squalane vs squalene

What is Squalane?


Don’t believe the myth circulating on many websites that squal-A-ne is the plant form of sqaul-E-ne. Some big websites are still peddling the myth that squalane is a plant substitute for squalene. It’s not.

What is squalane?

Squalane occurs naturally in our bodies and in plants and most notably shark liver. Squalane happens when squalene gets stabilised by hydrogenation into squalane. SqualAne is the stable form of squalEne. It’s NOT the plant form of squalene.

I know this may come as a shock. Does that mean you’re putting shark liver on your skin? Ummm yeah, maybe. Let me explain.

How Did Shark Livers End Up On Our Face?

Squalene was discovered in Japan in 1906. The greatest concentration of squalene in the natural world is found in deep-sea shark livers. The genius of the shark family that contains large amounts of squalene is called Squalidae. This is how the oily substance got its name squalene.

Scientist discovered that squalene was non-greasy, pleasant to the touch very soluble and resistant to extreme temperatures.

The only problem with it was that it oxidised or became rancid very quickly.

Squalene to have any commercial value had to be hydrogenated. Hydronation is a process of heating squalene to high temperatures which changes it from an unstable fatty acid to a stable one, and it purifies it at the same time.

Because squalene can tolerate extremely high temperatures without out degrading this does not make the hydronated squalene (now called squalane) toxic like the hydration process in some vegetable oils does. In fact, it makes the oily thinner and our skin likes it more.

Squalane is the stable hydronated form of squalene. It mimics exactly the chemical composition of human sebum which declines as we are and it is why squalane is in high demand in the cosmetic industry.

Great news for our skin. Devastating news for sharks.

Why Do Deep-Sea Sharks Have This Squalene Rich Liver?

Sharks unlike fish do not rely on a swim bladder to keep them buoyant. Instead, they have an oil-rich liver that is so densely packed with oil that it is lighter than water. Fat is lighter than water, that is why cream floats to the top of milk and why olive oil floats on the top of salad dressing.

This oil-rich liver is what enables sharks to stay buoyant.

The livers of deep-sea sharks can contain up to 96% squalene and the liver can weigh as much as 26% of the shark’s weight. Considering that some sharks can weight over 1 200 pounds that’s a lot of oil.

Can Squalene Come From Plants?

Yes. Squalene is found in olives, rice bran and sugarcane to name a few botanical sources. The reason why plant-based squalene wasn’t used in cosmetics originally is that it’s harder and more expensive to extract.

Squalene is squalene whether it comes from shark liver or olives. One is not preferable to another. It all comes down to profit margins. Although times are changing. Consumer pressure against the use of shark liver in skincare products has stopped many large companies from its use.

How Can I Tell If There Is  Shark Liver Oil In Skincare?

This is more tricky than you may think. Like I said before, the chemical make up of squalane whether it is from animal or plant sources is identical. Squalane is listed as an ingredient. But manufacturers and skincare companies are not required by law to say whether the squalane they used is plant or animal-based.

Many of the big cosmetic houses have committed to not using shark derived squalane. That’s great news. It’s so unnecessary because of the identical botanical alternative.

Some companies, The Ordinary for example state that they use only plant/vegan squalane.

The Ordinary Squalane


You should always check labels and if you’re not sure if the products you use have shark squalane in them.

Skincare that is marketed as vegan will not use shark derived squalane.


Is Squalane vs Squalene Good For Skin?

Humans make squalene up until we are in our early 20’s. Sebum, the oily substance that is made in our sebaceous glands is made up of 12 % squalene. Squalene helps our skin to deal with damaging UVA and UVB rays and it also transports fat-soluble vitamins to the surface of our skin.

It also helps form a barrier between our skin and the environment by locking in moisture and preventing it from escaping.

As we age, we stop producing squalene, adding it to skin care products is very beneficial to our skin.

Squalane is odourless, non-greasy, lubricating, and feels pleasant to the touch. It is soluble (which means it blends easily) with other ingredients. This means that you’ll find squalane in everything from cleansers to sunscreen, it’s in lipstick, foundation, shampoo and hand sanitizer.

Are There Side Effects From Squalane?

Squalane is found in our skin naturally so it has a very small chance or causing irritation. The use of squalane in many products prescribed by dermatologist for its soothing and anti-irritation effects mean that a reaction to squalane would be very rare.

There will always be people who are sensitive to any product no matter how mild it may be. Squalane is very well tolerated normally. If you do react to a new product it’s much more likely to be another ingredient, not squalane that is causing the issue.

Where Does Squalane Go In Your Skincare Routine?

Squalane can and is everywhere in skincare products. It is added to cleansing oils and balms, it is in serums, moisturizers, sunscreen and makeup.

If you are using any kind of skincare or makeup you are more than likely wearing or using squalane. It would be great if that squalane was coming from plants instead of shark liver.

The Bottom Line on Squalane vs Squalene

There is no dining that squalane is a great ingredient and I recommend many products that contain this ingredient. My only issue with squalane is to make sure that the product you use contains plant-derived squalane.

As consumers, we have so much more power than we think. If you don’t like what a skincare company is doing with its ingredients or where they source them from, you have a choice.

Don’t buy their products. There is such a lot of choice in the market now. An almost overwhelming amount of choice. Squalane as an ingredient is fantastic, just make sure you’re not rubbing shark liver on your skin.