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Moisturizing is one of the most important steps to any skincare routine - but with so many ingredients, terms, and best practices out there, it can be difficult to know what products to use or exactly how to moisturize correctly.
The short version? All moisturizers can be divided into three categories of ingredients that work together to help you achieve the perfect glow: emollient, humectant, and occlusive moisturizer. Here’s what each category is and how to actually use these ingredients to achieve deeply hydrated, lit-from-within skin.
Ultimately, occlusives, emollients and humectants are the main "categories" of ingredients that you'll find in moisturizers and other skincare products. Taking a step back, the term “moisturizer” was originally coined to talk about any cream or product that was created to increase the skin’s moisture.
It is believed that this was done primarily by preventing trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL) through something called occlusion. In simpler terms, this means that moisturizers were meant to prevent the loss of water from the skin by creating a layer on the skin that trapped that water inside (aka an occlusive layer).
You need a combination of all three components - emollients, humectants, and occlusives in skincare - to complete all these functions.
Humectants are ingredients that work by attracting water molecules - either from the environment or from deeper within the body - and drawing them in, ultimately adding more water content to the skin. The function of humectants in skin care is to bind hydration to the skin, whereas occlusives and emollients create a barrier to lock that hydration in. Humectants and emollients are frequently found in body creams and hair products to perform the same function: attract moisture and lock it in place.
While synthetic humectants are cost-effective and easily available, some end up doing more harm than good. Because humectants pull moisture from deeper layers of the skin, they can end up depleting those resources and causing increased dryness over time.
Natural skin humectants (honey, seaweed, and hyaluronic acid, to name a few) deliver the same benefits while being more gentle on the skin. They're said to improve the skin's self-hydrating capabilities by promoting long-term, sustainable hydration!
Believe it or not, our skin naturally makes humectants, too! These are called natural moisture factors (or NMFs) and they include things like lactic acid, urea, and sodium PCA (which you can also find in many skincare products). Excessive washing and exposure to UV rays are the main behavioral factors that reduce NMF levels.
We're big proponents of using humectants for skin care. First, they ensure that the skin itself is hydrated, not just caked on with thick products. Additionally, humectant moisturizers re-introduce moisture into the skin to prevent dryness, redness, or flakiness caused by dehydrated skin.
At Eight Saints, we take a natural approach to skincare; humectants that we use are natural or naturally derived.
Hyaluronic acid is a humectant moisturizer produced by our skin - Eight Saints uses a botanically-based, organic form in our products!
The Daydreamer Natural Face Moisturizer blends naturally hydrating components like jojoba oil, aloe leaf juice, and silk protein amino acids to hydrate and restore the skin's natural balance. Hyaluronic acid is included for its humectant properties.
The Pep Rally Face Serum is a plumping moisturizer. It combines green tea, MSM, hyaluronic acid, and much more to deliver a powerful moisturizing boost.
Our Soulmate Brightening Treatment is a natural brightening treatment that works by facilitating cell turnover - ridding the skin of dead cells and bringing young, bright cells to the surface.
Salicylic acid is a pore-unclogging agent. In Eight Saints' Quality Control Acne Spot Treatment, it deeply penetrates the pores to reduce swelling and shrink pimples overnight. This treatment also incorporates witch hazel to shrink the pores, preventing further clogging and stopping future breakouts in their tracks!
Emollients should come next in your daily routine. These lighter, oil-based substances work to fill in the gaps between skin cells and replace missing lipids to fortify the skin, giving your skin an instantly smooth, soft feeling. Emollients and humectants soothe dryness and irritation.
Both promote moisture, but emollients are thicker while humectants can have a water-like consistency. Emollients nourish and protect while humectants simply hydrate.
Our anti-aging All In Eye Cream contains all 8 of our holy grail ingredients. Addressing the full range of skin concerns, the formula contains squalene, which delivers brightening antioxidants and healing oils.
The Cloud Whip Face Cream will make your skin feel like the name implied: as soft and fluffy as a cloud. We've added MSM to correct dark spots andcalendula, benefits include promoting a softer texture and help reduce dark spots.
The All In Eye Cream incorporates calendula to smooth the under-eye area, giving a younger, softer appearance.
Lastly, the High Society Face Oil also contains calendula. This power-packed formula is rich in natural vitamins and oils. We've added calendula to lighten dark spots from sun damage and acne scars, and to nourish the outer layer of skin with natural lipids.
Apply your emollient after cleansing and applying a humectant. Right after, you'll follow up with the occlusive of your choice. Don't feel the need to wash these products off - give them time to soak into the skin and do their job!
OK, so we talk a lot about the skin’s natural barrier and how it works as a shield for the skin, keeping vitamins and nutrients in and keeping toxins, pollutants, and other environmental aggressors out. Well, occlusive moisturizer adds to that barrier, protecting the skin, preventing trans-epidermal water loss, and sealing in moisture.
Of course, we add organic occlusives to our skincare products, including cocoa seed butter, coconut oil, and jojoba oil.
Tamanu oil is one of our lesser known favorites:
Our Daydreamer Natural Face Moisturizer has humectants, emollients, and occlusives, making it an all-in-one product.
The All In Eye Cream is our gentle emollient and occlusive with tamanu oil added to lock in hydration and reduce any puffiness.
Lastly, our Cloud Whip Face Cream addresses a broad spectrum of skin concerns. Tamanu oil, a natural occlusive, works along with other natural oils to finish off your skincare routine and ensure all products stay on the skin for longer.
Occlusives are applied after humectants and emollients if they aren't combined into the same product. Because occlusive moisturizers are heavier and protect the skin, applying a lightweight humectant afterward would be futile - the skin is already protected by the oily barrier and your humectant won't pass through.
We see articles all the time comparing emollient vs humectant or emollient vs occlusive -- and aren't sure why! Don't get it twisted. All three work together to create a well-balanced skincare routine.
That said, there are many products that are multi-benefit.Cloud Whip vitamin C daily cream, for example, contains both emollient ingredients - like jojoba oil and MSM - and occlusives like cocoa butter and beeswax. Such products can help you multitask and hydrate more effectively.
Just keep in mind that if you’re using a product that only falls under one category - likeHigh Society botanical oil, which is just an emollient - you’ll want to add humectants and occlusives as well to create a more well-rounded hydration routine.