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  • Alexie M.

Deciphering the Different Types of Moisture in Skincare

If you've ever found yourself staring down the skincare aisle, wondering which moisturizer to buy, unsure of which one would be suitable for your skin, this is the post for you.

Moisturizers can be tricky to decipher, with their long list of ingredients. Here, I have categorized some common ingredients into which type of moisture they provide for the skin, and which type of moisture you should be looking for in particular to your skin type and condition.


" W A T E R 💦 M A G N E T S "

Humectants are ingredients that help attract water to the skin. They act like little sponges, soaking up moisture from their surroundings. I often refer to the action of humectants as the skin taking in a "big drink of water".

Because of their nature, humectants work best in humid climates, where they can draw moisture from the air onto the skin's surface. This is because in drier climates, humectants can do the opposite and draw moisture from the deeper layers of the skin outwards toward the surface. That doesn't mean you can't or shouldn't use humectants. Instead, applying humectants on damp skin (I like to spray hydrating mist onto my face prior to application) and then layering with emollient or occlusive ingredients (which I will elaborate on later) is ideal in order to retain moisture in the skin and prevent moisture loss.

Some examples of natural humectants include:

  • Glycerin

  • Honey

  • Hyaluronic acid (or sodium hyaluronate)

  • Tremella mushroom/snow fungus

  • Aloe vera

  • Sorbitol

  • Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs)

💦 Hyaluronic acid (HA) is a popular choice as it is naturally occurring in the skin, therefore the skin is very receptive to it, and for the fact that it is able to bind to an astronomical amount of water, 1000 times it's weight to be exact!

🍄 The tremella mushroom (or snow fungus) is one of my favorites, as it has an even smaller molecule size compared to HA, so it can penetrate even deeper into the skin. It is said that tremella mushroom can hold up to 500 times it's weight in water.

Humectants are a fantastic option for dehydrated, flaky skin as well as oily, acne prone skin types. Although you can find humectants in most skincare products, the best (and most concentrated) forms will generally be in liquid or gel form.


" M A K I N G 🧴 S O F T "

(From the latin verb emollire, meaning "to soften, or soothe")

Responsible for that silky, smooth feeling that you get when applying creams and lotions, emollients have the ability to deeply moisturize and soften the skin, improving skin elasticity and texture.

Examples of emollients include:

  • Plant-based oils (jojoba, argan, cranberry safflower, macadamia, apricot, grapeseed, almond, etc…)

  • Plant-based butters (mango, cocoa, shea, argan etc..)

  • Squalane

Emollients are beneficial for repairing and maintaining barrier function (damaged/compromised skin). This makes emollients ideal for inflammatory skin conditions such as eczema, dermatitis, psoriasis and other conditions like acne, rosacea and/or itchy, dry and sensitive skin.

Oils can offer lubrication to the skin and can quickly diminish any irritation, burning or stinging in the skin due to the skin feeling "raw" from sunburns, windburns, product irritation or allergies and sensitivities.

Butters and salves are deeply nourishing and offer a bit of an occlusive layer to the skin, keeping moisture in and preventing it from going out.

My favorites are cranberry seed oil, jojoba, mango butter & argan butter!


" S E C O N D ✌ S K I N "

Occlusives form a protective layer on the skin's surface, to help create a barrier to prevent moisture loss and to keep moisture in.

Some ingredients, like plant-based oils and butters, can act as both emollients and occlusives by providing moisture and preventing it from being lost.

Examples of occlusives include:

  • Plant-based butters (Shea, Cocoa, Mango, Argan)

  • Lanolin

  • Beeswax

  • Lecithin

  • Petroleum jelly

  • Mineral oil

  • Paraffin

While there may be some occlusives that work better than others at their ability to physically block moisture from being evaporated through the skin, some options (especially less natural choices) may come with their disadvantages, such as clogging pores and/or not being a healthy choice for skin health long term.

Occlusives work well for wound healing, and adding an extra layer of protection against wind, sun and other environmental stressors. They can also provide moisturizing benefits to dry, dehydrated skin and compromised skin barrier.

One of my favorite products containing moisturizing occlusive ingredients is Eminence Organics Rosehip & Lemongrass Repair Balm, which I use when my skin is feeling irritated, parched or stressed.


Most moisturizers will contain more than one source of moisture. For example, a day cream could contain all 3; it may have a base made of shea butter (occlusive), almond oil (emollient) and also contain glycerin and/or hyaluronic acid (humectant). The important thing when looking for the right type of moisturizer, is to understand first what your skin needs.

Is is flaky, itchy, tight feeling? If so, your skin may be DEHYDRATED, so making sure your product contains humectants is key.

If your complexion is pretty good but your skin get dry from time to time and you can barely see any pores, then you have a DRY skin type, which can handle a lot more of an emollient base (think facial oils).

If you experience irritation, are prone to eczema or other types of inflammatory conditions that can cause your skin to become really dry, you might find that a product containing occlusive ingredients will help the skin heal faster, as it provides an additional barrier.

Oily and combination skin types do well with higher humectant content, to keep the skin hydrated without adding to the oil content already present.

One thing to remember when looking at the ingredient list on a product, is the base (larger volume of ingredients) will be listed first, so those are the ones you want to pay attention to. The remainder of the ingredients are additional ones that may help with a specific function, such as brightening, reducing fine lines/wrinkles, detoxifying, de-puffing and so on.

All this info should get you on your way to becoming a savvy skincare consumer!

Stay hydrated, my friends!

Peace, love & glowing skin,


Skincare Wholistically

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