Ingredient Review: Squalane vs Squalene

Bay shark du du du du, baby shark du du du du du………

I’ve been sick as all get up during the holidays. It’s currently sleeting and freezing rain and just gross. So I’ve been catching up on my beauty community tea. Kuckian cosmetics……. oh honey. It’s absolutely ridiculous. So many videos and so much tea its amazing. One of the things that got mentioned in a video by @BeauTea With Ashlee were some comments and tweets by John Kuckian regarding squalane and squalene. Although it’s pretty clear John Kuckian had no idea what he was talking about with squalane and squalene after he tried to defend it in his eye care products but neither did a lot of the drama channels or twitter. There was a lot of misinformation and just straight incorrect information being spread around as fact. So let’s debunk this entire myth one of which, is it’s not banned by the FDA.

The cartoon of squalEne. The double lines means a double bond. It’s only made up of Carbon and Hydrogen atoms. Each line represents a Carbon atom bonded to another Carbon atom. Organic chemistry aside, it’s a pretty simple and clean chemical. The -ene part of it’s name denotes the presence of double bonds.

Squalene is a natural ingredient found in shark liver (baby shark, du du du du) and human sebum (human oils). If you’re a vegan you’re going to want to stay clear of squalENE if it’s shark liver-derived, more on that later. This is where a lot of the bad juju comes with squalene. Somewhere there is this idea that ALL squalane is shark liver-derived, yes squalAne. By the most recent statistics, only about 60% is derived from sharks. There is recreational shark fishing, if you haven’t had shark meat and want to try it, it’s very tender meat. I’m sure there are areas where the liver of these sharks are being harvested and the squalene extracted. I’m a firm believer in if you’re going to hunt, use all usable parts of the animal. As a previous vegetarian, I also want to see hunting taking place responsibly and see people get their full amount of fruits and vegetables every day.

Yup, these sharks.

Photo by on
Skeletal formula of squalane
The cartoon of squlAne. Like squalene it is only made of carbon and hydrogen atoms. This compound is hydrogenated squalene (hydrogen has been added) forcing the double bonds to become single bonds.

Squalane is the hydrogenated form of squalene. Since it’s a saturated fatty acid it doesn’t oxidize as quickly. It’s much more commonly found in plants. Squalane is also a biproduct of fermentation of sugarcane juice.

Uses of squalene/squalane: There’s a new skin gun that uses stem cells suspended in a squalene solution which helps burn victims heal faster with fewer complications including scar tissue.

The FDA has approved the use of squalene as a preservative in a specific vaccine. I do mean specific too. ONLY the H5N1 flu vaccine (aka ‘avian’ or bird flu) and the H1N1 vaccine (aka pandemic flu). It’s part of the AS03 adjuvant produced by GlaxoSmithKline. If you had a seasonal flu it was likely produced by GSK, and DOES NOT CONTAIN squalene. They don’t use AS03 as their adjuvant. As far as I can tell, it’s not even available commercially. The US government does stockpike the H5N1 vaccine and H1N1 vaccines that contain AS03 in case the need arises due to an outbreak of those flu viruses.

Biossance has an entire line of squalane containing products. But squalane isn’t uncommon in skincare at all. Many products from sheet masks to moisturizers, foundations, even mascara contain squalane/-ene. In skincare, it’s used as an emollient. Emollients soften, smooth, and moisturize the skin.

If you watch the video they talk about deriving squalane from sugarcane. This isn’t the entire story of this method, there’s a bit more to it. A yeast ferments sugar cane juice then the yeast is extracted. What’s left is called filtrate (the yeast is filtered off – hence filtrate). After further refinement, you’re left with between 92-94% pure squalane. Shark liver is 99% squalene after it’s been refined. For the science community click here for a better breakdown of the full process to derive squalane from sugar cane. Biossance does not own that patent as best as I can tell unless they bought the lab that developed it, which is always possible as well.

Sources: there are currently lots of sources available for squalane and squalene. There are plant and animal sources widely available. The difference is concentration and pureness of the squalane/-ene. There was a synthetic form of squalene synthesized using a GMO yeast strain but that project was shelved when DowAgroSciences purchased the company that had been working on it. It was shelved because it only made 2-4% squalene and it wasn’t profitable by a long shot, remember natural sources produce over 90%.

Squalane and squalene are considered safe in cosmetics based on current use and practices (Elder, 1982 as cited in the International Jour. of Toxicology, 2001; roundabout way of saying the 1982 study was found to still be valid during the 2001 reassessment). From testing, squalane and squalene did not behave differently as an emulsion but that was only as an adjuvant not to be used directly for skincare. Adjuvants are what we add to help products penetrate better, faster dry down, etc. They are not supposed to have a direct benefit to skincare although some can clog pores like silicones and dimethicones.

If you are vegan and wish to avoid animal sources of squalane, buy products that specifically say plant source of the squalane. Herbivore does a good job of this across it’s products.
Here is the ingredients list for the Lapis Balancing Face Oil:
Amaranthus Squalane Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Capric Triglycerides (Fractionated Coconut Oil), Aleurites Moluccana (Kukui) Nut Oil, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Tanacetum Annuum (Blue Tansy) Leaf Oil, Jasminum Sambac (Jasmine) Absolute, Rosa Damascena (Moroccan Rose) Absolute.

And the ingredients list for their Orchid Youth-Preserving Face Oil:
Capric Triglycerides (Fractionated Coconut Oil), Cymbidium Grandiflorum (Orchid) Flower Extract, Camellia Oleifera (Camellia) Seed Oil, Simmondsia Chinensis (Jojoba) Seed Oil, Amaranthus Squalane Oil, Tocopherol (Vitamin E), Jasminum Sambac (Jasmine) Extract.

Both mention their plant source as amaranth.

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