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What is Squalane Oil?

By Tracy Ahrens
Updated May 21, 2024
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Squalane oil is a naturally derived oil that is a common addition to cosmetics and certain dietary supplements. It is made from squalene, which is an organic compound created by most living organisms. Some of the highest concentrations are found in shark livers, but many plants and fruits also contain it; humans make it, too, but usually only in small concentrations. Squalane oil forms when squalene is saturated, or soaked in water such that water penetrates the cell walls. Scientifically speaking, it has been hydrogenated, and its chemical structure is accordingly a little bit different. In oil form it’s a dense moisturizer that can help the skin and hair hold water in, and these properties make it popular as an addition to lotions, makeup products, and various other cosmetics. There is some research suggesting that the oil can also boost the body’s immunity to illness and disease, and people sometimes ingest it as a dietary supplement to reap these benefits.

Relationship to Squalene

Researchers first discovered squalene, which is the precursor to squalane oil, while studying sharks in the wild. Certain species of sharks appear to be naturally resistant to many diseases, and scientists wanted to know why; what they found was that shark livers contained disproportionately high concentrations of this compound, which many believe has lent them a special form of protection.

Squalene carries the chemical formula C30H50. Outside of the protective world of the liver it is prone to oxidation, which is a chemical change caused by exposure to oxygen, and this can make it less potent. Researchers have found, though, that saturating the compound and breaking one or more of the hydrogen bonds can make it much more stable. The resulting product is usually known as squalane. It is more stable, but in most cases is just as potent and has the same core properties.

Where It’s Found

Most carbon-based life forms secrete squalene in some form. Shark livers typically have some of the highest concentrations, but accessing these stores isn’t usually easy. Many plants, including olives and avocados, have high natural concentrations, too, and rice bran, wheat germ, and some vegetable oils contain it as well.

Researchers have also found squalene in human sebum, an oily secretion of skin glands. It keeps hair flexible and helps retain moisture on the skin surface. It has also been found in ovarian cysts, as well as in the fleshy covering that protects fetuses in utero; many scholars thing it could play a role in embryo development. The amount of squalene in the body typically begins to decline when people reach their 20s, usually as a part of the aging process. People often take oil supplements beginning in middle age in order to boost their natural supplies and help improve immune function.

Cosmetic Uses

One of the most common uses for this oil is in cosmetics. It is light, colorless, and odorless, and can almost immediately improve skin softness and smoothness without feeling heavy or greasy. It’s usually suitable for all skin types, and regular use is said to help fade fine wrinkles, prevent skin pigmentation, lighten freckles, and improve skin texture. It may be able to relieve eczema and some researchers have also speculated that it can regenerate skin cells.

Immune System Benefits

The oil is high in natural antioxidants, which are molecular structures that can block the formation and growth of free radicals in the body. Among other things, free radicals can break down body cells and cause premature aging, organ damage, disease, and some cancers. Squalene is also said to increase the amount of oxygen that is transported by the blood to other cells in the body. In its hydrogenated oil form it is reported to be able to boost the immune system, which can help people recover from illnesses faster — and may prevent infection entirely in some cases. Certain carcinogens may also be neutralized when they are exposed to the compound, though this usually only happens over months or years of continuous use.

Risks and Precautions

Though the reported benefits of using this oil are at times profound, it isn’t always safe for everyone or for any use. Simply being “all natural” doesn’t automatically equate to “entirely safe”; a lot depends on an individual’s circumstances and specific goals. Anyone thinking of using the oil either on their skin or as a dietary supplement is usually encouraged to discuss the risks and possible benefits with a qualified health care provider. As always, use should be stopped at the first sign of an adverse reaction.

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Discussion Comments

By anon284732 — On Aug 11, 2012

How about amaranth seed oil? It contains more then8% squalene.

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