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The difference between Squalane and Squalene

July 13, 2021

Recently we have had requests about explaining the difference between Squalene and Squalane, and which ingredient is most effective for the skin, so here is a brief outline of both.

Squalene is an organic compound that is a triterpene. It is a colourless oil (although impure samples appear yellow), that was originally obtained from shark liver oil (hence its name, as Sqalus is a genus of sharks). Additionally, all plants and animals produce squalene as a biochemical intermediate. An estimated 12% of bodily squalene in humans comes from sebum. Similarly, to sebum, squalene as an ingredient acts as a topical skin lubricant and skin protector.

Squalene is also the biochemical precursor to steroids. It is the precursor for the synthesis of all plant and animal sterols, including cholesterol and steroid hormones in the human body.

The squalene conversion begins with oxidation (via squalene monomxygenase) of one of its terminal double bonds, resulting in 2,3-oxidosqualene. It then undergoes an enzyme-catalysed cyclisation to produce lanosterol, which can be elaborated into other steroids such as cholesterol and ergosterol in a multistep process by the removal of three methyl groups, the reduction of one double bond by NADPH and the migration of the other double bond.

In plants, squalene is the precursor to stigmasterol. In certain fungi, it is the precursor to ergosterol. However, blue-green algae and some bacteria do not produce squalene.

Squalene vs. squalane

As we saw, squalene, with an e, is naturally produced by the body. More specifically, it is produced by the sebaceous glands in our skin. The sebum that our sebaceous glands produce is made up of triglycerides, wax esters, and squalene. As annoying as oil can be, all its components, squalene included, help to keep the skin moisturised and protect it from external dehydration. In short, squalene is a lipid, or fat, made naturally by our oil glands to hydrate and maintain the barrier of our skin. The beneficial properties of squalene don’t end there; it has also been found to fight free-radical damage in our skin as an antioxidant.

Unfortunately for all of us, our natural production of squalene slows significantly after the age of 30, which is why it makes sense that we would all want to bottle it up and slather it on our skin. However, squalene in its natural state is not very stable, which is why, for skincare purposes, it goes through a saturation process to become squalane.

To get into the nitty-gritty, the e turns into an a when squalene is converted into squalane through a process called hydrogenation. Why is this necessary? If squalene were not hydrogenated, it would oxidize when exposed to air and no longer provide any skin benefits. In other words, squalane is a more shelf-stable and effective version of squalene, which is why when found in cosmetics you will probably find the squalane version that makes it into our skincare creams, face serums and oils.

If you venture into your medicine cabinet right this second, you will probably find a product or two that contains squalane or squalene (and more likely the former). Although both serve a similar purpose, that one letter makes a big difference when it comes to efficacy and stability.

What skin conditions can benefit from squalane?

Because of its well-documented emollient properties, people with dry and/or mature skin can especially benefit from using squalane, though it can really benefit all skin types (including sensitive). According to Dr Fisher a dermatologist, since it works to naturally seal in moisture, squalane can aid in skin-care problems where the skin barrier is disrupted and transepidermal water loss is an issue. These conditions include eczema and even psoriasis.

Is it well tolerated by all skin conditions?

As a rule, squalane is not considered a common irritant or allergen, so even the most sensitive skin is unlikely to react to it. For those with sensitive skin, while it is not thought to be particularly irritating, it is always important to be cautious when starting new products to make sure the skin can tolerate it.

We hope this article has brought some clarity to the difference between squalene and squalene.

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