What in the World Are Humectants, Emollients and Occlusives? Your Basic Guide to Moisturizers

How much do you actually know about the moisturizers that you put on your skin?

You're not alone if you just follow along with whatever the labels on your lotions, oils and balms tell you. You use this one on your face in the mornings, this one for your body at night, and hope for the best.

But it turns out that all moisturizers are not alike. In fact, there are actually three different categories of moisturizer—humectants, emollients and occlusives—which all serve different purposes and work better for different types of skin, and in different conditions.

Don't have a clue about these three categories? Keep reading to find out all about them—and how you can start hydrating your skin in the way that works best for you.

Humectants

Humectants are your lightweight moisturizers, which work to pull water into the top layer of skin. They leave skin hydrated and fresh and work great for people with oily or combination skin because they're so light and the skin absorbs them so quickly. They're also just right for warm, sunny weather because they're not too heavy. If your products include ingredients including aloe vera, glycerin, hyaluronic acid and sorbitol, you've probably got a humectant on your hands.

Shutterstock: Young woman applying moisturizer to her skin in the bathroom

(via Shutterstock)

 

Emollients

Emollients tend to be a little thicker than humectants. They're all about restoring the skin barrier and leaving it soft and silky. If you suffer from dry skin or have skin with fine lines, emollients can restore that moisture and smooth out lines. Emollients can also be effective at combating uncomfortable skin conditions such as eczema, or treating sunburns. Common ingredients include cocoa butter, shea butter, squalene and triglycerides. Some moisturizers can also be both emollients and occlusives, including mineral oils and petroleum jelly.

Shutterstock: Asian women applying face lotion.

(via Shutterstock)

 

Occlusives

Last but not least, occlusives are the thickest and heaviest of the moisturizers. Their job is to trap moisture within the skin, while also keeping out irritants, which is why they're great for addressing issues such as severely dry skin, as well as skin with uneven tone, redness or scarring. They can also be effective for those who experience dry skin in the chilly winter months. However, they can also cause acne for those with oily skin—particularly if the ingredients are comedogenic, which means they block pores, leading to blackheads. Popular occlusive ingredients include olive oil, silicone and waxes.

(via Shutterstock)Shutterstock: Laughing girl applying moisturizing cream on her face. Photo of young girl with flawless skin on brown background. Skin care and beauty concept

 

Eager to learn more? Click HERE for more advice on the type of moisturizer you should use, based on your skin type.