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Difference between Emollients, Humectants and Occlusive

Working long hours in an air-conditioned room? Winter season is approaching and your skin is starting to dry out? Have naturally dry skin embedded in your DNA? Slap on your moisturizers for prevention rather than cure! But do you know what are the ingredients that make moisturizers moisturizing? And which type of moisturizers are better for your skin type? Today we shall expound on the different functions between emollients, humectants and occlusive which are the main ingredients found in your moisturizers.

Humectants-Attracts moisture to the skin

Humectants pull water from the skin’s dermis to the surface layer and can also draw water molecules from the air and water-based moisturizers to help moisturize the skin’s surface. They serve to counteract dry skin by preventing water loss and keeping your skin hydrated, ensuring glowing and radiant skin. The increase in moisture content and extra hydration can reduce the appearance of lines and wrinkles, providing anti-aging effects. However, these effects are only temporary and are affected by the level of moisture content in the skin. Humectant products may also pull too much moisture from the lower layers of the skin if the surrounding environment is very dry. 

As humectant ingredients are generally more lightweight, they are best suited for dry, oily and acne prone skin. 

Examples of ingredients include:

  • Amino acids (urea)
  • Sugar alcohols (glycerol & sorbitol)
  • Ceramides 
  • Alpha-hydroxy acids (lactic acid)
  • Glycerin 
  • Propylene glycol
  • Hyaluronic acid 

Emollients- Smooth skin

Emollients usually come in the form of creams, gels, lotions and ointments. They are effective moisturizing treatments that help to protect and rehydrate skin that’s dry, itchy or scaly by softening and conditioning the skin. Emollients also help to increase the rate of skin barrier restoration to repair damage to your skin barrier that occurs over time. These ingredients help to fill in the spaces between dead skin cells, leading to soft hydrated skin. Its main function is to soften the skin although it does provide some occlusive properties. 

Most skin types can benefit from an emollient product but individuals with oily or acne prone skin should avoid products with comedogenic emollients such as coconut oil and avocado oil. Instead, opt for non-comedogenic emollients like jojoba oil and squalene to prevent clogged pores and acne breakouts. 

Examples of ingredients include: 

  • Lipids and oils 
  • Colloidal oatmeal 
  • Shea butter
  • Isopropyl palmitate 
  • Aloe vera 
  • Squalene

Occlusive- Seal in moisture to prevent water loss

Occlusive serve as a physical barrier to help prevent water loss from skin’s surface to help retain skin moisture. It also protects skin from external irritants and helps reduce irritation, while providing skin barrier restoration, making it best suited for individuals with dry skin. However, these ingredients often have thick, heavy consistency when used as they are not absorbed into the skin. Hence, may not be suitable for oily or acne-prone skin. 

Examples of ingredients include:

  • Waxes (carnauba and beeswax)
  • Silicone 
  • Oils (olive and soybean)
  • Dimethicone
  • Lanolin
  • Mineral oil 
  • White petrolatum


Now that we have broken down the 3 different common ingredients found in your moisturizers, do look out for the ones that can target your individual skin conditions and take a more tailored approach to purchasing your next moisturizer!

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