Sugarcane plant.
Sugarcane plant.

The science behind biology’s best moisturizer, and exactly where it comes from.

You could say we’re a little squalane-obsessed here at Pipette HQ; after all, our proprietary sugarcane-derived squalane is the cornerstone of every one of our products for both babies and moms. But, what is squalane? Squalane is one of the greatest, gentlest natural moisturizers around, and perfect for babies’ delicate skin. There are a lot of questions swirling around about squalane: Does it come from olives? Or sugarcane? Or sharks?? And is all squalane created equal? We’re here to set the record straight.


What Is Squalane?

To answer that question, let’s start with a brief squalene/squalane history lesson: Squalene was discovered in shark liver oil in the early 20th century, and by the 1950s researchers figured out that squalene was an important component of skin’s natural oils. While squalene is an incredible moisturizing substance in our skin, in the bodies of other animals, and even in plants, it’s also a bit of a rickety, unstable molecule, prone to oxidizing when it’s exposed to air. Scientists discovered that when squalene is hydrogenated into squalane, it becomes a much more resilient ingredient. Even better, researchers also found that squalane with an “a” works wonders on skin because it mimics what’s already in skin, and doesn’t turn rancid in the way squalene does over time. As companies started using squalane as an emollient in cosmetics in the 1950s, it was derived from—yes—shark liver. You’d be hard-pressed to think of anything less sustainable as the overfishing that occurred in order to harvest shark livers endangered multiple species.  Squalane from sharks has thankfully been banned in the European Union since 2009. 


From Shark-Derived Squalane to Olive Squalane

After the much-needed ban on shark liver squalane, researchers began looking for other squalane sources, which led them to olive oil. Olives contain a small amount of squalene, which gets more and more concentrated in the various steps of olive oil processing until it’s finally recovered from olive oil’s final production waste and turned into squalane. Sounds like a great way to repurpose waste, right? Not quite. The problem with olive squalane is that the multi-step olive oil processing—along with the environmental conditions under which the olives are grown—can create inconsistent quality. Not to mention, olive harvests can vary drastically from year to year: no olives, no squalane.


Sugarcane Squalane

Our parent company, Amyris, is a leader in clean, sustainable biotech, and after studying the natural skin benefits of squalene in our labs, our scientists set out to create a better, cleaner squalane. Drawing on our biofermentation expertise, our scientists created a proprietary squalane derived from renewable Brazilian sugarcane. The sugarcane squalane we produce is exceptionally stable, and is rigorously tested by our labs and by third parties to ensure it’s pure. Just as importantly, sugarcane is an amazingly sustainable source of squalane. Sugarcane crops often don’t need additional irrigation because of the abundant rain in Brazil, and the crops are grown on established farmland far from the Amazon rainforest (we’ve got a zero-tolerance policy for deforestation). And because sugarcane grows so rapidly and readily, there’s a steady supply of squalane from year to year, which means we can keep costs reasonable for our customers. All that adds up to a high-quality, sustainable, and ethical squalane—and most important of all, it’s perfect for babies’ skin.


What Are the Benefits of Squalane?

In humans, squalene is one of the main components of the skin surface lipids, a complex mixture of oils that moisturizes the skin, protects the skin barrier, prevents water loss, provides anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant benefits, and protects it from the environment. Newborn babies have the greatest concentration of squalene in their skin. “It is kind of like baby’s first moisturizer,” explains Mimi Lu, Vice President of New Product Development & Marketing at Amyris. “We see the benefits of squalene from birth all the way to as you get older.”

In addition to being an incredible natural moisturizer, squalane is quite literally made for babies as their skin has been intimately acquainted with its nurturing benefits since before birth–and our sugarcane squalane is a pure, stable and sustainable biomimetic version of this naturally occurring emollient. “If you think about emollients in moisturizers, it’s probably one of the best ones you can use for skincare because skin already recognizes it and knows what it does,” says Ramya Viswanathan, a lead chemist at Amyris. “It’s really replenishing and feeding what the skin might be missing.”


What Skin Types Can Use Squalane?

Naturally odorless, colorless, and noncomedogenic, sugarcane squalane isn’t just for babies. It’s a multitasking hero ingredient that everyone in the family can benefit from. Studies done by scientists at Amyris have shown that squalane’s benefits go far beyond long-lasting moisturization to include balancing the skin’s natural oil production, reducing skin roughness, promoting healthy cell turnover, improving skin firmness and elasticity, supporting the skin microbiome, and repairing and reinforcing the skin barrier. A true multitasker, you can even use it to moisturize dry cuticles and rough feet and soothe the skin after shaving or sun exposure.


Find out more about why our sustainable sugarcane squalane is our go-to ingredient for  baby (and kids, and mom, and dads) here.

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