humectants and occlusives: what are they and how do they work?

Keeping the skin healthy and hydrated is important all year long, but seems to be more of a challenge as the weather becomes cooler.  We tend to think more about hydration during the summer months than in the winter.  Humectant and occlusive ingredients are key to maintaining healthy, hydrated skin. 

Humectants are ingredients that attract water.  By applying these water-loving ingredients topically, they are able to draw water towards the skin.  Some examples of humectants that are beneficial to the skin are:  glycerin, hyaluronic acid, sodium PCA, urea, honey, sorbitol and lactic acid.  Hyaluronic acid is a very powerful humectant in that it can attract and hold 1,000 times its weight in water, and sodium PCA can attract and hold 250 times its weight.  Urea, sodium PCA, hyaluronic acid and lactic acid are also found naturally in our bodies and in our skin, so they are readily accepted and will not cause sensitivity.

But just using humectant ingredients is not enough.  We must also employ the use of occlusives. 

Occlusives are important because they “lock” in the moisture attracted by the humectants and keep it from evaporating off the skin.  Finding occlusives that will not clog pores can be a challenge.  Avoid occlusive ingredients such as petrolatum, mineral oil and lanolin, as these will sit on the skin resulting in blocked pores, sensitivities and breakouts.  Skin-friendly occlusives include silicones (dimethicone and cyclomethicone), plant oils, squalane, shea butter and zinc oxide.

One way to remember the importance of these two ingredient categories is to think of humectants as magnets and occlusives as locks.  By choosing ingredients that will work with the skin, you will be able to maintain healthy moisture levels all year long.

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2 Responses to humectants and occlusives: what are they and how do they work?

  1. colway says:

    After I originally commented I seem to have clicked the -Notify me
    when new comments are added- checkbox and now each
    time a comment is added I get four emails with the exact same comment.
    There has to be a way you are able to remove me
    from that service? Kudos!

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