When it comes to skin care ingredients, there is a lot of confusion about squalene, squalane, and argan oil. The first two words are only differentiated by a single letter so it’s easy to understand the confusion there. But what exactly does argan oil have to do with any of this? And why is it important to know the differences between the three? Allow me to explain.
What is Squalene?
Squalene is a naturally occurring antioxidant found within our sebum (oil). In fact, our sebum is made up of about 12% squalene. Though it is fat-soluble and would considered oily to the untrained eye, it actually helps to keep our skin hydrated. The amount of squalene our bodies can produce and retain decreases over time—the most fruitful production of squalene happens in our teens—and by the time we’re 30 it is just about gone.
Other places it can be found is within shark liver oil and the name squalene is a derivative of the Latin word for shark ‘squaluus’. This is why shark liver oil was so common in cosmetics up until recently. You probably are not going to find any products with squalene in them today for a two primary reasons: 1) animal-derived ingredients are now considered a faux-pas and; 2) squalene is not at all stable and oxidizes way too quickly. Enter Squalane.
What is Squalane?
Squalane is the hydrogenated version of squalene. Because squalene is so unstable, it needs to be hydrogenated to be of use to us in our skin care products. It basically goes from unsaturated to saturated during this hydrogenation process.
Most squalane found today is derived from plant sources like olives*, rice bran, wheat germ, amaranth seeds, and sugar cane. The benefits of squalane are bountiful. It is a light, non-greasy hydrating emollient that works well for all skin types, restores elasticity to the skin, and contains some anti-bacterial properties in addition to its antioxidant properties. Depending on the brand making it, it can be synthesized to boost collagen production and increase cell renewal as well.
Squalane will always be what you see on your skin care product ingredient list.
What does Argan Oil Have to do with This?
So, you’ll note that I put a little asterisk above next to olives. Both olives (or olive oil) and argan oil are really high in squalene. These two are so rich in squalene that some brands love to tout olive oil or argan oil as “100% squalene” or “100% squalane”. That is a scam.
Remember that squalene itself tends to be unstable and will oxidize fast. You only want squalane in your skin care products, so the brands touting 100% squalene are wrong. Secondly, there are other ingredients in olive oil and argan oil besides squalene so it will never be exactly 100%. Lastly, the quality of the source for these two ingredients can differ greatly from one another. One form of argan oil may have exceptionally high squalene content while another may be middling or even low. And this quality can even differ from batch to batch.
Despite this, I do see quite a few brands still claiming an argan oil product is squalane. You will even find products that heavily market squalane only to find argan oil on the INCI list. This isn’t so bad because argan oil is rich in squalene content but it is confusing to the consumer. While it is not technically illegal, it is incredibly misleading.
I can’t say anything bad about squalane in skin care—it’s super beneficial! But I can warn you to be mindful of the products being marketed as squalane/squalene. Biossance is a Bay Area based skin care brand that has devoted a lot of time and research into their sugar cane derived squalane. I’ve personally used their Cleansing Oil and 100% Squalane Oil (which is actually squalane) and have had positive results.