Moisturizer ingredients 101: humectants, occlusives, and emollients — oh my!

Just what is an emollient cream, anyway?

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Curology Team
Feb 04, 2020 · 2 min read

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We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

If you’ve noticed the humectant among us, not to worry — it comes to moisturizers, we’ve got the exclusive on occlusives. Keeping moisturizing ingredients straight can be tricky, especially because each moisturizer has a combination of features and properties. To make a long story short, facial moisturizers are usually emollient creams with a mix of humectant and occlusive ingredients. Here’s the breakdown on what it all means for your skincare routine:

What is an emollient?

  • An emollient moisturizer smooths by filling in tiny cracks in the skin

  • “Emollient” is an adjective — humectants and occlusives can be emollient

  • Some examples of emollient ingredients include shea butter, squalane, and fatty alcohols like cetyl alcohol

What is a humectant?

  • A humectant moisturizer adds water to the skin by drawing out moisture from the air

  • Humectants both draw water from a humid environment, and enhance water absorption from the outer layer of skin

  • Some examples of humectant ingredients include hyaluronic acid, glycerin, aloe, elastin, and collagen

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What is an occlusive?

  • An occlusive moisturizer forms a physical barrier around the skin

  • It slows down water loss by providing a layer of oil across the skin’s surface

  • Silicones are occlusives that can also act as lubricants, reducing friction

  • Some examples of occlusive ingredients are allantoin, petrolatum, jojoba oil, evening primrose oil, and dimethicone

Skincare, decoded

Sometimes it feels like you need a degree in biochemistry to decipher the meaning of skincare ingredients — but with dermatologist-led custom skincare, you don’t have to.

Sign up for a free month of Curology and get a prescription cream customized for your skin needs delivered right to your door without having to leave the house (or put on pants). Just pay $4.95 (plus tax) to cover the cost of shipping and handling.

For no extra cost, you can upgrade to the Curology set, complete with our gentle cleanser and your choice of moisturizer: gel for more lightweight hydration or rich for deeply emollient skin. You can also start a consultation with your personal dermatology provider at any time to get the answers to all your (sk)inquiries. Start your #SkincareJourney today and see why Curology is the key to happier, healthier skin.

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