If you’ve ever lazily scanned the ingredients list on your go-to Kiehl’s products while in the shower, you may have noticed that many of your favorites feature a shared ingredient: Squalane. This Kiehl’s staple is one of our most-used ingredients and features prominently in our collections for dry skin. But squalane isn’t just a moisturizer: It’s a unique, plant-derived substance with numerous benefits for all skin types.
Ahead, we’re sharing the skincare secrets of squalane. You’ll learn once and for all what squalane is, where it comes from, and why we’re so enamored with it. We’ll also break down the difference between squalane and squalene (nope, not the same) and offer recommendations on the best squalane products to add to your skincare arsenal. Read on for your complete guide to squalane—or, as we like to call it, your new favorite skincare ingredient.
First Up: What Is Squalene?
Before we get into the benefits of squalane, you need to understand what squalene is—it can get a bit confusing, so bear with us. Squalene is a lipid substance derived from both plant and animal fats. It is also a primary component of the skin’s natural moisture barrier, constituting around 13 percent of the makeup of sebum. It is synthesized by the body, but more than half of the squalene in our bodies comes from food sources (yet another reason to maintain a healthy, balanced diet).
Chemically, squalene is classified as a polyunsaturated fat, like sunflower oil. It was first isolated from shark liver oil, which is the richest natural source of squalene. These days, it is often sourced from lipid-rich plants, like olives and amaranth. Squalene is also a precursor to squalane, which is often added to skincare formulations for its emollient properties.
Squalane vs. Squalene: What’s The Difference?
Biological squalene (with an “e”) is highly reactive and prone to oxidation—in other words, it quickly goes rancid when exposed to oxygen. In order to be added to skincare products, squalene needs to be converted into squalane (with an “a”), a more stable and less reactive version of the molecule. Though squalane is an oil, it absorbs into the skin easily without a heavy or greasy feel. It’s also non-comedogenic, making it a suitable skincare oil even for those with oily or acne-prone skin.
In our formulations, we use plant-derived squalane sourced from sugar cane. It’s one of the primary ingredients in our cult-classic Ultra Facial Cleanser. In addition to squalane, this iconic formula contains emollient avocado oil and crushed apricot kernels. Together, these ingredients thoroughly cleanse the skin without stripping or over-drying the skin barrier. The pH-balanced formula is mild enough for all skin types and can be used daily for fresher, balanced-looking skin.
You’ll also find squalane in Ultra Facial Toner. This gentle, alcohol-free toner helps remove impurities left behind after cleansing while preparing skin for the rest of your skincare routine. Like the cleanser, this hydrating formula is pH-balanced and suitable for all skin types, including sensitive skin. Use it after cleansing to refine and tone skin.
4 Benefits Of Squalane For Skin
Squalane is a lightweight emollient with numerous benefits when used topically in skincare formulations. Read on to learn more about the primary benefits of squalane for skincare and how to use this staple ingredient in your routine for healthier-looking skin.
Squalane Benefit #1:
Squalane Helps Keep Skin Hydrated
As a constituent of the skin’s natural moisture barrier, squalene is closely involved with maintaining barrier hydration and function. In case you need a quick refresher: The skin barrier is what protects your skin from environmental stressors, like pollution and UV radiation. It’s also responsible for transporting nutrients, including antioxidants and water, to the skin. However, research shows that our body’s natural squalene production diminishes with age, resulting in drier, duller-looking skin.I Using topical squalane in your skincare routine helps reduce this natural moisture loss to keep skin hydrated.
For daily hydration, reach for the cult-classic Ultra Facial Cream. This iconic moisturizer is formulated with sugar-derived squalane and glacial glycoprotein to balance skin with lasting, 72-hour hydration. The lightweight formula absorbs into the skin easily, balancing dry areas with rich yet non-greasy moisture. It’s suitable for all skin types, including acne-prone skin, and can be used morning and night for softer, visibly healthier skin.
For an even more intensive dose of moisture, try Ultra Facial Overnight Hydrating Mask. This hydration-boosting mask contains squalane and glacial glycoprotein that work in tandem to lock in the moisture overnight and strengthens skin’s moisture barrier to treat dryness, tightness, and flaky skin. It’s suitable for all skin types and works while you sleep for hydrated, healthy-looking skin by morning.
Squalane Benefit #2:
It’s a Powerful Emollient
There are three different types of moisturizers: Humectants (like hyaluronic acid), occlusives (like petroleum), and emollients (like olive oil). Squalane falls in the latter camp. As an emollient, it helps moisturize and repair dry, rough skin to improve skin texture and appearance. Emollients also help improve skin flexibility and suppleness for smoother, more radiant-looking skin.
Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil
To help promote softer-looking skin, add Midnight Recovery Botanical Cleansing Oil to your skincare rotation. This luxurious oil cleanser contains squalane, lavender essential oil, and evening primrose oil to melt away dirt, oil, and even waterproof makeup. Apply a few pumps to dry skin and massage it over your face, including anywhere you’re wearing makeup. Then, add warm water to emulsify the rich formula. The silky lather will dissolve impurities, leaving skin soft, supple, and clean.
For dry lips, try the fan-favorite Lip Balm #1 (a Kiehl’s staple for nearly 60 years). This rich, hydrating lip balm contains squalane, lanolin, and soothing aloe vera to nourish cracked, chapped lips. In addition to the classic unscented balm, we offer three lightly scented versions: a refreshing mint-infused balm, a juicy mango flavor, and a tangy cranberry-scented variety.
Squalane Benefit #3:
Squalane Has Antioxidant Properties
As we mentioned earlier, endogenous squalene—that is, the squalene your body naturally produces—is closely involved in maintaining the skin barrier’s health. One of its most important roles is defending the body from environmental aggressors, like pollution and sun exposure. When added to skincare formulations, stabilized squalane helps neutralize damaging free radicals to keep the skin strong and healthy-looking.
These potent antioxidant properties make squalane a popular ingredient in anti-aging serums and oils, such as our best-selling Daily Reviving Concentrate. This powerful antioxidant face oil contains squalane, ginger root essential oil, and tamanu oil to help protect skin free radicals. The lightweight, layerable formula is non-comedogenic and suitable for all skin types, including blemish-prone skin. Smooth a few drops of this unique oil over clean skin in the morning before applying moisturizer for a fresher, more radiant appearance.
At night, reach instead for the top-rated Midnight Recovery Concentrate. This luxurious, subtly lavender-scented oil is formulated with squalane and evening primrose oil to nourish and refine tired-looking skin. The ultra-hydrating formula replenishes skin while you sleep for a smoother, more radiant appearance. With consistent use, it also helps firm the skin and visibly diminish fine lines. This best-selling formula is suitable for all skin types and can be used nightly for smoother, younger-looking skin by morning.
Kiehl’s Expert Tip: For a little extra pampering, use a skincare tool to work your face oil in, or spend five minutes giving yourself a deep facial massage.
Squalane Benefit #4:
It May Help Prevent Some Signs Of Aging
Oxidative stress is one of the primary factors responsible for visible skin aging (in fact, studies show that chronic sun exposure accounts for up to 80 percent of skin aging—sunscreen, folks!).II Incorporating antioxidant-rich products into your skincare routine can help neutralize the effects of free radicals and limit the amount of stress they exert on the skin. Ultimately, this can help keep your skin looking younger for longer.