If you've ever wondered what differentiates squalene vs. squalane, you're not alone. In the world of skin care, product labels and ingredient lists can be a source of confusion; ingredient names are often long and scientific-sounding, and these long lists can be hard to scan.

Some skin care ingredients go by multiple names, such as hyaluronic acid, which also goes by sodium hyaluronate, while some ingredients are lumped together, such as antioxidants, peptides, and amino acids. And like squalene and squalane, ingredients are often used interchangeably due to their similar spellings.

When you consider the benefits of squalene and squalane, it may be worth the extra effort to understand the similarities and differences between the two. Both are effective moisturizers, but they have different sources. Here is how to distinguish between the two and decide which one to add to your skin care routine.

What Is Squalene?

Squalene is an unsaturated oil compound often used in skin care products geared toward moisturizing the skin. It is a natural lipid found in many animals and plants, including the sebum in human skin.

Seeing as it's found naturally in the skin and decreases with age, it's easy to understand why squalene is a beneficial addition to your skin care regimen. Because it's an emollient, it moisturizes the skin and also has antioxidant and regenerative properties. It's found in fish oils and foods like olives, wheat germ oil, rice bran oil, and yeast, though in smaller amounts.

However, there are some ethical concerns surrounding the sources of squalene for cosmetics. According to the Journal of the American College of Toxicology, squalene is commonly harvested from shark liver oil. Due to the concern and pushback, if you find squalene on an ingredient list these days, it's most likely plant-derived.

What Is Squalane?

Squalane is the saturated form of squalene, so the two ingredients are very similar. Squalene that undergoes the hydrogenation process becomes squalane, making it a more shelf-stable—and ultimately more effective—product.

Squalane is also highly moisturizing. It's often used in anti-aging skin care products because it helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and softens dry skin. As a natural antioxidant, it also fights off free radicals.

While some believe that squalane is the plant-based form of squalene, this isn't entirely true; squalane can sometimes come from shark sources just like squalene. If sustainable skin care is important to you, be sure to use products that specify the squalane is plant-derived, like EltaMD's Skin Recovery Light Moisturizer.

How to Use Squalene or Squalane Every Day

Your skin's natural squalene production declines as you age, so supplementing that loss with a topical skin care product is important to maintain your skin's moisture. Squalane products are a great option, as it is a safe ingredient to use in cosmetics and is generally well-tolerated in most skin types. Though it's usually considered an ingredient for dry skin, people with oily skin can use and benefit from squalane products, too.

As a lipid, squalane is most effective when used in the final steps of your skin care routine, like any oil-based product. So, look for moisturizers or sunscreens that contain squalane, and be sure to apply your other skin care products, such as toners and serums, first.

When comparing squalene vs. squalane, it's clear that squalane is the winner due to its many benefits. Squalane is becoming increasingly more common in the beauty industry. It's a skin-friendly, shelf-stable, and generally ethical and sustainable choice that you'll be happy to apply to your skin every single day.


  • Lacey Muinos

    Lacey is a Southern California-based freelance writer who combines her passions—fitness, health, and a vegan lifestyle—with her work to help readers feel and be their best. Her work has been featured in Healthline, Livestrong, Verywell Fit, Eat This Not That, KinderBeauty, and more.

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