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But, honestly, wtf is it?

By Susan Brickell
November 13, 2018

You may have stumbled across the word "squalane" while scanning the ingredient list on a new skincare product, or maybe you caught wind of the buzzy term from some girlfriends over brunch. The bottom line? Squalene is something you should definitely know about, and you should consider adding products with squalane into your skincare routine. (You probably noticed a slight spelling change—that's because they're actually two different things.)

Squalene is a fatty molecule found in the skin that is highly versatile. "It maintains skin's moisture barrier and hydration, and is also an antioxidant that has anti-aging properties for neutralizing environmental damage," dermatologist Rachel Nazarian, MD, tells Health. The human body actually produces squalene (a part of our skin's own natural moisture), but the amount made and retained in skin starts to heavily decline in our 20s. Enter: topical products that contain squalane.

What exactly is the difference between squalane and squalene? For starters, squalene is incredibly unstable, goes bad quickly, and can clog pores. "Squalene itself is very reactive and becomes oxidized quickly, but when it is hydrogenated, it becomes squalane, a much more stable ingredient," explains New York City dermatologist Debra Jaliman, MD. Squalane essentially comes from squalene, and is the more optimized, skin-friendly version with a much longer shelf life.

The ingredient you most often see listed in beauty and skincare products is squalane. It traditionally came from the liver of sharks, says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. "However, cruelty-free and environmentally-friendly methods of extracting squalene from plant sources has become popular," he adds. In fact, cosmetic squalene can now even be derived from olives.

Not to be confused with hyaluronic acid (also found naturally in the skin), squalane actually plays quite nicely with this mega-hydrator. "Hyaluronic acid is a humectant that draws in and attracts water, while squalene is an emollient that seals in moisturize and minimizes moisture loss," says Dr. Nazarian. Apply your favorite skincare product with hyaluronic acid and follow up with layer of squalane for best results.

Also good? Squalane's molecular makeup is very similar to our own skin's cell membrane, which allows it to absorb rapidly, Dr. Jaliman says. It's super lightweight and has a non-greasy formula, making it safe for all skin types, including sensitive skin. It rarely causes acne or allergic reactions since it's naturally found in the body, Dr. Jaliman adds.

Ready to kick your skincare game up a notch? Below are dermatologist-approved products—from facial creams to hair oils to hand treatments—jam-packed with squalane, all under $100.

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