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Have mature, sensitive or eczema-prone skin? You should be looking for this ingredient

One letter makes all the difference.
TODAY / Kara Birnbaum

Skin care shelves nowadays are filled to the brim with products plastered with buzzy ingredients. From ceramides to azelaic acid, it can be a daunting task trying to decipher what any of it actually means. But if you're regularly keeping tabs on new beauty drops, you might already recognize skin care’s latest buzzword: squalane.

If you’re rolling your eyes or releasing a deep sigh at the thought of having to do research on yet another ingredient (and whether or not it actually works), you can refrain this time around. Shop TODAY did the work for you and asked two dermatologists to break down everything there is to know about the latest ingredient in the skin care hot seat.

What is the difference between squalene and squalane?

Besides one letter, there is actually a difference between the two ingredients — and you may want to keep your eyes peeled for one version over the other in skin care products.

Board-certified dermatologists Dr. Jessica Labadie and Dr. Alison Ehrlich explained that squalene — with an ‘e’ and pronounced squay-lean — is a naturally occurring agent and a primary component of the sebum that naturally occurs in our body. Squalane — with an ‘a’ and pronounced squay-lane — is a hydrogenated version of squalene.

The process allows the ingredient to become more stable and suitable for ready-to-use cosmetics, Ehrlich told us. “If I saw it in the form with an ‘e’ in cosmetic products, I would be concerned to some degree that it has maybe gone through the process of oxidation and it is no longer the ‘active’ form. It would have a much shorter shelf life,” she said.

“That change in the biochemical structure allows it to be a little more shelf stable so it's a common ingredient in skin care products,” Labadie added.

What are the benefits of squalane?

Our bodies experience a lot of changes as we age, one of which is less sebum excretion (which means less squalane excretion), Ehrlich said. She went on to explain that squalane falls under an emollient classification, which means its main function is to hydrate.

"It makes the skin smoother when there’s less scales and you’re putting something oily on the skin,” she summarized.

Which skin type benefits most from using squalane?

Both dermatologists regarded squalane as a generally gentle ingredient and not one that any particular skin type necessarily needs to avoid. However, Ehrlich noted that it could be most beneficial for mature skin due to the additional moisture that’s lost over time and for sensitive and eczema-prone skin because it’s less likely to act as an irritant or allergen.

It’s even safe enough to use up to twice per day, she told us — once during your morning skin care routine and once at night.

What to know before using squalane

While Labadie and Ehrlich admitted that squalane is a pretty gentle ingredient, they still had two main tips for people to keep in mind before incorporating it into their skin care routines:

  1. Look at other ingredients. Ehrlich, who specializes in contact dermatitis, says that even though squalane is not a worrisome ingredient, there can be other ingredients that may have adverse effects on your skin. “I think one needs to approach purchasing cosmetic products with the thought that you will get [all] of the ingredients and not just look at one specific one,” she said. So you'll want to be cognizant of any potential irritants in the form of other ingredients.

  2. Start with a patch test. Labadie always suggests patients start by testing a product in a small area before applying it all over their face and skin to ensure they don’t have any reaction to it. She also recommends looking at other ingredients to ensure a product doesn’t contain any irritants and “doing a small area for a couple days just to make sure your skin is happy with it.”

Best squalane products, according to shoppers

The Ordinary Squalane Cleanser

If you're new to squalane and want to give it a go without investing too much into one product, look no further than this budget-friendly cleanser from The Ordinary where it's the star ingredient. It also acts as a makeup remover, making your nighttime skin care routine one step lighter.

The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane

If you're looking for the purest form of the ingredient, try this affordable oil-like serum from The Ordinary that rings in under $10. According to the brand's description, you can also use it on hair for heat protection, added shine and reduced potential breakage.

The Inkey List Squalane Oil

The Inkey List has positioned itself as a brand that's easy to navigate, affordable and welcoming to newbies who are looking to get into premium skin care. With a plethora of products listed under $25, their squalane oil is no different. It's formulated to feel lightweight while providing hydration and oil control.

Glossier Moisturizing Moon Mask

This mask from Glossier combines a plethora of powerful ingredients including sweet almond oil, hyaluronic acid, squalane (of course), licorice root and lemon fruit extract to provide benefits like boosted hydration, brightened skin and evened out complexions. One shopper said wearing a thin layer of this mask overnight resulted in reduced inflammation in dry, acne-prone areas of their skin.

Laneige Water Sleeping Mask

If your skin is desperate for hydration, look no further than this overnight mask that does all the work for you while you get some beauty sleep. One verified five-star Amazon reviewer said this sleep mask "changed their life."

Herbivore Pink Cloud Rosewater + Squalane Makeup Removing Face Wash

The brand describes this face wash as a multitasking product that "gently melts away makeup, removes impurities, and hydrates for clean, balanced skin." Shoppers seem to agree as the Sephora reviews are filled with praise about how well it works on their skin, how good it feels and even the smell!

Honest Beauty Hydrogel Cream

This cream is formulated with two sizes of hyaluronic acid, jojoba esters and squalane to provide you with ample hydration. "It feels heavy and luxurious out of the jar and then literally melts into your skin for a lightweight hydrating moisturizer, absolutely perfect for my combination oily skin," raved one Ulta reviewer.

Kiehl's Since 1851 Ultra Facial Cream

Squalane and glycerin are the key players in this facial cream from Kiehl's. It's fragrance-free and boasts up to 24 hours of hydration. A fan-favorite, it has 177,000+ "hearts" and 1,000 five-star reviews.

Summer Fridays Sheer Skin Tint

While squalane is a popular ingredient in traditional skin care products, it can also be found in makeup like this skin tint from Summer Fridays. It's packed with other good-for-your-skin ingredients like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, vitamin E and safflower and avocado oils.

Sol de Janeiro Beija Flor Elasti-Cream

From the brand best known for their popular Brazilian Bum Bum Cream comes this Beija Flor Elasti-Cream that is formulated with collagen and squalane to help keep skin plump and hydrated. It's perfect for using all over your body to keep everything soft and bouncy.

Rose Inc Skin Enhance Luminous Tinted Serum

A tinted serum is perfect for the person looking for light coverage. This option from Rose Inc comes in a range of shades with varying undertones and keeps skin care front of mind by including squalane and sodium hyaluronate — a derivative of hyaluronic acid — in the formula.

Biossance Squalane + Omega Repair Cream

Squalane is a major player in all Biossance products so it's no surprise to find them on this list. This moisturizer is a hit amongst shoppers and also contains ceramides and fatty acids to strengthen and repair the skin's moisture barrier, according to the brand.