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Humectants - the Secret to Supple Skin

We know what a pain it is to have dry skin or dry patches on our skin. To all those seeking to moisturise that dry skin, Humectants could be your answer. Know here if this is where your search ends to solve your skincare puzzle!

What are Humectants?

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A Humectant is a hygroscopic substance that essentially means that it can draw moisture from your surrounding or the deepest layer of your skin towards the skin’s surface. Doing this helps the skin barrier to function and helps other skin care ingredients perform better.

How do Humectants work?

Humectants works in the following mode of action:

1. If you have applied Humectant to your skin, it will seep in and attract moisture from the air when the moisture level in the surrounding is more than 70%. If it is dry weather, it will draw moisture from the deepest layer of your skin. The latter scenario isn’t very ideal. However, even in dry weather, your skin does need moisture to function well so Humectants are still recommended to prevent dehydration.

2. Humectants have also proven to help get rid of dead skin by breaking the protein bond that holds the skin together. This process is called desquamation.

What are the types of Humectants?

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Let’s dive into the types of Humectants and what’s the word that you should look out for in the ingredient list of the product to verify if it has Humectants. There are mainly two types of Humectants - Natural and Synthetic Humectants.

A) Natural Humectants 

1. Glycerin/ Glycerol

Glycerin is a natural liquid substance that helps you trap moisture in your skin. It is naturally found in both animals and plants. Vegetable Glycerin can be extracted from Coconut, Soy, or Palm. Glycerin belongs to the Polyols family which also includes Sorbitols, Erythritol, Maltitol. These are all good sources of humectants.

2. Hyaluronic Acid/ Sodium Hyaluronate

It is naturally found in our body near the joints, skin, and connective tissue which helps the surface to be hydrated and lubricated. Hyaluronic Acid is known for its ability to moisturise your skin and promote the growth of skin cells. It is now synthetically available in skincare products. If you’re looking for a Hyaluronic Acid-based moisturiser, you’ve got to try Aminu’s Earnest Hydrating Cream which repairing property due to South Asian CICA herb, hydration due to Hyaluronic Acid, Vitamin B for anti-aging, and an African stoner- Malachite to boost your skin’s defense. Pretty perfect composition, right?

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3. Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHA)

AHAs are naturally found in fruits and milk. They are known to exfoliate your skin and moisturise your skin by promoting the growth of Ceramides. It is recommended that AHAs should be carefully introduced to the skin since they are acidic and if not used correctly, could do more harm than good. To spot them in the ingredient list, look out for Lactic Acid, Mandelic Acid, Glycolic Acid, Malic Acid, Citric Acid, Tartaric Acid. If you’re someone looking for a solution for dull, dry, and uneven skin, then you must try Martiderm Night Renew Ampoules that have the perfect punch of AHA, Hyaluronic Acid, and Marine Collagen.

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4. Aloe Vera

Aloe Vera is a plant that has healing properties. It can be used to soothe, heal, repair your skin. It can be even used with second-degree burns and sunburn since it has the property to calm your skin cells by trapping moisture in a very Humectant-like mechanism. If you’re someone with very fragile skin that is frequently exposed to external stressors, you can try Prakriti Herbal’s Anti Pigmentation & Sun Tan Papaya Strawberry Aloe Vera Face Pack once a week to detox your skin.

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Read more about it here.

5. Honey

Honey is one of the most known skin superfoods. It is rich in Vitamins and Enzymes that help keep the skin soft and healthy. Honey acts as a Humectant to offer deep hydration. You can apply Honey as it is on your face and it may get a little messy since Honey is sticky. A great fuss-free option is Hemis Honey, Vanilla & Hemp Oil Day Cream. It has the goodness of Hemp oil which is known for its anti-aging properties, Vanilla and Honey that nourishes and protects your skin from environmental damage. Also, it smells like freshly tossed pancakes. A total win-win for us!


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6. Seaweeds

Seaweeds are full of Humectants that help you draw moisture from the environment. It also has Vitamin E that helps you further promote a healthy skin barrier. Seaweeds-based products are definitely a win for someone looking for hydrated and glowy skin. We love how Faith in Nature’s Seaweeds and Citrus Body Wash is smartly pairing seaweeds with citrus to detoxify every day.


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B) Synthetic Humectants

1. Urea

Urea is a colorless crystalline organic compound that is found in our bodies as a part of the ‘Natural Moisturising Factor’ (NMF) to moisturise. It is now available synthetically as well. However, it is recommended to not use Urea on cracked skin without a doctor’s prescription as it can have a stinging effect.

2. Propylene Glycol

It is generally found as an additive in foods and beverages along with skincare products. This is a chemical compound that helps retain moisture.

3. Sodium PCA

It is naturally produced in our body as a part of the ‘Natural Moisturising Factor’ (NMF) that helps in maintaining a healthy skin layer. It is synthetically produced and can be spotted in the ingredient list since it is a Humectant that attracts moisture.

4. Panthenol

If you check your hair care products, you may spot this ingredient commonly. This is because it is a by-product of Vitamin B5 that helps strengthen hair, retain moisture and improve the texture of the hair. You may also find it in other cosmetic products apart from hair products. A rich cream like Oceglow’s Water Cream is the epitome of a balanced Botanicals and Algae Extracts mixture packed with Panthenol and Beta-Glucan to soothe and nourish your cream. The best part is it even has Tea tree oil to control acne!

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What are the Benefits of Humectants?

1. Hydration

One of the key functions is that Humectants attract moisture from the surrounding to the epidermis (uppermost layer of the skin). This keeps your skin moisturised. We swear by Swisse Manuka Honey Glow Boosting Moisturiser that’s just perfectly blended with Vitamin C and Grapeseed Oil with Manuka Honey to give you that clean and glowing skin.


Remember it is not just your skin that needs hydration, your scalp does it too. If you’re facing hair woes like hair loss, lifeless strands, and unhealthy scalp, the first thing you must look for is hydration and nutrition for your skin. Switch to a Humectant-based mild shampoo. Our pick for this would be Petal Fresh’s Softening Rose & Honeysuckle Shampoo and Conditioner that will help you clean up your scalp and soften your dry strands. If your hair and scalp need intense hydration, try a hair mask that has a natural form of Humectant like Coccoon’s Enriching Coconut and Honey Hair Mask that will make your life and hair manageable.
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2. Exfoliation

If there is dead skin accumulated on the surface, Humectants break the bond that is bonding with the dead skin. This is called desquamation or in other words, exfoliation. 

3. Improves Performance of other Active Ingredients

Because your skin is exfoliated due to Humectants, your new skin layer is now more receptive which allows your active ingredients to work better on your skin. A power-packed serum, like Soulflower’s Firming Serum that has Peptides, Glycerin, and Hyaluronic Acid is a perfect choice for someone who wants to combine active ingredients with a moisturising base.

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What is the difference between Humectants, Emollient and Occlusive Moisturiser?

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1. Mode of Action

    When it comes to Humectants, they hydrate your skin by attracting moisture from the surrounding or the deepest layer of your skin towards the surface of the skin. They may feel a little sticky.

    Emollients work more as fillers to make the skin smoother and softer. They tend to feel a little heavy or greasy.

    When it comes to Occlusive, they form a layer on top of your skin to seal in all the moisture. They will feel heavy on the skin.

    2. Source

      You can find Humectants in Aloe Vera, Glycerin, Honey, AHAs, Hyaluronic Acid

      The best source for Emollients are Fatty Acids from plant-derived oil like coconut oil, shea butter, cocoa butter

      Occlusive moisturisers are made up of Beeswax, Mineral Oil, Squalene, Petroleum Jelly, Silicones, and Lanolin.

      Read more about emollients here and occlusives here.

      Which Skin type can use Humectants?

      This depends on the type of Humectants. If you’re using a natural source like Honey, Aloe Vera, Glycerin. It can be used by any skin type including mature skin. When it comes to AHA, it is recommended that you patch test before use since someone with a sensitive or hypersensitive skin type may not do well with AHA. While starting with AHA, you must start with the mildest concentration- about 2 to 5%.

      If you want to use a product with synthetic Humectant, you must check with the dermatologist. Your skin has had its own journey and it may or may not sit well with synthetic compounds.

      Most of the OTC Humectant products are safe to use by all skin types because OTC products always contain the mildest concentration that any skin can take. You can start with a refreshing toner that you can spray on the go and anywhere on a hectic day. Our choice would be Vaunt’s Watermelon & Seaweed Toner that saves the day by rejuvenating, hydrating, and protecting your skin.

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      If you’re someone with acne, your safe choice for moisturiser is Humectants for natural Emollients ie. plant-derived oil, and butter like shea butter, cocoa butter, coconut oil, jojoba oil. You must not dwell on occlusive products since that can worsen your acne.

      What are the Side effects of Humectants?

      In the absence of enough moisture in the surrounding, Humectants tend to draw moisture from the deepest layer of the skin towards the surface of the skin. This leads to drying out your skin in the long run. Which means you will have to constantly moisturise your skin.


      Overall, Humectants can be given a solid 9 on 10 since they always stand true to their promise. Any skin type can benefit from Humectants but a patch test is a must. If you’re someone with sensitive or acne-prone skin, play it safe and consult a dermatologist before introducing new products to your skin. Humectants are easily found in your kitchen or garden- fruits, Honey, Aloe Vera. So if nothing works out, seek out in nature to find your answer for that soft and smooth skin!

      - Divya Salvi

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