One question about natural ingredients that surfaces frequently in our online classroom is: “What is the difference between squalene and squalane”. They are both fantastic ingredients that are trending in the natural cosmetic industry and yet there is a lot of confusion among natural skincare formulators about how they relate to each other and what their roles are.
In this blog post, we delve into the science behind squalene and squalane to give you a comprehensive guide to their benefits and how to use them, as well as put these ingredients into action in a Natural Squalene and Squalane Booster for you to try out for yourself.
The scientific origins of squalene and squalane
Squalane is a saturated derivative of squalene and it is manufactured by hydrogenation. It first came to light in the early 1900s when a Dr Mitsumaro Tsjuiimoto discovered and isolated squalene from shark liver oil. Due to its chemical structure comprising multiple double bonds, squalene was considered too unstable for most practical uses until 1950 when Sebastien Sabetay had the idea of hydrogenating squalene to form squalane, which is a stable structure. Squalane then became a widely-used cosmetic ingredient.
Squalene was named after squalidae, a shark family from which it was first isolated and originally sourced for many years. Shark liver is considered the richest source of squalene, however it is also widely available in the plant kingdom where it can be found in olive, rice bran, amaranth, palm and wheatgerm oils among others. The difference between squalene and squalane, in brief, is that the latter is derived from the former but with the two names being just one vowel different, they are easy to confuse.
The chemical structures of squalene and squalane
Chemically speaking, squalene is an a triterpene with the formula C30 H50. It is a polyunsaturated lipid and part of the biosynthesis of phytosterol in plants and cholesterol in animals and humans.
Squalane is a fully-saturated hydrocarbon with the formula C30 H62 and obtained through saturation of the six isolated double bonds in squalene.
Functions and properties: the difference between squalene and squalane
Squalene is an intrinsic component of our body. Synthesised by the liver and secreted in large quantities by the sebaceous glands, it is one of the main components of skin surface lipids. It appears to be critical for reducing free radical oxidative damage to the skin, as such peroxidation due to exposure to UV light and other sources of oxidative damage.
Squalane, however, does not present antioxidant properties due to its chemical structure.
Research indicates that squalene peroxide, a result of oxidation of squalene on sebum due to exposure to oxygen and UV light, seems to be able to induce an inflammatory response and give rise to the formation of comedones (blackheads and whiteheads, for example), and play a role in acne, which is a multi-factorial skin condition. Squalene peroxide is not formed from squalane.
Both squalene and squalane have incredible emollient properties and are used in cosmetics to reduce trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL) or prevent moisture loss, and to restore the skin’s suppleness and flexibility.Do you know the difference between the skincare ingredients squalene and squalane? @formulabotanica has the ultimate guide to explain, plus a #squalane booster formulation to try. #naturalskincare #facialserum #formulateskincare Click To Tweet
Production of Squalene and Squalane
Although squalane has been used in cosmetics since the 1950s, it was at first mainly obtained from animal sources. Its production from sustainable and renewable alternatives in the last decades has contributed to the increase in squalane’s usage, especially in natural cosmetics.
Research continues up to today to try to facilitate squalane production, both in terms of improving or discarding the hydrogenation process.
Now, most plant squalane – also known as phytosqualane – is derived from squalene extracted and purified from olive oil refinery processing waste. This results in a product with a high squalene concentration. More recently, amaranth oil was found to have an average concentration of 4.2% of squalene, which is considerably higher when compared to many other grain or nut oils, and could be an interesting source of production of squalane.
Since the production of squalene and squalane from shark liver oil is cheaper and less complex, you may come across phytosqualane adulterated with squalane of animal origin. You will need to be scrupulous in determining the source materials of any squalane you buy as the INCI for both types of squalane is the same – Squalane. We recommend you always ask your supplier to confirm if the squalane you are buying is from botanical or animal sources. A laboratory exam called carbon isotope fingerprint (δ13Ct) is used at professional level to analyse squalene to determine if they came from animal or plant sources.
Formulation tips for squalene and squalane
As a natural cosmetics’ formulator, you can opt to use squalene-rich oils or you can add phytosqualane to your formulations. Both squalene and squalane are incredible emollients with great absorption rates. Isolated squalene can also be found as an ingredient, however, due to its high instability we recommend the use of squalane.
Like squalene, squalane is liposoluble and can be added to oil-based products or in the oil phase of emulsions for both skin and haircare. Squalane is colourless and odorless and it has great physical and chemical stability – high thermal stability and notable resistance to chemical oxidation. Squalane also has excellent compatibility with other ingredients.
Squalane offers a nice sensorial profile, with a light and silky feel, and it reduces the TEWL to restore healthy skin suppleness and flexibility without leaving an oily residue.
It has good skin biocompatibility and is non-irritant and you can use it up to a concentration of 0.5 to 100%.
Our Formula: Natural Squalene & Squalane Booster
As we saw, squalene is an important ingredient in keeping our skin hydrated and supple. In the human body, the concentration of squalene starts to decrease between ages 30 and 40, so we’ve formulated our natural squalene and squalane booster for use on maturer skin.
Here, we are creating a customisable formula that gives you the opportunity to create your own style of booster, according to the oils that you have available or to your preferences.
In the table below, we give some guidelines on the average squalene concentration of different oils along with their absorption rate:
|Oil||Ave. squalene concentration||Absorption rate|
|Rice bran oil||0.3%||Fast|
|Grape seed oil||0.01%||Fast – Medium|
|Hazelnut oil||0.03%||Fast – Medium|
|Peanut oil||0.03%||Fast – Medium|
|Amaranthus oil||4.2%||Fast – Medium|
|Olive oil||0.4%||Medium – Slow|
Oils with slower absorption rates stay longer on the top of the skin and will feel more nourishing, heavier and greasier. The faster the absorption rate, the lighter and dryer their feel.
Formulation & Guidelines
Use this framwork formulation and the information on the table above to create your own formula:
Combined plant oils: 79%
Vitamin E: 1%
Method of Manufacture:
1. In a beaker, weigh the oils you wish to use in your booster.
2. In two separate beakers weigh the squalane and the vitamin E. Add the squalane and the vitamin E to the first beaker homogenising the formula.
3. Decant your booster into a dark glass bottle with a dropper dispenser and apply a few drops to the face daily.
Other formulations using squalane
If you’ve enjoyed this formula and would like to experiment using squalane, why not try these formulation as well:
How to make a high-performance vitamin E serum (uses olive-derived squalane).
How to make an organic pressed serum
How to make an organic day facial oil (which uses a large amount – 10% – of olive-derived squalane).
We talk in this post about the thermal stability of squalene vs squalane. If this is a new concept to you, or you’d like to find out more about the behaviour and degradation of certain oils when exposed to heat, our chemist’s guide to checking plant oils for heat sensitivity can help you.
And finally, another formulation that is similarly easy to make and ideal to customise with oils to suit your preferences is our post on how to make an after-sun body oil.
Now it is your turn to enjoy giving your formulations a boost with squalane. We’d love to hear how you get on and also hear your reports on the benefits of using squalane in various formulations, so do drop us a comment below.
You can learn how to create amazing anhydrous skincare like facial oils, serums and balms in our Diploma in Organic Skincare Formulation and explore the ever-expanding world of high-performance actives in our Certificate in Anti-Ageing Skincare. Try out our sample class for a taste of our award-winning courses and what to expect as a Formula Botanica student.
Suggested suppliers of squalane:
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Eliziane is a Pharmacist and Biochemist, manages our Student Experience Team and provides technical advice for the ingredients research we undertake and provide. She loves bringing together the concepts of science, sustainability and organics. Read more about the Formula Botanica team.