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Is squalene the hydrating hero your skin needs?


The Skin care world is vast and constantly full of new products and buzzy ingredients to talk about. Sometimes the hype is, well, just that. Other times, however, the chatter is rightfully deserved. Squalene, a natural substance your body produces to keep your skin lubricated, falls into the latter category, according to dermatologists we spoke to.

Squalene can moisturize the skin and help keep your complexion feeling soft and smooth, while also delivering anti-inflammatory benefits and calming redness and inflammation, says Dr. Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Cornell.

Many skin care products on the market today actually use Squalane in place of squalene. Squalane, with an a, is another form of squalene with similar moisturizing benefits. Squalane is either derived directly from plants or made by adding hydrogen to squalene. It also has a longer shelf life than squalene, which is why it’s commonly used in skin care products.

To help you determine if your skin could benefit from the extra moisture that squalene provides, we spoke to board-certified dermatologists about its benefits, who should use it and the best serums, moisturizers and oils you can buy with it. 

SKIP AHEAD Our top picks | How we picked the best squalene products in 2023 | The best squalene products in 2023 | Squalene versus squalane

Our top picks

How we picked the best squalene products in 2023

We spoke with board-certified dermatologists about their favorite products with squalene. We also asked them for tips and tricks on how to incorporate squalene-rich products into your skin care routine. Here’s what they recommend keeping in mind while shopping:  

  • Formulation: Dermatologists we spoke with recommend looking for squalane, over squalene when it comes to skin care. “[Squalane] is more stable than squalene and does not oxidize when exposed to air,” says Dr. Brendan Camp, board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York City. For this reason, we focused on products containing squalane.  
  • Product type: Squalane works best in products intended to hydrate your skin, says Garshick. “It really helps to moisturize without leaving skin feeling greasy or oily.” Though squalane can be found in a number of types of products (like face washes, foundations and more) we focused on products that prioritize moisturizing.
  • Skin type: Squalane, which is generally not irritating, works on all skin types, according to Garshick, who says even those with sensitive skin should be okay to use it. 

The best squalane products in 2023

The below products are all expert-recommended and have squalane as an active ingredient in their formulas. 

Biossance Squalane and Vitamin C Rose Firming Oil

If you have dry skin, Garshick recommends using this face oil daily in the morning before applying your SPF. “It incorporates vitamin C, a known antioxidant, as well as squalane to offer brightening and hydrating benefits,” she says. “The result is an improvement in overall texture and tone.” You can add a drop or two to your foundation or apply it on its own by gently massaging a few drops onto your face and neck. 

Mele Plump It Up Nourishing Cream

This Mele nourishing cream comes recommended by Garshick for its combination of squalane and niacinamide, which she says can improve dryness while evening out skin tone. The oil-free formula is lightweight, so it absorbs quickly and shouldn’t feel slick or greasy, according to Mele. 

Mara Sea Vitamin C Sérum

Camp recommends this squalane-based serum for those dealing with hyperpigmentation. It combines squalane with vitamin C to brighten and improve dark spots while keeping skin moisturized and soft, he says. It’s also formulated with adaptogens like reishi and ginseng to address redness and irritation, according to the brand. You can use it both morning and night after washing your face. 

Kiehl’s Creme de Corps

“This body moisturizer contains squalane and glycerin, both of which help to provide moisture,” according to Garshick, who says that while this rich cream is very hydrating, her skin isn’t left feeling greasy. The fast-absorbing lotion works on all skin types, but is particularly good for those dealing with lots of dryness, according to the brand. Kiehl’s recommends applying it directly after bathing or showering, but you  can also use it anytime you notice any dry patches. 

The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane

This serum has just one ingredient — squalane. It feels lightweight on the skin but still delivers a lot of hydration, plus it’s affordable, says Garshick, who notes you can just pat a few drops onto a clean face before using your go-to moisturizer. You can also use this solution on your nails or hair if you notice dryness in those areas, says Garshick. 

Laneige Water Sleeping Mask

After your evening skincare routine, apply this overnight mask and go to bed. Squalane is the hero ingredient in this formula, so you’ll wake up with hydrated skin, says Camp. There’s no need to wash it off in the morning — just apply your daily moisturizer and SPF and you’re good to go. It also absorbs quickly so it doesn’t rub off on your pillow, according to Camp. To keep your skin moisturized, you can use this once or twice a week, according to the brand. 

Indeed Labs Squalane Lightweight Facial Oil

Similar to The Ordinary serum, this face oil is solely made of squalane. While some people fear that using a facial oil will cause breakouts, Garshick says she has not experienced any while using  this formula. A little goes a long way — you just need a drop or two to moisturize your entire face, according to the brand. 

Squalene versus squalane

Before shopping for beauty products that contain squalene, our experts recommend arming yourself with a few key pieces of information. 

Opt for squalane over squalene

Squalene is naturally produced by your body (by the sebaceous glands specifically) and helps keep your skin lubricated and moisturized. Squalene is also found in certain plants. Squalane, on the other hand, can also be found in plants, and is commonly derived from squalene by adding hydrogen. Squalane is more stable and, therefore, easier to make skin care products with, says Garshick. Most squalane that is used in beauty products is sourced from plants like olive trees, sugar cane and rice bran.

Squalane, like squalene, is an emollient. “It can smooth small cracks and crevices that can make skin feel rough in texture,” says Camp. Along with softening and smoothing, it can help calm and soothe redness and irritation, says Garshick. 

It’s suitable for most skin types

“Squalane is safe for most skin types. It can help hydrate dry skin or can help to balance sebum production for those with acne prone skin, says Camp. It is also safe to use while pregnant, adds Garshick. 

Given that squalane can soothe inflammation and address redness, it is generally considered  helpful for those with sensitive skin. Still, it’s a good idea to check with your dermatologist before using something new. Our experts also recommend incorporating any new ingredients to your skin care routine, slowly — especially when you have sensitive skin.  

If you have super oily skin, squalene-rich products may not be right for you. That’s because when you have oily skin, you may not need as much additional moisture as squalane delivers, says Garshick. 

It works well with other ingredients 

Beauty brands will often pair squalane with other ingredients to improve tolerability of any harsh ingredients, says Garshick. “Because it is both hydrating and soothing, it couples particularly well with ingredients that have the potential to cause dryness or irritation, such as retinols,” says Camp. Retinol, a form of vitamin A, increases cell production. This can help unclog pores, exfoliate skin and boost collagen production, though it can be irritating and may also dry skin out. Squalane can counteract this, according to Camp. 

Meet our experts

At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and without undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.

  • Dr. Marisa Garshick is a board-certified dermatologist in New York City and clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Cornell
  • Dr. Brendan Camp is board-certified dermatologist at MDCS Dermatology in New York City

Why trust Select?

Bethany Heitman is a contributor at NBC Select and a journalist who regularly covers topics like beauty, home and lifestyle. For this story, she interviewed two board-certified dermatologists to gather their guidance on what to look for when shopping for beauty products with squalene.

Catch up on Select’s in-depth coverage of personal finance, tech and tools, wellness and more, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and TikTok to stay up to date.


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