Squalene is one of the most popular ingredients for cosmetics and personal care products around the world today. It is an essential oil that often used as a moisturizer and oil control.

People love squalene because it is suitable for almost all skin types. No matter if your skin is dry, oily, acne-prone, or even sensitive, you can use the products made from squalene. This substance also has anti-bacterial and anti-oxidative effects. So it should be great to belong in your skincare routine.

Unfortunately, the main source of squalene today is not sustainable and also harmful to the environment. But thanks to researchers and engineers who could find another option to produce our lovely skincare products.

What is the ‘not sustainable and harmful’ resource for squalene? And how do Biological Engineering solve this problem? Just find the answer below.

Main Source of Squalene Today: Shark Oil

The main source of squalene today is shark liver oil. It’s simply because 35-40% of the oil from shark livers is squalene. Taking the substance from its major resource always seems profitable since it’s high yield and productivity. Therefore, it will significantly reduce the cost of production too.

This is where your cosmetics and skin care products come from. Source.

But really, taking the oil from a shark is not a good idea since the number of sharks decreased exponentially. In fact, 11,417 sharks killed by humans per hour which is equal to 273 million sharks killed in annual.

So it’s not surprising if CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna) took sharks into their 16th meeting in Bangkok 2013. Since there, whoever tried to catch sharks in the protected area should be ready to facing international law. And since there, people start to find another source for squalene.

Alternative Source of Squalene: Olive Oil

Olive oil is the 2nd major source of squalene after sharks’ liver oil. It is also stable, non-oxidative, and absolutely compatible with your skin. Taking squalene from olive oil also leading us toward sustainability since olive can grow much faster than sharks.

But why do people seem not very interesting to taking this opportunity?

It’s all about price. Whoever wants to make squalene from olive oil must be ready to maintain its high cost. Notice that olive oil prices are skyrocketing from £1.6K/ton in 2010 to £3.2K/ton in 2017 as shown in the graph below.

Why people don’t make squalene from olive oil? Source.

So people keep searching for other resources until they found sugarcane.

Sugarcane as The Future Resource for Squalene

Sugarcane is a great resource for sucrose (cane sugar). And if you have a plenty amount of sucrose, you are ready to make squalene!

Just put your sucrose together with yeast and nutrients into fermentation tanks and set your operating condition to produce farnesene. This compound is the precursor you need to make squalene through usual operation in the industry such as dimerization, hydrogenation and some purification.

new source squalene production scheme industry
New squalene production scheme in industry.

You can also extract the squalene from sugarcane since sugarcane automatically synthesis the squalene through mevalonate pathway in their tissues. But this kind of option would only give you a small amount of squalene because as secondary metabolite sugarcane doesn’t need to have it much.

renewable source squalene biosynthesis
Biosynthesis of squalene.

Now can we say if the problem was solved? Of course not. Deriving squalene from sugarcane seems promising but it’s yield still cannot compete with shark-derived squalene. That’s why people still killing sharks out there. And that’s why we need biological engineers to do their jobs.

Just wait for my next post, ok?


Fresh Graduate from ITB Bioengineering. Loves to learn everything faster and execute every possible things better than anyone. Having a huge interest in bioindustry.


  1. Wow now I know where the squalene came from. Other people have to do dangerous job to make a woman beautiful. But nowadays the sugar cane farming itself is decreasing, especially in Java. I saw a very large sugar cane farming few years a go in Lampung, but never in Java. When I was a child in Jatim, there was also a very large sugar cane farming behind our house across the river. It doesn’t exist anymore.

    • Hi, Lusi. It is a pity to hear that the sugar cane farm already is gone. It’s not easy to maintain the sugar cane farm since its production cost is very expensive. But I think they can make more profit if they turned its waste into other bioproducts. Have you ever heard about the biorefinery concept?

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