Squalane from sugarcane vs olives: what’s the difference?

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. Squalane is one of the greatest, gentlest natural moisturizers around, and perfect for babies’ delicate skin. But there are a lot of questions swirling around about squalane: is it from olives? Sugarcane? Other plants? Sharks?? And are all squalanes created equal? We’re here to set the record straight.

 

Sharks? Really??

First, a brief squalene/squalane history lesson: Squalene was discovered in shark liver oil the early 20th century, and by the 1950s researchers figured out that squalene was an important component of our 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. So scientists discovered that when squalene is hydrogenated into squalane, it becomes a much more resilient ingredient. Researchers found that squalane 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; the overfishing that occurred in order to harvest shark livers endangered multiple species, and squalane from sharks has thankfully been banned in the European Union since 2009.  

 

From the oceans to olive oil

After the much-needed ban on shark liver squalane, researchers began looking for other squalane sources, which led 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 re-purpose waste, right? Not quite. The problem with olive oil-derived 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, what happens if an olive harvest is particularly poor one year (as was the case last year in Italy)? That’s right: no olives, no squalane.

 

Sugarcane, transformed

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 bio-fermentation expertise, our scientists created a proprietary squalane derived from renewable Brazilian sugarcane. The squalane we produce is as stable as they come, and is rigorously tested by our labsand by third parties to ensure it’s pure. Just as importantly, sugarcane is an amazingly sustainable source of squalane.Irrigating sugarcane crops isn’t necessary 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 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.

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