Squalene was discovered in shark liver oil in the early 20th century. By the 1950s researchers discovered that squalene was an important component of our skin’s natural oils. The emollient and hydration properties of squalane and its biocompatibility with our natural skin oils, make it an excellent skin protector. Squalane is often used in skincare products to ease eczema, help with damaged hair, and provide antiaging and wrinkle protection.
Squalene vs Squalane
Squalene (with an "e") is a polyunsaturated oil naturally found naturally in plants and plant oils such as olive, rice bran, palm, wheat germ, amaranth, and sugarcane. It is also found in large amounts in shark liver (squalene from sharks has been banned in the European Union since 2009).
Squalene, produced by our own skin, is naturally found in the sebum which is the lipid barrier that helps lubricate our skin. Squalene production increases during adolescence, when it composes up to 15% of skin fats, and peaks around age 25. As we age, our skin produces less and less squalene and by the time we are age 50 it can be as low as 5%.
However, squalene is highly unstable. When exposed to oxygen it oxidizes, becomes rancid and spoils quickly.
In order to make Squalene more stable, it is combined with hydrogen. This hydrogenation converts Squalene from an unsaturated oil to a saturated oil now called Squalane (with an "a"). Hydrogenation not only prevents oxidation and increases the shelf life but it also makes the oil more skin-friendly. Some Squalane is also found naturally in plants and human sebum but in very small amounts.
How is Squalene Derived from Olives?
Extra Virgin Olive Oil is not a refined oil and contains much higher concentrations of squalene than refined olive oils. During the process of refining olive oil, natural squalene is removed. Just like with the extraction of the oils themselves, there are numerous methods of extracting the squalene.
In order to avoid the use of toxic solvents like hexane, companies are moving toward "green" extraction technology. These companies are using a Supercritical Carbon Dioxide Extraction method. This process uses carbon dioxide as a solvent and yields high-quality squalene without the use of toxic solvents. It is the same process that can be used to extract essential oils. You can read more about this process in our blog "How Essential Oils Are Extracted."
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