Difference Between Humectants, Emollients And Occlusives – Comprehensive Guide

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Moisturizers are generally used to hydrate the skin, normalize skin pH level, prevent the skin from drying out and protect it against external aggressors and pollutants. But it’s really a pity that most people don’t really know that the term “moisturizer” is just a general name. When it comes to in-depth view of moisturizers there are three types which are humectants, emollients and occlusives.


having said that, this article-tip is emphasized on hydration — creating awareness of difference between humectants, emollients and occlusives, and how to combine these hydrating ingredients to keep the skin intensively hydrated to the optimum level.

When it comes to hydrating the skin, you don’t just apply a moisturizer and end it there. No, no, you’re doing it the wrong way. If you want to wake up with a supple plump skin, this is how to get it done. You have to introduce humectants, emollients and occlusives into your skincare routine or regimen. Keep reading to know how to get it done properly for optimal hydration result.

So What’s The Difference Between Humectants, Emollients And Occlusives?


Humectants are known to pull moisture from the atmosphere into the skin pores. That’s what they do. That’s their job. When you apply a humectant moisturizer they draw moisture from the air into your skin. They are called “The moisture magnet” That’s why it’s always advised to apply humectant moisturizers on a damp or moist (not dripping wet) skin, if not, they’ll draw moisture within your skin to hydrate the outer layer of your skin (if they can’t possibly attract much moisture from the atmosphere). Example of humectants are: hyaluronic acid, glycerin honey, aloe vera and AHA’s.


An emollient is a moisturizing treatment that soothe and soften the skin. They soften dry, rough and flaky skin, making it look and feel better.
Most emollients used in personal care are lipids or silicones. Consider emollient as something that softens the skin and makes it feel more comfortable by filling in cracks on the skin with fatty substances, called lipids, which make your skin smoother and softer.

This is why emollients are often used for irritated, inflamed, or reactive skin. Examples of emollient ingredients are: plant oils, mineral oil, shea butter, cocoa butter, petrolatum, and fatty acids (animal oils, including emu, mink, and lanolin, the latter probably the one ingredient that is most like our own skin’s oil).


Occlusives are a type of moisturizing agent that work by forming a protective coating on the surface of your skin. Just as the same way plastic wrap forms a barrier between your food and the outside environment. The chief job of an occlusive is to prevent moisture-loss by sealing in moisture and avert harmful particles from entering your skin thereby keeping moisture sealed inside the skin pores.

Take for example: When you mix water and oil together, the oil will definitely sit at the top of the water right? That’s exactly what happens when you apply occlusive on your skin. They don’t penetrate into the skin pores rather they sit at the top layer to seal or lock in moisture — which has already been drawn into the skin by a humectant.

Occlusives are texture-rich and waxy which tends to leave greasy residue behind. Examples of occlusives are: Mineral oil petrolatum, lanolin, beeswax, olive oil, argan oil, jojoba oil, safflower oil, tamanu oil

In summary.

Humectants draw moisture into the skin, emollients soften and soothes skin, while occlusives trap in moisture in the skin to avoid moisture-loss or evaporation. Without occlusives, the moisture will evaporate and your skin will be left drier than it was before.

However, it’s highly advised to apply humectants on a damp or moist skin for optimal results, as applying humectants on a dry skin can have an opposite effect of what it’s intended as they are going to pull moisture from the deeper layer of the skin to hydrate the surface (the outer layer) which can leave skin more dehydrated.

Humectants works well with water. Infact when a humectant comes in contact with water your skin will definitely thank you for the later effect.

So, apply a humectant first (for skin hydration), follow up an emollient (for skin soothing and softening) before sealing off with an occlusive (for prevention of moisture-loss), that way your skin will look ravishingly supple and plump every morning.

Possible Questions & Answers

Q: Can humectants, emollients and occlusives be used both morning and night?

A: Definitely yes. They are categorized as moisturizers, they can all be used at AMs (morning) & PMs (Evening).

Q: Is the combination of humectants, emollients and occlusives suitable for all skin types.

A: Just as being discussed in the content, humectants add moisture by drawing water molecules from the environment towards the epidermis in order to help rehydrate the skin’s surface. They help increase the amount of water within the skin, while emollients alleviates the skin of itchiness and dryness by filling in cracks on the skin and soothe flaky-skin. And occlusives on the other hand locks in water or moisture into the skin to avoid them from escaping, making both humectants, emollients and occlusives great moisturizers for all skin types.

UP NEXT: Yes, Your Body Needs Hydration Too, Check Out The Best Oil-Free Moisturizing Lotions.

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