What is: Squalane, and why do you need it in your skincare?

Last week I drove over Auckland’s now-infamous Harbour Bridge to Albany, for a visit with the amazing Dr. Teresa Cattin at her clinic, FaceWorks. Teresa is a fountain of information when it comes to all things skin, be it related to injectables, ingredients or product formulation. Her FaceWorks skincare line has multitudes of loyal fans, and I love picking her brain about buzz ingredients to see if they are really worth the hype. This time I quizzed her all about squalene, which is all over the beauty media and socials with very good reason.
First things first: skin. The outer layers of skin (epidermis) act as a barrier to the world, and the outermost layer is the stratum corneum. Teresa tells me you can think of the stratum corneum like “bricks and mortar”, with lipids (ceramides and fatty acids) between the cells maintaining it as a strong healthy barrier. It’s important for your skin’s health that this barrier is looked after and kept healthy, as when the moisture content of this stratum corneum layer is less than 10 per cent there is a loss of continuity of the stratum corneum, its unable to function properly and the skin will appear dry and dull. Hands up all those whose skin is feeling like that after winter? Definitely me, and it is high time I did something about it.
This is where a good moisturiser comes in, and these are either emollients or humectants. Emollients work by sinking into the spaces between the skin cells of the stratum corneum, helping to replace lipids or fats, and they are essentially oils that may be derived from plants, minerals or animals. An emollient such as squalene for example, that sinks in between “bricks” and keeps the “mortar” hydrated and healthy.
Quite the marvel, squalane is a multitasking moisturiser that leaves skin hydrated and visibly plumped, while minimising the signs of redness and irritation. More hydrating than many other oils, squalane also mimics your skin’s own moisture, making it a brilliant hydrator for most types, but in particular sensitive. Oh and yes, it is found in high amounts in shark liver, but thankfully most major companies have shifted away from using shark-derived squalane and it’s unlikely you’ll find it on the market in New Zealand.
Squalane can be derived from various plants (olives, rice, amaranth seeds, sugar cane) using a wide number of techniques. Teresa impresses upon me that this means not all sources of squalane are equal. In fact, the quality can vary significantly, and not all are effective as moisturisers.
Good quality squalane will be rapidly and completely absorbed. If it leaves an oily residue it suggests it is of poor quality, with a particle size too large to be absorbed between the stratum corneum cells. So, while it may feel smooth and silky on the skin, it’s not actually doing anything, much. It’s just occluding the skin and may then lead to breakouts or milia.

FaceWorks Moisture Serum, Squalane Oil and Green Tea Eye Serum all contain squalane derived from the pits of Spanish olives. It comes from Almeria in Southern Spain, where the squalene is removed from the olive oil during the final stage of the distillation process then converted to squalane to stabilise it. It is preservative-free and fragrance-free and of extremely high quality, hence it is completely absorbed into the skin and leaves no residue. Being of very high purity only a very small amount is needed - a pea sized amount is enough the whole face, and having used FaceWorks’ pure oil when my rosacea was having a flare I can attest to the fact that it is extremely powerful and yep, a little goes a long way.

Tata Harper’s Beautifying Face Oil is another squalene-containing favourite, using powerful natural antioxidants like Sacha Inchi Seed Oil, Alfalfa, Camellia Oil and squalane to help fight the visible effects of free radicals that can diminish your glow. It also provides a natural source of vitamin B for a radiant, healthy-looking complexion, and maintains skin hydration to keep your skin soft and supple.

If you’re looking for a cleanser containing squalane, I can’t recommend The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser enough. A hydrating, squalane based gel-to-oil cleanser for all skin types, including sensitive, it was reportedly inspired by the efficacy of oil cleansers and uses a blend of squalane and skin-similar esters for a gentler, more smoothing effect, especially compared to your average cleanser.

Main image by Romina Farías on Unsplash


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