Here’s Exactly How to Pair Squalene with Retinol
Main Image – Julia/Adobe
Among the *huge* array of ingredients that grace the labels of serums and creams, two stand out prominently: retinol and squalene.
Retinol, a tried-and-tested anti-ageing powerhouse, has gained its reputation as the gold standard in skin rejuvenation.
Squalene, a natural lipid with moisturising and antioxidant properties, has found its place in the spotlight for its remarkable hydrating abilities.
But can these two disparate elements work together when integrated into a single skincare routine?
This article will delve into the world of cellular turnover, hydration retention, and the delicate balance between potency and gentleness, join us in uncovering the potential benefits (and ways) of incorporating squalene into your post-retinol skincare ritual.
Through expert insights from board certified Dermatologist, CEO and Founder of Inner Glow vitamins, Noreen Galaria, MD FAAD, we aim to navigate the maze that is using retinol with squalene, the difference between squalene and squalane, and using squalane with other actives to make your skin really GLOW.
First off, what *exactly* is squalene oil, and how is it different from its similar counterpart – squalane oil?
Let’s get a better understanding of squalane.
What is squalene oil?
Dr Galaria tells us, “Squalene is found in the skin but when used in the form of a moisturiser it has to be hydrogenated to make it shelf stable. Once the molecule has been hydrogenated from an unsaturated to a saturated oil it is known as Squalane.”
Cleveland Clinic describes squalane as “a saturated oil that’s used in skin care products as a moisturizer” that “helps increase hydration, and thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties, can help with acne and eczema.”
Confused? Ok, so, squalane is the hydrogenated version of squalene. That means it’s much more stable than squalene is, since it doesn’t oxidise when exposed to the air. Squalane is the byproduct of squalene that’s found in cosmetics products such as face creams, oils, and serums.
How is squalene different to squalane?
Squalane and Squalene are two similar ingredients, however, those teeny vowels make a huge difference when it comes to efficacy and stability.
Squalene (with an e) is naturally produced in the body by the sebaceous (oil) glands. This naturally-produced sebum is actually made up of wax esters, triglycerides, and squalene, and helps to keep the skin moisturised and hydrated.
Unfortunately, as we age past 30, the natural production of squalene slows rapidly. And although we wish we could bottle it up and use it forever in a Death Becomes Her type scenario, squalene in its natural state isn’t very stable.
So, for skin purposes, it goes through a saturation process (hydrogenation) and becomes squalane (with an a).
Still with us? Cool!
This hydrogenation process is necessary since squalene oxidises when exposed to air, losing all of its benefits. In other words, squalane is more shelf-stable, which is why it’s added to tons of moisturisers, serums, creams and oils.
Lightweight and non-greasy, squalane oil is really great for moisturising and works with other antioxidants in the skin to neutralise damaging oxygen molecules generated when the skin is exposed to UV light.
It’s great for older skin since “over the years our oil production gradually decreases.”
And, while many with acne-prone skin tend to shy away from oils and serums, squalane is *actually* perfect for reducing pores and blockages while providing deep moisture without just sitting on the top layer of the skin. This makes it great even for oily skin types.
Dr Galaria says, “I always tell my older patients, remember when your face was oily and shiny all the time but it’s not like that anymore? That’s because your natural oil production has decreased,” meaning a product like squalane could work wonders to add much-needed hydration to tired, over-exposed skin.
Squalene is naturally derived from shark liver – yep, that gorgeous creature in the ocean – and sharks used to be the most common source of this oil. However, ethical concerns have caused many companies to move from using shark-derived squalene (thank. god.)
Like my trusty – and super-affordable – The Ordinary Squalane Serum (£8.90/$10.00 on The Ordinary website), most skincare products now contain plant-derived squalane which comes from olives, rice bran, amaranth seed, wheat germ, or even sugar cane.
It’s worth mentioning that squalane can even be used on your hair, leaving it softer and shinier, protecting it from further damage – double whammy!
*Just FYI, for the rest of this article, we will be referring to squalane rather than squalene.*
What does retinol do?
Retinol is known as somewhat of a skincare superhero, with professional derms and high-street brands alike adding it to their skincare ranges and eye creams. But, what is it?
Retinol is derived from Vitamin A – a fat-soluble nutrient essential for maintaining healthy vision, skin, and immune function. In skincare, retinol is used for its amazing anti-ageing properties, working by stimulating collagen production, promoting skin cell turnover, and reducing the appearance of age spots, fine lines, and wrinkles.
Sounds good, right?
By helping to neutralise free radicals in the middle layer of your skin, retinol also works to unclog pores and can be a great addition to your skincare routine if you are trying to manage acne. By encouraging the shedding of old skin cells and promoting the growth of new ones, retinol leads to smoother, more youthful-looking skin over time.
Although retinol is great, it’s really important to wear SPF every day when using retinoids and actives as they can make skin more sensitive to the sun.
And, the world of retinol products is still advancing, with newer retinoid technologies emerging all the time.
So, say goodbye to ageing, acne-prone skin, and hello to a radiant, glowing appearance (ok so this isn’t a miracle product, but it *is* extremely effective.)
Can I use squalane oil after retinol?
“Yes you can,” says Dr Galaria, “And if your skin is really dry or sensitive, you can even apply squalane before applying retinol.”
Using squalane before retinol can reduce irritation, and you can even add it to your fave moisturiser!
“Retinol isn’t in squalane. But the two ingredients can be used together or may both be found in a single skin care product,” says Cleveland Clinic. Personally, I use The Ordinary’s Squalane with 0.5% retinol and find it does wonders for my skin and blocked pores!
Squalane is non-comedogenic so it’s suitable for all skin types. This superstar ingredient is especially great for older skin, skin that is prone to dryness and irritation, as well as those with sensitive skin.
Oils can sometimes sit on the skin without fully absorbing, so it’s a good idea to layer products appropriately, especially those that contain actives (more on that next!)
Can I use squalane with other actives?
As mentioned earlier, squalane, “Is often combined in moisturisers because it is a super hydrating ingredient. You can find it mixed in moisturisers in brands like Biossance and Youth to the People and you can also mix a few drops into your own moisturiser,” says Dr Galaria.
And what about acids and other actives? Dr Galaria says that you can pair squalane with hyaluronic acid, however, “it is best if hyaluronic acid is applied first though for the best absorption.”
The same can be said for AHAs (alpha hydroxy acids) like glycolic acid, Dr Galaria tells us that she “would apply the glycolic acid first then add a squalane moisturiser.”
And if you’re looking for products to resurface the skin as well as adding hydration, lactic acid and squalane is *literally* the perfect pairing.
Since squalane isn’t a reactive ingredient, it will typically work well with other products and it’s often added to other skincare concoctions. Simply use a few drops daily for super-hydrated skin.
Basically, Squalane really is a wonder product.
Naturally produced by the skin but decreasing as we age, we can replace our dwindling squalene with its plant-derived friend – squalane.
A miracle worker on age spots, acne, fine lines and wrinkles, squalane is non-reactive and can be used on its own or added to moisturisers, as well as paired with your fave actives like glycolic and hyaluronic.
It’s gentle enough to be used on acne-prone and irritated skin, even marrying well with products that contain harsh chemicals like benzoyl peroxide and AHAs, as well as being the perfect moisturiser to use after chemical peels.
And squalane with retinol? This is the *ideal* couple to tackle the effects of ageing, sealing in moisture, improving skin texture and skin tone, and calming red and irritated skin.
However, make sure you are careful with the percentage of retinol you use to avoid any unwanted side effects (start small, guys, and possibly try granactive retinoid before more concentrated retinols) as well as being religious with your daily SPF application – but you’re already doing this anyway, right?
Meet the expert
Noreen Galaria, MD FAAD is a board-certified Dermatologist with a laser and cosmetic fellowship and has been practising for over 20 years.
After spending time as an academic dermatologist, training residents, doing research and publishing papers, Dr Galaria moved into private practice 13 years ago and opened 3 offices outside of the DC area. She is also the CEO and Founder of Inner Glow Vitamins, a dermatologist and plastic surgeon-developed brand of skin nutraceuticals.