Moisturisers hydrate the skin, and that's how you get rid of dryness, right? Eh, kind of, but unfortunately it's not quite that simple. Moisturisers—be they for the face or body, actually contain a variety of different ingredients, all of which work in slightly different ways to help address and treat dryness. And in this arena, Occlusives, which help to smooth, soften and hydrate the skin, are one of the most essential kinds.
What are Occlusives in Skincare?
Moisturising ingredients can be classified into three groups: Humectants, which draw in moisture, Emollients, which can help soften the skin, and Occlusives. Occlusives are a class of ingredients designed to provide a protective seal over skin and lock in hydration. They don’t increase the moisture levels of the skin but can help prevent water reserves from being drained by external stressors.
So how do they really work? Occlusive agents are usually oily substances that coat the stratum corneum, rendering an emollient effect as well as the ability to decrease. Occlusives are thought to diffuse into the intercellular lipid domains, thus contributing to their efficacy. Simply put, an Occlusive ingredient provides a protective seal over the surface of the skin to prevent loss of hydration into the environment. They also help keep irritants, allergens and other harmful particles from being able to enter your skin.
Occlusive ingredients seem to be most effective when placed over damp skin and are only effective while present on the skin because once removed, Trans Epidermal Water Loss (TWEL) returns to the normal level.
Sometimes, Occlusive ingredients can feel heavy and greasy on the skin — therefore it’s best to include them along with lighter-feeling ingredients like humectants, when creating moisturising skin care products.
Occlusives need to be present on your skin in order for them to seal in water and keep irritants out. So you will need to reapply products that contain them to maintain the results.
A) Are moisturising in nature
B) Prevent TEWL (trans-epidermal water loss)
C) Prevent entry of foreign bacteria and toxins into the skin
D) Typically, are perceived as ‘oily’ or ‘waxy’
What are the Benefits of Occlusives?
Most people get dry, irritated skin from time to time, especially during the winter when the air is cold and dry. You can also get dry skin from washing your hands often, or from working with harsh chemicals. Occlusives are effective for soothing and healing dry skin due to almost any concern, including:
Occlusives such as petroleum jelly (paraffin), dimethicone, etc are hydrophobic moisturisers that prevent evaporation by forming a waterproof barrier on the skin’s surface. For optimal results, it is recommended to apply occlusive agents on slightly dampened skin
Psoriasis is an itchy, uncomfortable, hyperproliferative dermatologic condition that tends to affect patients’ elbows, knees, scalp, umbilicus, lumbar regions, fingernails, toenails, and areas with skinfolds. Occlusives are treatments applied directly to the skin to reduce water loss and cover it with a protective film. If you have mild psoriasis, an Occlusive is probably the first treatment your doctor will suggest. The main benefit of Occlusive is to reduce itching and scaling and restore the pH levels of the skin.
3. Atopic Dermatitis
Atopic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory disease characterised by recurrent flares, intense itching, erythema, dry skin resulting from skin barrier defects, and infections. Regular Occlusive application moistens and hydrates the skin and helps the skin maintain a defensive barrier effect as well as reduces the amount of topical corticosteroids needed for atopic eczema in infants, children and adults.
Occlusives can treat these conditions as well as other skin irritations such as burns from radiation treatments and diaper rash.
Other actions that cause you to have dry skin that can be treated with Occlusives include:
A) Using very hot water when you bathe or shower or taking frequent or long baths
B) They can help soothe dry irritated skin caused by external aggressors like sun exposure, dry weather, other drying skincare ingredients and improper cleansing habits.
C) Exposing your hands to water for a long time when you clean or wash the dishes
D) Using soaps or cleansing products that are harsh or drying
E) Excessive sun exposure
What’s the Difference between Humectants, Emollients and Occlusives?
Humectants typically pull water into the skin. Examples include Hyaluronic acid, Aloe Vera, Urea and Glycerin. These water-loving ingredients draw moisture from the air or the deeper layers of skin into the outermost layer of the epidermis.
Humectant moisturisers are light and absorb quickly into the skin, which makes them a perfect choice for summertime or acne-prone or oily skin types. Gel-creams, hydro-gels and oil-free moisturisers typically fall into the humectant category.
Read more about them here.
Slightly thicker and richer than humectants, emollients soften skin by helping to smooth and repair any damage on the surface of the skin. Common emollient ingredients — Cocoa Butter, Colloidal Oatmeal, and Squalene and Triglycerides (lipids) — are typically found in creams, lotions, ointments and balms.
Emollients are best for dry or aging skin, as they can help to restore the skin’s natural barrier to reduce the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines. Emollients are also great for soothing eczema-prone skin.
Read more about them here.
Occlusives create a barrier over the skin to trap moisture. Many emollients also have occlusive properties, such as petroleum, lanolin, etc and also create a barrier that helps prevent water loss and protects skin from external irritants.
Waxes, oils and dimethicone are a few of the other most common occlusive agents. Due to their thick, heavy consistency, occlusive moisturisers are best reserved for severely dry or damaged skin.
If you have acne-prone skin and want to use occlusives, it’s important to check that the ingredients are non-comedogenic, so you don’t end up with clogged pores and breakouts.
Read more about ingredients you should avoid if you have acne-prone skin here.
What are the different types of Occlusives?
1. Petroleum Jelly
Petroleum jelly, the most common and easily available Occlusive, helps seal the skin with a water-protective barrier. This helps your skin heal and retain moisture. Some people may break out when using petroleum jelly. Make sure you clean the skin properly before you apply the jelly to reduce the risk of breakouts.
Squalane is an “Occlusive emollient” preventing TEWL, or trans-epidermal water loss. Its Occlusive properties allow it to form a barrier that traps water in your skin. We often pair it with another chemical found in healthy skin cells: Hyaluronic acid. Dr Sheth’s Pure Olive Squalane is a single-ingredient product that can be used to hydrate skin, hair and nails. Squalane also has anti-inflammatory properties which help with diseases like eczema and dry skin.
3. Castor Oil
Castor Oil is obtained by squeezing the castor oil plant seeds. This Oil is entirely steady, sober, fatty oil, which contains over 90% Ricinoleic acid. It is additionally one of the most popular of all regularly based Occlusives at present sold.
4. Argan Oil
Argan Oil contains over 80% unsaturated fats, of which around 33% are omega-6, likewise have a high grouping of tocopherols. Argan Oil is an all-natural skin healer that locks in hydration, plumps fine lines and wrinkles, fights free radical damage (sun and pollution damage), reduces redness, and leaves the skin silky and soft. Our pick is the Swisse Argan Youthful Facial Oil.
Swisse Argan Youthful Face Oil is formulated with certified Organic Argan Oil, which is rich in antioxidant compounds such as vitamin E, Ferulic acid, and omegas 6 and 9. The ingredients used in this product have been effective in skin hydration that help to improve skin elasticity and protect the skin from environmental damage to promote healthy and youthful looking skin.
5. Shea Butter
The rich tree-nut oils in Shea Butter can soak into your skin, creating a smooth and soft barrier that seals in moisture that can last several hours. Shea Butter works as a skin-conditioning agent. So, if you are someone who has skin that’s dull and dry, you can incorporate Shea Butter into your skincare routine. The one we suggest is the Neemli Naturals Hibiscus and Saffron Night Cream. This face cream is a rich and creamy blend of illuminating, age delaying, and Vitamin rich ingredients that keep skin hydrated, radiant and dewy smooth. Shea Butter is incredibly nourishing for the skin and boosts natural collagen production and natural fatty acids that protect skin and prevent it from drying.
A night cream we suggest is the Coccoon Repairing Night Cream with Vitamin C Kakadu Plum and Shea Butter. This creamy blend of all things good regenerates your skin while you sleep, resulting in a natural effortless glow.
6. Cocoa Butter
There’s no doubt that Cocoa butter is just an amazing Occlusive. It has properties of all the moisturising components and is a go-to for the skin. One of the benefits of Cocoa butter is the high tocopherol content. This is a cluster of compounds that together contain a lot of Vitamin E, and is sometimes referred to as a form of that key vitamin. Tocopherol is a friend of the skin due to its antioxidant properties. These protect the skin from UV rays, and ultimately make it look firm and healthy.
Arata's Moisturising Body Lotion infuses the skin with the deep nourishment of Shea, Cocoa, Mango and Kokum Butter, leaving it hydrated, moisturised, and supple.
Beeswax is an effective Occlusive that comes from bee honeycomb and is often used in lip balms and creams that require a thicker consistency to keep them from separating.
This Treewear Beeswax Balm helps to keep moisture in the skin while still allowing it to breathe. It’s formulated with Cocoa Butter, Coconut & Sweet Almond oils, that are all moisture locking ingredients. This lip balm also contains Vitamin E oil and has anti-oxidant & regenerative properties to keep your lips feeling, soft, smooth & lucious.
Lanolin Oil is known as an Occlusive, which means it helps soothe dry or dehydrated skin. This ingredient can reduce water loss through the skin by 20 to 30 percent. Simply put, Lanolin is extremely hydrating and has the ability to soften skin to help improve the appearance and the feel of rough, dry, or flaky areas.
Dimethicone is one of the best and most popular synthetic Occlusive ingredients because it is inexpensive and easy to produce and it excels at forming a nice moisture barrier over the skin, Another reason for Dimethicone’s popularity is that is it is the only ingredient listed that has a greasy feeling when applied to the skin.
Ceramides are skin-identical ingredients that are missing, to replenish ingredients that deplete over time, through trauma or with age. We suggest Dr Sheth's Cica and Ceramide Overnight Repair Serum because it repairs the skin barrier and banishes dry, tight skin. Ceramides accelerate the healing process and deeply nourishes the skin. The serum product also contains Squalane, another great Occlusive that rejuvenates the skin and makes it supple.
What is the Ideal and most effective way of using Occlusives?
Pair them with a Humectant. The Humectant would deliver moisture and hydration to your skin, while the Occlusive would keep it ‘trapped’ inside of your skin for long, slowly releasing moisture on your skin as needed and preventing it from drying out.
Who should use Occlusives?
Occlusives are suitable for people with extremely dry, irritated skin or those suffering from skin conditions such as eczema. Occlusives create a physical barrier on the skin, they can clog pores and cause breakouts if skin is already oily or if the product is applied too thick.
Not just people with dry skin but everyone should receive sufficient hydration in their skin bed and this can only be achieved by using a combination of occlusive + humectant (+ emollient, if desired) for their skin. It might also be a good idea to only use products with high levels of Occlusives on problem areas versus all over the face (or body), for example, on dry patches or areas prone to irritation. One should use an Occlusive at night so that it has enough time to seep into the skin working it’s magic.
Occlusives are useful for healing dry, itchy, and flaky skin. It is essential to choose an Occlusive that you are comfortable with and one that suits your skin type.