Squalane Science Explained (40 Studies): A 2019 Review of This Fine-ASS Oil!
Sup everyone? If you’ve been stalking my comments around the blog lately you’ll notice I’ve been recommending squalane oil quite a lot.
“Hey f.c. I have stubborn acne around my chin. Can you recommend me something to….”
“Hi f.c., I have this stubborn eczema patch that….”
PUT SOME SQUALANE ON IT!
“What’s your opinion of rosehip….”
USE SQUALANE INSTEAD!
“I just went through a bad breakup and don’t believe in love anymore.”
GURL YOU NEED SOME SQUALANE IN YOUR LIFE!
I don’t like to rave and speak prematurely about products on this blog, but I’m gonna have to make an exception here. I’ve only been using squalane oil for about a month now, but OMG… this stuff is magical!
Let’s waste no time and go straight into everything you need to know!
I’ll be doing a squalane review. Or more like OVERVIEW since I’ll be going over absolutely everything you need to know. This includes the benefits of squalane, the controversy around unsaturated oils harming our skin, my experience with squalane and more.
Without further ado….
Table of Contents
- 1 What is Squalane?
- 2 Squalane Oil Benefits: The Science and Research
- 3 Squalane vs. Squalene: The Issue of Oxidation Concerning Unsaturated Oils.
- 4 How to Prevent Squalene Oxidation.
- 5 My Experience With Squalane.
What is Squalane?
Squalane is the hydrogenated version of squalene. This means it has no double bonds, which considerably extends its shelf life and makes it less prone to oxidation.
Similar to petroleum, mineral oil, and other crude oils, it is a hydrocarbon, meaning it’s made up entirely of hydrogen and carbon.
However, unlike petroleum and its distillates which are sourced from oil drilling, squalane and squalene are both naturally occurring components of human sebum! The latter being one of the most commonly produced lipids by our skin, accounting for approximately 15% of our sebaceous lipid mixture. (1, 2)
Squalane Oil Benefits: The Science and Research
Squalane is non-irritating up to 100% concentration. (3) That means you can literally bathe in this stuff if you wanted!
Squalane pool party anyone? 😀
More impressively, squalene acts as an antioxidant, being your skin’s natural defense against UV radiation-induced oxidative stress, or more simply put — it protects skin against the damaging effects of sun exposure.
“Squalene is thought to act as a lipid sensor for solar UV exposure, and as a photoprotective barrier for the hairless human skin against such oxidative stress, acting as a sacrificial target when other defense mechanisms are exhausted.” (4)
The hero we don’t deserve! The mortal nemesis of wrinkles and aging! The sacrificial lamb of oils!
No, I’d rather have fleeky skin!
Squalene is also a precursor for the synthesis of steroids, is structurally similar to b-carotene, coenzyme q10, vitamins like K1, E, D, and may have anti-fungal and antibacterial properties. (5) For this reason, there is some emerging evidence that it could help treat eczema and seborrheic dermatitis. (6, 7, 8, 9)
Because it is a natural part of our sebum, it also enhances the penetration of other ingredients and is a useful drug delivery system. (10)
When taken orally, it acts as a detoxifier (11), and a few studies have shown it has anti-carcinogenic effects, going as far as suppressing tumor growth and being a successful chemoprotective agent. (12)
Yeah, on paper this stuff sounds like unicorn tears….
There is one major caveat though…..
Because squalane lacks the double bonds of squalene, it does not possess antioxidant activity (i.e. has no active oxygen-scavenging / sun-protective effects). (13) Yes, I was sad to learn this too…. :'(
So what are squalane’s primary functions then?
Mainly emolliency, surface occlusion, and TEWL prevention all with extreme cosmetic elegance:
“Squalane / squalene is preferred for skin care due to its notably high emollient properties. It can be easily absorbed deep by the skin acting as a normalizer for flexibility and suppleness of the skin without presenting an oily residue…. squalane-including mixtures were able to increase the barrier to maintain hydration in a comparable manner to vernix caseosa [i.e. the waxy film composed primarily of ceramides that makes a baby’s skin GLORIOUS]…. and is expected to increase skin hydration due to skin surface occlusion.” (14)
In other words, it’s just a damn good moisturizer that absorbs better than any oil you’ll ever try! See “my experience with squalane” section for more details.
With that said, it may not be the best oil if you’re searching for something jam packed with active substances and antioxidants like rosehip oil.
Related reading: Rosehip Oil For Acne and Skin: Everything You Need to Know
However, given how many people are sensitive to comedogenic breakouts and / or malassezia, squalane is the next best thing for extremely acne-prone individuals like myself.
Squalane vs. Squalene: The Issue of Oxidation Concerning Unsaturated Oils.
With all that wonderful stuff said above, there is one major problem with squalene…. it’s prone to oxidation.
Oxidation (via squalene monooxygenase) of one of the terminal double bonds of squalene yields 2,3-squalene oxide, which undergoes enzyme-catalyzed cyclization to afford lanosterol, which is then elaborated into cholesterol and other steroids. (15)
No worries, I’ll explain what the hell all that means in just a bit. But first, let’s talk about unsaturated oils in skincare.
There has been some recent controversy in the beauty space about whether unsaturated oils like rosehip oil, argan oil, sunflower oil etc. are actually aging the skin! Yikes… 😮
For those that don’t know, here’s a brief overview of what happened:
Michelle Villett from the Beautyeditor put on an article titled, “Why Squalane Is the Best Face Oil,” in which she argues that most unsaturated oils are actually harming your skin because they contain triglyceride fatty acids that are prone to oxidation. This process is called lipid peroxidation.
“Lipid peroxidation is the oxidative degradation of lipids (i.e. fats and similar substances). It is the process in which free radicals “steal” electrons from the lipids in cell membranes, resulting in cell damage…. It most often affects polyunsaturated fatty acids, because they contain multiple double bonds, in between which lie methylene bridges (-CH2-) that possess especially reactive hydrogen atoms.” (16)
Michelle from LabMuffin then put out a rebuttal article, essentially saying the other Michelle was coocoo by citing several sources showing that unsaturated oils are all the rage.
It’s like the battle of Michelle’s or something hah! :p
I think they both brought up some interesting points, but I’m not gonna weigh in on the debacle. Instead, I’ll be discussing why I think squalane is better in the context of skincare than squalene for many of us.
Spoiler Alert: it comes down to the simple fact that squalene can oxidize under the right circumstances.
What happens when Squalene is oxidized?
When squalene undergoes oxidation, it produces something called squalene peroxide (SQOOH). This is a highly comedogenic substance and precursor to acne, something that has been known for over 50 years. (17)
“Studies have demonstrated that SQOOH plays a key role in the development of facial acne, by stimulating keratinocyte proliferation and inflammation.” (18)
This is why some prominent beauty gurus like Liah Yoo say sunscreen improves acne! The reasoning being that sun exposure (specifically long UVA rays) leads to squalane peroxidation, (19, 20) whereas sunscreen actively “blocks” the UVA rays that cause this.
To really highlight the important role that squalane peroxidation plays in the development of acne, here’s some additional information:
1. Squalane is the most abundant oxidizable component of our skin surface lipids. (21)
Fun fact: one of the ways benzoyl peroxide works to treat acne is by putting this oxygen back into the skin, since p. acne is an anaerobic microorganism (i.e. can’t survive in oxygen-rich environments).
3. The degree of squalene peroxidation correlates to the size of the comedones elicited. (24) In other words, the size of a pimple is related to how much oxidation squalene undergoes. More oxidation = bigger pimple.
5. Squalene peroxidation starts the inflammatory cascade that leads to a pimple, without it acne cannot exist. (31)
Seppo from AcneEinstein put it best by saying,
“Science of the past decade has conclusively shown that every pimple starts with inflammatory damage to sebum; or sebum oxidation. Everything else you may have heard that causes acne; things like diet, stress, hormones and what not, only create the conditions for sebum oxidation to happen.” (32)
And just because we can’t have enough quotes on a blog post, here’s another one. :p
“Research seems to confirm that lipid peroxidation is the driving force behind the progression of comedogenesis and inflammation in acne. Examination of comedo [i.e. blackhead] samples (20-30 comedones from each patient) removed from acne patients shows that lipid peroxidation is evident even in the earliest microcomedo. As the disease progresses to inflamed lesions there is an up to 4-fold increase in lipid peroxide levels.” (33)
Hopefully, you get the point by now. If not, here it is in plain english: if squalene oxidizes we’re F*CKED!
So if you want to treat acne, all you gotta do is prevent squalene from oxidizing! More about how to do this in the section below, “How to Prevent Squalene Oxidation.“
NOTE: squalene is a perfectly fine and amazing oil to use, capable of preventing UV damage, scavenging free radicals etc., UNTIL it becomes oxidized. Once this happens, it catalyzes the inflammatory process that causes acne.
After reading all this info you may be asking yourself the question….
“What the hell causes squalene peroxidation?!?”
MALA-F*CKING-SSEZIA! Say WAT?!
This is one of reasons I don’t think acne and “fungal acne” are mutually exclusive. For many of us, they go hand in hand like a tag-team duo from hell. In other words, squalene peroxide contributes to the development of acne, and malassezia causes squalene to oxidize in the first place. 😤
“As yeast [like malassezia] metabolize skin surface fat, they form break-down products that can potentially trigger harmful reactions by the skin.” (41)
One of those breakdown products being SQOOH (squalane peroxide). Dun dun dun.
All of this unwinding discussion was to say this very simple thing: the reason squalane kicks ass over squalene in the context of skincare is because it’s less prone to oxidation.
This is something that has been demonstrated by the fact that squalane increases the oxidative stability of cosmetic formulas vs. squalene. (44)
So go slather squalane on your face! It’s safe for acne, malassezia, has skin-restoring properties, is highly moisturizing, and extremely cosmetically elegant.
Now for the super awesome tips about preventing acne….
How to Prevent Squalene Oxidation.
Just kidding! That’s a blog post for another time. 😉 There’s a lot of ways we can do this, so it’ll be a separate article. Stay tuned! It shall be out soon enough.
My Experience With Squalane.
Let me start off by saying that this stuff is magical! I have to thank all of you for encouraging me to try it. 😅
I sorta just listed all the reasons it should theoretically work and be good for malassezia on the fungal acne treatment guide. But it was you guys and gals who went out and put that sh*t on ya faces. 🤓 Thanks for being my little guinea pigs. :p
At first I was skeptical by the messages I was getting. For example, one person said it cured the closed comedones they previously couldn’t get rid of using BHAs, AHAs, tretinoin cream and azelaic acid gel.
Another person said it “seems to reduce appearance of pores.” Then u/svvaffles shared her before and after photos on r/skincareaddiction, and mentioned regularly using squalane. So on and so forth.
After hearing so many rave reviews i was like, “well, damn. Now i gotta go slather this stuff on my face without patch testing.” Cause you know me, I live on the edge and all….
Ordered the cheapest squalane oil I could find and went straight to work when it arrived. Here’s my initial thought when i first put it on:
“HOLY SH*T THIS MAKES MY SKIN SOO SOFT!!”
And it instantly eliminates any dryness or tight feeling you might be experiencing. It works so great for me as a standalone moisturizer that some days I’ve even been so lazy all I do is rinse and put squalane on. It also layers extremely well under other products.
Secondly, the finish. You know that glow we all want? Well, squalane gives you that…. INSTANTLY. I know that sounds like a load of horse sh*t, but someone else who’s tried it BACK ME UP ON THIS!
If I had to guess why, I’d say it’s because of it’s soft light reflecting properties, and the fact that it vanishes upon absorption. In other words, it blends so well into the skin, leaves no noticeable residue, but because it’s still technically there, it provides the slightest sheen that gives off the appearance of glowing skin.
And like seriously, I don’t think anyone’s ever complained about squalane before. Just take a gander at the rave reviews of Biossance and you’ll see what I mean.
Note: that’s just overpriced squalane oil. The cheaper stuff like Timeless is the same thing and works just as well.
Squalane has the same chemical structure regardless of how it’s derived — olive, plant, shark liver or otherwise. The only issue is sustainability. Obviously, don’t use the shark stuff, or you’re an a-hole.
It’s very unlikely that you’ll get shark derived squalane nowadays anyway.
Alrighty, that does it for squalane oil! I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog post. See you next time! 😀