The Zoe Report’s New Leaf series spotlights the plants you need to know about — from actual plants that double as decor, to plant-based beauty ingredients that will instantly upgrade your skincare routine. For the first installment, experts analyze the benefits of squalane oil, a botanical derived from olives that’s about to become a mainstay in your beauty cabinet.
As we find ourselves in the throes of the "clean beauty" movement, it seems every day there’s a buzzy new natural ingredient or botanical oil that is believed to work miracles on the skin or body. And while many of these trends are legit, it can be hard to decipher which ones are actually worth adopting as a regular player in your beauty routine. The latest ingredient to catch everyone's attention can be found in a long-embraced veggie: the olive. Yes, the small but mighty botanical contains something called squalane oil, which, thanks to its plethora of benefits, is quickly becoming the darling of the skincare world.
Before getting into all of that, here's a quick science lesson. “Squalene is naturally present in the skin’s lipid barrier," says Mollie Jensen, senior manager of product sustainability and compliance for Biossance. "It helps prevent moisture loss and increases a soft, supple feel." Squalane is actually a byproduct and more stabilized version of squalene. "The issue with squalene is that it is highly unstable and oxidizes when it comes in contact with air," Jensen explains. "When squalene is hydrogenated, it become highly stable squalane, a super moisture replenishing ingredient."
The stability of squalane makes it ideal for incorporation in skincare and beauty formulas. "Squalane is a fantastic ingredient that replenishes skin’s moisture barrier," Jensen says. "This barrier is what keeps our skin healthy so it can do its very important job of protecting us against the outside world. When our skin’s barrier becomes compromised — whether through severe climates or harsh products —it shows in irritation, redness, and other sensitive skin issues. Squalane helps keep your moisture barrier in optimal condition and your skin smooth, soft, and healthy-looking."
What It’s Found In
In addition to human skin, squalane can be found in other natural sources including shark liver, sugar cane, and olives. The former presents an obvious ethical and animal rights issue, and so more often than not, olives and sugar cane are the go-to sources for this nourishing ingredient.
"Squalane is a fantastic ingredient that benefits all skin types, especially sensitive skin."
"Hydrogenation of olive–derived squalane gives it stability and enables its use in skincare," says Barbara Close, esthetician, herbalist, and founder and president of Naturopathica. "It's a luxurious, non–comedogenic oil that the skin readily absorbs due to its similarity to the skin's own sebum." (In layman’s terms, it means that because squalene is naturally produced by the human body, your skin easily recognizes its squalane derivative and, therefore, knows what to do with it.)
Who It’s For
According to Close, squalane’s non-comedogenic quality is useful for balancing sebum production and minimizing congestion in oily or acne-prone skin types. “Its compatibility with our skin’s natural oil also makes it a clean base material for lightweight moisturizers, and a healthy-skin swap for mineral or comedogenic oils, which can further inflame the skin,” she says.
That’s not to say the benefits of this botanically sourced ingredient can’t be enjoyed by the masses. "Squalane is a fantastic ingredient that benefits all skin types, especially sensitive skin," Jensen says. "Even oily skin types, which are often dehydrated from harsh, stripping products, can benefit from squalane since it won’t clog pores."
It can also be used liberally. “Because of its gentle nature, it can be used daily,” explains Dr. Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology Group in NYC. “Although it’s great for moisturizing and improving facial and body skin, which is where it’s most often used, it can also be used to hydrate hair — much like a leave-on conditioner. Only a few drops are needed, once weekly.”
"It’s ideal for use in moisturizers and masks that are meant to nourish and protect the skin from moisture loss."
What It's Not
That said, while it may seem like the squalane product party is a veritable free-for-all, Close says that's not necessarily the case. "While there’s no downside to using squalane for formulation, there are more potent and active alternatives, like seed oils, that can deliver better results for targeted skin concerns," she says. "Unlike carrot seed oil or jojoba oil, squalane does not have antioxidant properties to help prevent and repair oxidative damage. Therefore, it may not always be the best choice for emollient and environmental protection."
That said, the ingredient does play well with others, and can be complemented by other skincare heroes that can help maximize squalane's benefits and/or fill in where it might be lacking. "[Squalane] weightlessly helps lock moisture in the skin, and blends well with other hydrating ingredients, essential oils, plant extracts, and other active ingredients," Jensen says.
Close adds that, because of its emollient nature, you would not choose to use squalane in a serum or concentrate that’s meant to penetrate quickly into the skin. "It’s ideal for use in moisturizers and masks that are meant to nourish and protect the skin from moisture-loss," she says. Jensen goes further on this point, saying squalane can be incorporated in every step in one's beauty routine, "even cleanser!"