The Difference Between Humectants, Emollients, and Occlusives.

The Difference Between Humectants, Emollients, and Occlusives.

If you’re the type that has done research on the ins and outs of skincare, particularly skin ingredients, you might have come across words like “humectant” “emollient” and “occlusive”. To the average person, these words might be unfamiliar or they may not know entirely what they mean. However, in order to understand how some skin care is effective and how formulation works, knowing the meaning of these terms is vital. A lot of skincare formulation can be somewhat complex, but if you have ever wondered why creams feel so smooth or how your serum is able to keep your skin looking plump, this is the article for you. So, sit tight and let’s break down what humectants, emollients, and occlusives are and how they work together. 


Let’s start with humectants. Now, what is a humectant? Simply put, humectants are hydrators. They attract water whether it’s in the air or in liquid form. They bond with water molecules and can be effective for increasing and retaining the skin’s moisture levels. If you live in a humid environment, using skin care products with humectants can be beneficial. It’s important to know however, that this can be a double-edged sword if not applied correctly. Humectants cannot tell whether the water is in your skin or outside of it. It simply loves water in general. So, if you’re living in a dry environment, and you apply a humectant onto dry skin, the water found in the deeper levels of your skin can be absorbed and your skin will end up being dehydrated. That’s the opposite of what we want, and that’s why it’s important to apply your skincare onto damp skin so humectants will have something to hold onto and retain. It is also important to apply an occlusive on top to prevent the moisture from evaporating, but most products are formulated with all three ingredients. Three popular humectants are aloe vera, glycerin and hyaluronic acid. They are the most commonly used when it comes to skincare products.  


Emollients are skin ingredients that make skincare feel creamy, soft and supple. Examples of emollients include squalene, lipids, oils, and other skin softeners. One of the best emollients is shea butter which has high occlusivity and is non-comedogenic (does not clog pores). Emollients can be used alone or they can be combined to create things like ointments, moisturizers, and creams. While water helps to hydrate the skin, emollients can fill the cracks in the skin with fats, lipids and assist in keeping the water in the skin to some extent. Emollients can also be classified based on how oily they are. The more oil is in an emollient, the better it will be at locking moisture and protecting the skin barrier. With that being said, there can be a thin line between a product having more emollient characteristics or occlusive characteristics. Emollients can range from light lotions, which contain minimum amounts of oils, to heavy creams that contain more oils and fats. Emollients are great at soothing and lubricating the skin so it won’t feel dry, flaky, or uncomfortable.  


Whereas humectants are the light end of the spectrum, occlusives are on the heavy end. Vaseline, petrolatum, beeswax, silicones, and a few other ingredients are all examples of occlusives. Occlusives form a thick barrier on the skin, keeping water, moisture, and other important skin ingredients applied from previous products into the skin. It also helps keep dryness, damage, and other irritating and harmful external factors out. Nothing gets OUT, and nothing gets IN. Because of this, it’s recommended to make occlusives your LAST step when doing your skincare routine. If anything is applied on top of them, it will not be able to penetrate your skin.  

How do they work together? 

As said before, a lot of products are formulated with all three types of ingredients in them so create maximum effectiveness. If you’re feeling a bit confused, always apply products from lightest to heaviest. Humectant containing products like toners and serums always go before moisturizers and creams. Emollients, (which are the moisturizers and creams) go next so they can help the humectants to do their job more easily. They can be the foundation for the barrier that can help the water and moisture to remain in the skin. Occlusives, as mentioned before, go last and are the final reinforcers to prevent any hydration or moisture from leaving the skin. They are the thickest and should be slathered on after all previous products have been applied. The only exception to this is sunscreen. During the day, if you’re out and about, sunscreen should be the last step in your skincare routine. Occlusives are better saved for nightly use as applying them during the day can prevent some sunscreen ingredients from penetrating. 

Now that we know how these three types of skin ingredients work, choosing skin care products will be a snap. At Sweeter Juice Skin, we have a lovely Green Tea + Hyaluronic Toner that contains honey and aloe vera and REVIVAL Ultra Gels are wonderful humectants that can help your skin to retain moisture.  Our Shea Butter + Neem Dream Cream have emollients, occlusive and humectant properties and can help to promote a healthy skin barrier and seal in moisture. Lastly, you’re gonna need Queen Royoil to seal the deal and help keep all of that hydrating goodness inside your skin.  

We also have a brand new exclusive upcoming body butter set that will give your body the hydration and care it deserves from your skin routine! Our Best Butters set is designed to address dry parched skin while promoting a heavenly glow that can be lost with chronic dehydration. 

Body Butters are oil based products, made up of a blend of emollients and occlusives from ingredients like shea butter, cocoa butter, and rich moisture sealing oils! They do not contain water, meaning that you won't have to worry about your moisture levels evaporating anytime soon. 

Our exclusive butters include our original best-seller Dream Cream, plus our new arrivals Cocoa Rich$ and Nubian Gold! 

This moisturizing trio will ensure that even the driest skin will be able to achieve the hydration it so desperately need! Everyone's skin will be able to benefits from using these butters and we have no doubt that you'll fall in love with the luxurious experience they'll bring to your routine! 

Knowing how to layer your skincare is an important part of achieving healthy, young-looking skin. It all starts with education, and at Sweeter Juice Skin, we’re all about healthy skin and creating products to help every person look their best. Making it easier for people who aren’t skincare savvy is a wonderful privilege and we enjoy seeing people get results from using our skincare line.