What Are Humectants And Occlusives?

Humectants, moisturizers, and occlusives are all important ingredients in skin care. Humectants attract moisture, moisturizers keep moisture in, and occlusives seal in moisture. The right combination of these ingredients can help to keep your skin hydrated and healthy, regardless of your skin type or the environment you live in.

In this article, we will discuss the different types of humectants, moisturizers, and occlusives, and how to choose the right ones for your skin type. We will also discuss how to use these ingredients in different environments to get the maximum benefit.

We will examine humectants in three categories as “humectants”, “emollients” and “occlusives”.

Humectant (Moisture Retainer)

As the name “humectant” implies, its function is to attract moisture. If you live in a humid environment, the humectant will draw moisture from the air to your skin. However, if you live in a dry environment, it may draw moisture away from your skin. This can dehydrate the skin. 

Therefore, we can pay attention to the following in order to get the maximum effect of the moisturizer in all conditions;

  • After cleansing your skin, be sure to dry the remaining tap water on your skin. Then use an essence and/or a toners suitable for your skin to keep the skin moist, and then apply your moisturizer to keep the water on your skin.
  • If your skin is very dry and mature, or if you live in a dry environment with air conditioning or heating, it would be very useful to apply an occlusive and/or emollient product on top of the moisturizer.

Most Popular Humectant Ingredient Examples

  • Hyaluronic Acid
  • Glycerin
  • Urea
  • AHAs; glycolic, lactic
  • Aloe Vera
  • Panthenol (both humectant and emollient)
  • Glycol and derivatives
  • Allantoin

Create Daily Moisturizing Lotion is my personal favorite.

Emollients (Softener)

Although it works like an occlusive in the moisturizer category, it actually provides a softening and calming effect on the skin by filling the gaps (cracks) in the skin. Depending on the formula, it can act as both an occlusive and an emollient. 

It can act as an emollient in a water-based formula and as an occlusive in a formula based on vegetable and mineral oils, silicone, vaseline, paraffin and beeswax.

We also see examples of water-in-oil emulsion or oil-in-water emulsion such as Excipial.

Most Popular Emollient Ingredient Examples

  • Panthenol (both humectant and emollient)
  • Lanolin
  • Plant oils
  • Mineral oils
  • Silicones
  • Fatty alcohols
  • Ceramides

La Roche Posey Cicaplast Brume B5 is my personal favorite.

Occlusive (Sealing Moisture)

It is generally thicker and completely covers the skin, preventing moisture evaporation (TEWL – trans-epidermal water loss) and softening and sealing the skin. It is ideal for extremely dry and mature skin.

Outside of cosmetic products, occlusive ingredients are often found in medications for wound healing, eczema and diaper rash (see ointment).

Most Popular Occlusive Ingredient Examples

  • Lanolin
  • Plant oils
  • Mineral oils
  • Silicones
  • Petrolatum
  • Beeswax
  • Paraffin

Cerave Healing Ointment is my personal favorite.

Which skin type prefers what in which situations?

If you do not live in a dry environment and do not feel dehydrated, tight, dry and itchy after using a humectant-based product, you may not need an additional emollient product OR you can use a single product with both humectant and emollient ingredients.

If you live in a dry environment and feel tight, dry and itchy after using a humectant-based product, you may need to use an additional emollient and/or occlusive product or you may use a humectant and emollient product and a moisturizer. 

Check out my other articles about mousturizers.

Tank you for reading