What is A Humectant?

A humectant is a substance that draws in and creates bonds with water molecules. This bond moisturizes the skin’s surface by pulling water from the air, and from the dermis (the underlying layers of the skin).

Key Takeaways

  • humectants create bonds with water molecules
  • they pull moisture to the surface of the skin from the dermis and water vapor from the air
  • they can be man-made (synthetic) or obtained from nature

Understanding Humectants

Humectants work primarily by drawing water from their surrounding environment, which, depending on the conditions, can be the dermis (lower layer of the skin) of the surrounding air – if the air humidity is over 50%.

If you live in a dry climate, humectants can dry your skin out by pulling too much moisture from the deeper skin layers. A dry environment can lead to humectants working best when combined with occlusives in this circumstance.

There are two general types of humectants: synthetic (human-made) and derived from nature.

Synthetic Humectants are more common because they tend to be inexpensive to produce and have a longer shelf life than their natural counterparts. However, in some cases, they can end up drying the skin in the longer term – since they don’t provide any real nutrients or benefits.

Some examples of synthetic humectants are glycerin, sorbitol, butylene glycol, sodium lactate, and dicyanamide.

Natural Humectants not only attract water, but they can also enhance the moisture production in the dermis and encourage the growth of new cells in the epidermis (top layer of the skin), giving the skin a better ability to hydrate on its own.

Some examples of common nature-derived humectants are hyaluronic acid, honey, aloe vera, seaweed, and alpha-hydroxy acids.


The Derm Review


Very Well Health

Leslie Baumann MD

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