Most commercial skin or hair care products that have moisturizing properties contain at least one humectant. More often than not, humectants exist in leave-on hydrating products, including lotions, creams, and serums. Humectants attract water and help draw moisture to the outermost layer of the skin. This process helps to improve overall complexion and keeps the skin moisturized.
What Are Humectants?
Humectants are agents that attract water molecules and retain them. They pull water from the skin’s second layer, the dermis, and bring it to the top layer, the epidermis. In doing so, they help to reduce dryness, improve complexion, and reduce the appearance of fine lines. Humectants are beneficial for people with sensitive skin, dry skin, or people who have drying skin conditions like eczema. Common natural humectants include sugar, aloe vera, honey, beeswax, and sorbitol.
How Do Humectants Work?
Think of humectants as water magnets, pulling moisture from the air into the skin. They work similarly if you use hair care products that contain humectants, drawing moisture to help your hair look less dry. Not all humectants work in the same way, though. Some supply the skin and hair with moisture directly, while others double as exfoliants, removing dead skin cells and debris before leaving your skin a little smoother. The exfoliation process and moisture attraction assists with cell turnover, which is integral for healthy-looking skin. Lastly, you cannot use humectants interchangeably for the skin and hair. That’s why some humectants in hair care products may not be in skin care products and vice versa.
After applying the humectant, it attracts moisture. After exposure to the air, it starts attracting moisture from surrounding oxygen and deeper layers of the skin. In doing so, the moisture remains on your skin’s surface to keep it hydrated for a longer time. Using humectants, then, may help prevent water loss throughout the day. By reducing dryness, you can help create even skin texture and fewer fine lines and dry patches.
Types Of Humectants
The three primary moisturizing ingredients in skin care products include humectants, emollients, and occlusives. They work in different ways, but together they help to lock moisture into the skin to create a physical barrier against drying. To get a better idea of the humectants that exists, read about a few of the best natural humectants below.
Aloe is naturally rich in water, especially the innermost layer. In addition to the inherent moisture, the mucopolysaccharides (sugars in aloe) assist with moisture retention. In fact, several studies found that the topical application of aloe vera helps increase the water content of the statum corneum.
The polysaccharides (long sugars) in oats help bind water to the skin’s surface. That’s not the only reason that oats are excellent for adding moisture to the skin. Colloidal oats contain lipids that have emollient properties, helping to fill in micro-cracks in the skin that may contribute to irritation or dryness. The emollients and humectant in colloidal oats make them an excellent option for people with dry skin conditions.
If you use honey on the skin, it’s best to opt for organic, raw unfiltered honey because it doesn’t contain added sugars or preservatives. The rich antioxidant and antimicrobial nature of honey helps to fight dryness, psoriasis, fine lines, and infections. In addition to the humectant properties that contribute to moisture retention, honey helps to calm inflammation and promote wound healing.
Most hydrating products contain glycerin, which typically comes from vegetable oils or animal fats. It mixes well with other ingredients and helps to soften skin while enhancing moisture retention. Not only does it help hydrate the skin, but it also improves skin barrier function, which can prevent moisture loss. Additionally, enhancing skin barrier function may accelerate wound healing and reduce any irritation on the skin.