An oily cosmetic ingredient found in sharks

Credits: David Clode at
Edited By:
Alexandra Vaughn , MD

What Is Squalene?

Squalene is found in both plants and animals as a naturally occurring lipid (or fat). Sharks and olive plants possess large amounts of squalene and it is also found in humans. It is one of the most common lipids produced by skin cells and is a component of human sebum (skin oil), although the amount of it in our skin decreases naturally over time.[1]

Table 1. Comparison of Various Sources of Squalene[2]


Squalene content (mg/100g)

Olive Oil


Soybean Oil


Amaranth Seed Oil


Palm Oil


Corn Olive Oil



What Does Squalene Do?


  • Is efficiently absorbed into the skin, restoring the natural flexibility and firmness to the skin[2]
  • Can be found as a hair conditioning agent
  • Is used as a skin moisturizer
  • Is a natural emollient that locks moisture into the skin and eases dry patches
  • Protects skin from free radical oxidative damage[2]


Potential Side Effects of Squalene?

  • The Cosmetic Ingredient Review (CIR) expert panel has concluded that squalene is a safe cosmetic ingredient in its present practice and concentration
  • Squalene has not been shown to be a significant irritant or sensitizer to the skin.

Squalane vs Squalene

These ingredients are essentially the same, but squalane is a saturated form of squalene; saturation means the double bonds in the molecular structure have been eliminated through a process called hydrogenation. This hydrogenation process produces a fully saturated oil that is more stable and has a longer shelf life than its unsaturated counterpart. Since squalane is highly saturated, it is less prone to breaking down in the presence of air compared to squalene, so less likely to go bad as fast as squalene. For this reason, it is more commonly used as a moisturizer.[1]


Practical Tips for Using Squalene?

Squalene is commonly applied topically and is formulated into a wide variety of products such as moisturizing agents and other skin care products, makeup removers, lipsticks, and anti-aging products. It is technically an oil but does not give an oily feeling to the skin. It is odorless, antibacterial, and is safe for sensitive skin.[1]

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  1. Sethi A, Kaur T, Malhotra SK, et al. Moisturizers: The Slippery Road. Indian J Dermatol.2016;61(3):279-287; PMID: 27293248 Link to research.
  2. Popa O, Babeanu NE, Popa I, et al. Methods for obtaining and determination of squalene from natural sources. Biomed Res Int.2015;2015:367202; PMID: 25695064 Link to research.