23 Nov 2022

What is squalene and its health benefits?

authorWritten by AshleyOwen
If you’re no stranger to beauty products you’re likely to have come across squalene in various skincare and cosmetics products. But what is squalene and does it have health benefits for your skin?

What is squalene?

Squalene is a lipid, naturally produced by our skin cells, making up 13% of our sebum. For those of you that don’t know, sebum is the oily and slightly waxy substance found on our skin. It mixes with lipids to form a protective coating on our skin’s surface.

The general biological rule of thumb tends to be that as we age our bodies produce less of things we need. Squalene is no exception to the rule! Peak production of this natural moisturiser occurs throughout our teenage years, with production slowing between our 20’s and 30’s. As a result, our skin becomes drier and rougher as we age.

The ability of topical squalene to mimic the unique effects of our body’s natural functions is what makes squalene such a desirable ingredient. Fortunately, we can help to combat the natural ageing process by supplementing our body’s squalene supply from whole foods.(1)

What are the benefits of squalene for skin?

As previously mentioned, our skin contains squalene, more specifically in the outer layer. It plays a vital role in protecting us against UV radiation. Without enough squalene, UV rays induce significant inflammation in our skin. Let’s look at what the research says.

Researchers investigated if squalene could increase procollagen and decrease UV-induced DNA damage. 40 women over the age of 50 took squalene supplementation in low and high doses. The results indicated squalene to be effective at reducing cell death caused by UV radiation. Women who received lower dosage experienced reduced redness and improved collagen activity and those with higher dosage saw a reduction in wrinkles.(2)

A systematic review of studies regarding squalene over the course of 8 years also shows that it has anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce redness and swelling.(3) Because of these properties, squalene can soothe a range of inflammatory skin problems which include:

  • Eczema
  • Inflammatory acne
  • Psoriasis
  • Dermatitis
  • Rosacea

Dry skin is one of the main symptoms of the above skin conditions. Therefore, keeping your skin hydrated can boost your moisture level, thus reducing flare-ups and dry patches.

Squalene vs squalane

What is squalane? You've probably heard about squalane if you read the ingredients of some skincare products.

In its naturally occurring state squalene has a brief shelf life because it goes rancid when exposed to oxygen. Therefore, it's difficult to include it as an ingredient in beauty products.

Squalane, however, solves that problem. It’s a hydrogenated, more stable version of squalene. It simply means that it does not react to oxygen in the same way squalene does. In short, it offers the same moisturising properties and benefits for skin as squalene, but with a much greater shelf life.

You might be thinking that hydrogenation is bad for you, especially when it comes to food. However, this is not the case when it comes to skincare. It makes the oil softer, thinner, and more skin-friendly. In addition, all squalene must undergo hydrogenation to be a part of skincare products.

What are the benefits of squalene for health?

Outside of skin care, one of the benefits of squalene is its ability to help strengthen our body’s immune system through the activation of the white blood cells. Because of this, an adjuvant using squalene (Seqirus' proprietary MF59) is a part of influenza vaccines to help stimulate our human body's immune response through the production of memory cells.

Together with the production of anti-inflammatory cytokines, squalene also helps mediate tissue remodelling and repair through the recruitment of immune cells and production of anti-inflammatory signals.(4)

As a polyunsaturated fatty acid, squalene promotes cholesterol absorption in the body. In addition, polyunsaturated fats can improve HDL and LDL cholesterol levels, with the latter being a major cause of heart disease.(5) People who suffer from diabetes, may have higher levels of LDL, i.e. bad cholesterol, and lower levels of HDL, i.e. good cholesterol. Scientists investigated the effect of squalene consumption on cholesterol over a period of 84 days. The results were positive, with the research concluding that squalene decreased LDLs in diabetic patients.(6)

There’s also some research suggesting squalene can reduce the risk of cancer. Squalene is a natural antioxidant which may have antitumor properties, protecting our skin from carcinogens. It also helps fight skin damage and free radicals, which accelerate the ageing process. Although squalene appears to be critical in reducing oxidative damage to the skin, few human trials have been conducted to date to verify the role of squalene in cancer therapy.(7)

What are the sources of squalene?

You can find squalene in small quantities in the human body and from certain plants such as olives, sugar cane and amaranth seeds. However, the largest known quantities of squalene are available in the livers of deep-sea sharks.

This is unfortunate because sharks are essential when it comes to keeping the oceans healthy. As apex predators, sharks feed on animals below them in the food chain, thus helping to maintain balance in marine ecosystems.

The United Nations conducted research and released a report announcing that over 50 shark species are fished for the purpose of liver oil. Alarmingly, several of these appear on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List. The most desirable are deep-sea sharks, because their livers account for 20% of their body weight. These deep-sea sharks are at such a great risk of overfishing that scientists conclude that they should not be caught at all.(8)

Free Whale shark swimming under crystal clear water of ocean near surface under sunlights Stock Photo

Although the popularity of shark fin soup in Southeast Asia has historically been blamed for this number, Greenpeace noted, the overfishing of sharks is driven by a much larger international trade that’s after more than just the sharks’ fins, such as the cosmetics industry. In fact, cosmetics account for up to 90% of shark liver oil production worldwide and roughly 3,000 sharks are needed to produce 1 ton of squalane. To put this into perspective, this contributes to around 2.7 million deep sea shark deaths each year.

Fortunately, squalene can be plant-based. However, for many brands, traceability remains an issue, as they use vague and deceptive language to mask where their squalene comes from.

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