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What are Humectants in Skincare?

What are Humectants in Skincare?

Humectants. They’re one of the secrets behind a plump, hydrated complexion and a must-have ingredient for all skin types. In this article we define humectant ingredients and explain how they work to achieve your most radiant #skingoals. 

What is a humectant in skincare? Humectants are ingredients that pull moisture from the air and the deeper layers of skin (dermis) to hydrate the outer layer of the skin (epidermis).  

They act like a magnet for water, drawing and binding moisture to the cells to hydrate them from the inside out. The result is hydrated, plumper, clearer skin. Humectant ingredients can be formulated synthetically or derived from plants and other natural sources.   

The 3 Ingredients to Keep Skin Moisturised 

Keeping skin moisturised takes a multi-step approach which involves humectants (for hydration), plus emollients, and occlusive ingredients (for moisturisation).  

This trifecta works together to keep skin both hydrated and moisturised - that right, there’s a difference between hydration and moisturisation.   

Hydrators (humectants) work by pulling water to the skin, while moisturisers (emollients or occlusives) create a protective barrier that locks in hydration, softens skin and minimises water loss from the skin’s surface.  

Let’s take a closer look at how each work:  



Main purpose: Seal moisture into the skin. 

Suitable for: Most skin types but especially very dry skin including eczema-prone skin. Some occusives are too heavy for acne-prone or oily skin.  

Occlusives help trap moisture by forming a seal over the skin. Some occlusives  - depending on the ingredient - can work to repair a damaged skin barrier, too. The result is moisture retention, skin barrier restoration, and reduced irritation.  

Examples of occlusive ingredients include jojoba oil, lanolin, olive oil, and argan oil.  



Main purpose: Soften and soothe the skin. 

Suitable for: All skin types, especially very dry and sensitive skin. However, depending on the type of emollient it may cause congestion and breakouts if you have an oily skin type. 

Emollient ingredients smooth and soften dry, rough skin and decrease inflammation. This helps skin feel more comfortable and reduces feelings of itchiness and tightness. All emollients offer some occlusive benefits but their main purpose is to soften the skin.  

A few examples include shea butter, cocoa butter, grapeseed oil, ceramides and essential fatty acids like those found in rosehip oil, and squalene.  



Main purpose: Boost water levels in the skin cells.  

Suitable for: All skin types. Every complexion can become dehydrated, even oily skin types. 

Humectants pull moisture to the skin’s surface from the air and the deeper layers of skin. This helps address concerns like flakiness, dullness, and fine lines. If your skin is feeling dry and tight, it doesn’t necessarily mean “dryness” is the issue - chances are your skin is dehydrated. 

Which Humectants Are Best?   

Hopefully, we’ve answered your “what is a humectant?” question but now you’re probably wondering which humectant is best? When you’re scanning skincare labels, look for these ingredients with humectant properties: 

Hyaluronic acid  

This popular humectant is arguably the “gold standard” of hydration boosting ingredients - it can hold an incredible 1000x its weight in water.  

Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a naturally occurring sugar molecule found in your body that helps skin retain moisture for plumpness and elasticity.  

HA used in skincare may be synthetic or naturally derived. Some products use natural hyaluronic acid derived from rooster combs so if you have a preference for vegan skin care, be sure to understand where the HA is sourced from.  


  • A superior and rapid moisture booster. 
  • Ability to penetrate deep into the skin. 
  • Suitable for all skin types and concerns. 


  • Some HA is animal-derived which doesn’t align with a vegan skincare routine. Luckily there are safe, synthetic options to choose from.  



A common moisture booster in skincare, glycerin is one hardworking humectant. Thanks to its low molecular weight, it’s easily absorbed deep into the skin, delivering moisture exactly where it’s needed. 


  • In addition to its humectant benefits, glycerin also helps remove dead skin cells as it breaks down skin proteins. 
  • Low molecular structure means it can penetrate deep into the skin. 


  • If the percentage of glycerin in the formulation is too high, it may feel sticky on the skin.  


Amino acids (urea) 

Urea is found naturally on the surface of your skin and plays an active role in the skin’s natural moisturising factor (NMF). A water-binding molecule, it’s essential for maintaining the hydration and healthy function of the outer layer of skin. 


  • Improves skin barrier function. 
  • Acts as a gentle exfoliator.  
  • Increases the permeability of other ingredients. 


  • Doesn’t have the water-binding power of HA. 


Aloe vera 

This wonderful, natural ingredient is full of skin-boosting surprises. It has effective humectant properties that reach deeply and rapidly into the skin.   


  • Natural and gentle. 
  • Suitable for all skin types. 


  • Like urea, aloe vera isn’t as potent as HA when it comes to drawing moisture to the skin.  

Are Humectants Bad For You? 

Humectants aren’t bad for your skin, quite the opposite! They are an essential part of keeping your complexion hydrated and supple. While all 3 ingredients (humectants, occlusives, and emollients) play an important role in skin moisturisation, humectants lead the charge as they pull moisture to the skin in the first place.  

 No matter your skin type or concern, your complexion needs hydration - even oily skin types can be prone to dehydration. In fact, skin oiliness can be a sign of dehydration with the skin producing excess oil as a way to try and keep itself moisturised. 

The bottom line? Introduce humectants into your daily routine for a plumper, radiant looking complexion. Discover our best selling Hyaluronic Hydrating Serum - it’s like a big drink of water for every skin type!  


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The Difference Between Dry and Dehydrated Skin  

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