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Marula Oil vs. Squalane Oil: What’s The Difference?

Medically reviewed by:
 Dr. Lucy Chen, MD – Board-Certified Dermatologist

Dr. Lucy Chen, MD – Board-Certified Dermatologist

Dr. Lucy Chen, MD, is a highly regarded board-certified dermatologist with a wealth of expertise in skin health, surgical dermatology, and cosmetic dermatology. She is known for her commitment to patient care and her dedication to advancing the field of dermatology. Her journey is marked by academic excellence, specialized training, and a genuine dedication to […]

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By: Drew
Updated on: October 06, 2023

The anti-aging market seems like it gets more and more crowded with “miracle oils” every day. Like all the other age-fighting products out there, some of these oils are better than others. Two of the oils that seem to be most effective in preventing wrinkles and moisturizing the skin are marula oil and squalane oil.

While these oils both can help in the fight against signs of aging, they’re made of very different ingredients and work in very different ways. Below, we’ll take a look at what marula and squalane oils are and which one may be right for you.

What’s Squalane Oil?

First, we need to distinguish between squalene (with an E) and squalane (and an A) because they are not one-in-the-same.

1. Squalene

Our skin naturally makes a compound called squalene, which is a lipid (fat) produced by our skin’s oil glands. Squalene mixes naturally with other compounds our skin produces, like wax esters, triglycerides, and other facial oils to help fortify and moisturize the skin barrier.

“Our sebum, the oil secreted by sebaceous glands, is composed of 13% squalene,” explains Dr. Lucy Chen. “It’s one of the main antioxidants in our skin that reduces oxidative damage such as caused by UV light.”

2. Squalane

Squalane oil is simply the hydrogenated, bottled version of squalene. Natural squalene can’t just be gathered up and slapped in a bottle because it would putrefy quickly. It has to be converted from an unsaturated oil to a saturated oil in order to make it shelf-stable.

“Squalane has a much longer shelf-life and can be sourced from plants, not animals,” says Dr. Chen.

Benefits of squalane oil include:

Moisturizes Dry Skin

Squalane oil is very hydrating, so it can help boost and retain moisture in excessively dry skin, making it look healthier and more vibrant.

Soothes Sensitive Skin

If your skin is dry and also highly sensitive, squalane oil can be a good option because scientific evidence has indicated it’s highly unlikely to irritate the skin. Just remember to watch out for other irritating ingredients in your squalane products.

Replenishes Natural Skin Compounds

Squalane oil is important in the fight against aging because our natural production of squalene declines as we get older. When applied topically, squalane oil can help replace some of this lost squalene, which can result in plumper, younger-looking skin.

What’s Marula Oil?

Marula oil is extracted from the fruit of the marula tree. The marula fruit tree (Sclerocarya birrea) is a single-stemmed, wide-crowned tree native throughout southern Africa and Madagascar. The fruit has light yellow skin, white flesh, and a hard, brown pit full of kernels in its center. Marula oil primarily comes from these kernels.

This hydrating, antioxidant-rich oil can do wonders for your skincare routine.

“The reason why, is that the composition of marula oil is similar to our own skin’s epidermis, making it very moisturizing and hydrating,” explains Dr. Chen. 

Benefits of marula oil include:

Heals Dry Skin

Marula oil is lightweight, so it absorbs easily into the skin and provides intense moisture. This makes it a great product if your skin is very dry or needs an extra shot of moisture because you live in a low-humidity climate.

Calms Acne

Since marula oil is non-greasy, it can be a good moisturizing option for those with acne-prone skin. It also has anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties, meaning it can help cut down on whiteheads and blackheads.

Fights Signs of Aging

Since marula oil contains amino acids, fatty acids, and antioxidants, it can help fight both free radicals and a plethora of aging signs like fine lines, wrinkles, sun damage, and dark spots.

Is Squalane Oil or Marula Oil Right for Me?

While these oils both have their advantages, using them both is probably a bad idea since too many products can overwhelm skin and cause problems. So when it comes to marula and squalane, it’s better to choose one or the other.

Use Marula Oil If…

You’ve got acne-prone, dry, or aging skin. Since marula oil is so moisturizing, it can smooth dry skin, increase elasticity, and return a youthful glow to multiple skin types.

Use Squalane Oil If…

You feel like your sebum production could use a boost due to aging. Squalane can also help you prevent water loss if you have skin issues where the skin barrier is disrupted, like eczema and psoriasis.

Comparison between Marula Oil and Squalane Oil

AspectMarula OilSqualane Oil
SourceExtracted from the kernels of the marula fruit, native to Africa.Derived from either olive oil or sugarcane, or synthetically produced.
Texture and AbsorptionMedium-weight oil, absorbs well without feeling greasy.Lightweight, fast-absorbing oil with a non-greasy texture.
Fatty Acid ProfileRich in oleic acid (omega-9), also contains linoleic acid (omega-6).Primarily composed of squalene, a natural skin component.
Skin Benefits– Moisturizes and nourishes skin.
– Rich in antioxidants.
– Helps improve skin elasticity.
– Excellent emollient, prevents moisture loss.
– Enhances skin barrier function.
– Non-comedogenic.
Suitable Skin TypesDry, sensitive, and mature skin.Suitable for all skin types, including oily and sensitive skin.
Absorption RateAbsorbs moderately, leaving a slight sheen.Absorbs quickly, leaving no residue.
ScentOften has a mild, nutty scent.Virtually odorless.
Environmental ImpactProduction can vary; sustainable sourcing is important.Eco-friendly when derived from sugarcane or olives.
Comedogenic RatingGenerally low, but individual reactions may vary.Low, rarely causes breakouts.
Vitamin ContentContains vitamin E and other antioxidants.Does not contain significant vitamins.
UsesSuitable for face, body, hair, and nails.Versatile; suitable for face, body, hair, and as a carrier oil.


Are there any people who shouldn’t use these oils?

If you have oily or acne-prone skin, you might want to watch out for squalane oil. Because squalene is part of sebum, and sebum clogging the pores is the primary cause of adult acne, adding even more of this compound in the form of squalane oil can exacerbate breakouts. You might be able to get away with using squalane if you cleanse your face thoroughly before applying it, ensuring you clear off your own sebum and dead skin cells to prevent them from mixing with the squalane oil.

The same holds true for marula oil. While it’s non-greasy and can help treat acne if you have excessively oily skin, a completely oil-free moisturizer may be the way to go. Ultimately, you may have to experiment with these products to see if marula or squalane improves or worsens your acne.

Are there other effective anti-aging oils besides Marula and Squalane?

Sure there are. Many different fruits and essential oils have anti-aging properties; some of these oils include argan oil, kiwi seed oil, apricot oil, and avocado oil.

Can you be sensitive to marula or squalane oil?

There aren’t normally any major side-effects to these oils, but if you have a nut allergy, it might extend to marula oil. Also, though squalane isn’t a common irritant, it’s good to remember your skin can be sensitive to anything.

If you’ve never used one of these oils before, you should always spot-test on a small area before slathering them on your entire face. To test for potential reactions, apply three or four drops of the oil on a small patch of skin on your inner forearm. Wait for 24 hours. If there are no signs of irritation, feel free to use the product all over your skin.

Do marula and squalane have other uses besides skincare?

Both marula and squalane oils have benefits for hair and nails. Marula oil hair treatments can replenish dry hair without making it overly greasy, and this oil also helps keep cuticles and nail beds supple. Squalane oil can make hair shinier and prevent breakage, and it also nourishes dry cuticles.

At what age should I start using these oils?

You’re never too young for a good anti-aging routine. However, since squalane oil can contribute to acne, it’s best to use it once you’re past the age where you break out. This age is different for everyone: some people quit breaking out as soon as they’re out of their teenage years, others break out til they’re 50. The age you start using these oils really depends on your skin type and how severe your signs of aging are.

Bottom Line

Marula and squalane oils are both powerful compounds. Plus, they have the same effect as many of the best anti-aging creams and high-quality natural moisturizers on the market. Not only can they help your skin retain its plumpness, elasticity, and bounce, they can also keep your hair healthy and your nails soft and strong. For this reason, either one of these oils will make a great addition to your skincare routine!


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