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Emollients, Occlusives and Humectants Explained

Moisture. It is a key focus of many topical skin care products and is an essential factor in maintaining good skin health. There are many different types of moisturising ingredients, from ones that lock-in moisture to others that increase the level of moisture within the skin, but which one is right for you?


To explain what the most popular kinds of moisturisers do here is an easy-to-follow guide that makes everything clearer.

What are… Emollients?

Emollients are moisturisers that soften and condition the skin without actually adding moisture to it. They do this by filling in the gaps between skin cells to improve the appearance of dry patches and make the skin more flexible. They are essential ingredients in products designed to soothe dry skin and work particularly well on conditions like eczema and psoriasis. Oil-based emollients are heavier in texture and leave a slight greasy sheen on the skin, which makes them ideal for very dry skins whereas water-based emollients don’t leave this residue behind, making them more suitable for normal to oily skins. The most popular emollient ingredients used in skin care are Aloe Vera and Shea Butter.

Where You’ll Find Them: Emollients are used in many products, from face creams to lipsticks.

What are… Occlusives?

Similar in some ways to emollients, occlusives focus more on preventing the skin from losing moisture by forming a protective film over the epidermis. They are mainly lipid (oil) based meaning they leave a slightly greasy sheen over the skin, which can block the pores if used on oily and acne-prone skins. They don’t increase the moisture levels of the skin but can help prevent water reserves from being drained by external stressors. The most popular occlusive ingredients are petroleum, Lanolin, Cocoa Butter and Jojoba Oil.

Where You’ll Find Them: Occlusives can be found in hundreds of products but mainly skin care oils, serums and lotions.

What are… Humectants?

Humectants add moisture by drawing water molecules from the environment towards the epidermis in order to help re-hydrate the skin’s surface. They help to increase the amount of water within the skin and store it away until it is needed, making humectants a great moisturiser for the majority of skin types. The most popular humectants used in skin care are Glycerin and Hyaluronic Acid but certain AHAs like Lactic Acid are also considered in the same category.

Where You’ll Find Them: Humectants are found in everything from cleansers to serums as well as more intensive skin care products like body lotions and face masks.

Most topical products designed to combat dry or dehydrated skin will include at least one or a combination of all these moisturisers in order to provide effective hydration to a variety of skin types.

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Modified image of splash of water from | By Idea go

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