worked well to balance out our skin, both reducing breakouts and redness and improving the condition of dry patches.
Herbivore deep moisture glow oil
Unlike the other oils we tested, Emerald isn’t 100 per cent squalane and instead combines its powers with cannabis sativa seed oil (good for soothing and calming irritation), sunflower seed oil (contains lots of vitamins and is also a great emollient) and meadowfoam seed oil (full of antioxidants). It leaves a really luminous finish and as it is lightweight and non-greasy, we love using it beneath make-up for a super glow.
The verdict: Squalane products
If it’s squalane oil you’re after, trying it in its 100 per cent pure form is a good place to start, and when The Ordinary offers it at such a good price you’d be daft to go looking elsewhere. We’d also be remiss not to mention Kiehl’s classic ultra facial cream, which delivers moisture like no other.
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