What The Heck Are Humectants?

What The Heck Are Humectants?

Hey beauty besties!

Today we’re doing a deep dive into an oft-misunderstood skincare ingredient: humectants. While we’re all familiar with hyaluronic acid and emollients, thanks to last week's article The Winter Skincare Lowdown, the topic of humectants doesn’t always get the spotlight as much as other skin care categories. Humectants actually do more for your skin than you might realize, so let’s dive in and unlock it together. 


Highlight Reel:

  • Humectants are simply a moisturizing agent found in skincare
  • Water-retention is a key for skin and humectants help retain water
  • Humectants often hold 100–1000 times their weight in moisture
  • Humectants are most effective when combined with occlusives and emollients

What exactly is a humectant? 

1, 2, 3… hydrate!


Often hailed as a hydrating hero, humectants are basically just a category of moisturizing agents. They are attracted to water molecules and draw moisture to the top layer of the skin (the stratum corneum) either from outside sources or from the dermis, a deeper layer of the skin. 

They also retain water so you continue to remain hydrated. And, humectants help make a product effective in that the ingredient itself provides ample hydration. Humectants have garnered a stellar rep in the skincare community over the years.

What products have humectants?

Humectants are actually all around…


Typically, humectants are found in serums, lotions, face wash, and creams AKA products that promote hydration to the skin. From synthetic to natural sources, look for the following compounds on ingredients lists, as they’re known to contain humectants: 

  • Glycerin/glycerol– Also known as the most effective humectant. It’s a natural compound derived from vegetable oils or fats. 
  • Aloe Vera– Used mainly in pure liquid or concentrate form, aloe vera sinks deep into the skin and also helps maintain the pH balance for hair.
  • Honey– Naturally involves water activity that is used to enhance the hydrating potential of a product. 
  • Hyaluronic Acid– The powerful water-loving ingredient immediately draws moisture into the skin, and can hold 1000 times its weight in water. 
  • Collagen-boosting properties– Known for smoothing fine lines and wrinkles, collagen plumps the skin by binding to moisture, attracting water to cells, and regulating the amount of water in cells. 

How do they help the skin?

Skincare SOS...


Humectants help to plump the skin and also double as a gentle exfoliator, buffing away any dead skin cells so you remain glowing 24/7. While the main benefit of humectants is the hydration it brings to skin, keeping your skin soft and free of itchiness or dryness, humectants also provide exfoliating properties. They allow ingredients to seep in without the extra barrier of dead skin cells. 


Can I use humectants alone?

We work best as a team…


No, humectants don’t work on their own. Well, they do, but alone, it might cause the opposite effect. For humectants to work, they need to be combined with other moisturizing ingredients. In fact, the most effective use of humectants is when it's combined with occlusives and emollients to create a hydration super trio. For reference: occlusives are a moisturizing agent that form a protective layer on the skin's surface, creating a barrier. Emollients are a moisturizing treatment that directly soften rough skin by filling in the open spaces with lipids (fatty substances).


What should I avoid?

Retain moisture at all costs...


Humectants help retain moisturizer, so try to be conservative with any acid or exfoliating usage as humectants actually help other products (like a strong retinol) stay on the skin. While you know your skin best, using a super harsh product alongside a moisturizing product might cause an adverse result, especially on sensitive skin. For example, Urea is a humectant (which your body naturally produces) that helps remove skin. It can also be produced synthetically for skincare-- but it could be harsh on the delicate skin of your face. When it comes to using products with Urea, you only want to use it on especially rough skin like a dry heel. All in all, try to avoid anything considered harsh-- and let humectants do their job, so you can keep your hydration at 100% for a glowy, natural feel. 


 While skincare choices can seem overwhelming sometimes, we’re here to demystify those decisions to find what works best for you. Every single person is unique and any medical questions or concerns should always be consulted by a doctor. Make sure to follow us on Instagram for more updates!