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How moisturizer works — humectants, occlusives, and emollients


There’s nothing like finding the right moisturizer. It goes on light, leaves no residue, and your skin feels soft and supple all day long. It’s amazing! The reason why the right moisturizer is right for you is down to the combination of three types of ingredients — humectants, occlusives, and emollients. In this post, we’ll share all about what they are, what they do, and how to find the right combination for your skin.

What are humectants?

woman swims in pool of water

Humectants are a group of ingredients that are hydrophilic. That means they love water! Humectants attract water into your cells, helping to hydrate them. Unsurprisingly, humectants are the key active ingredient in moisturizers. They absorb well into your skin, where they draw water up from deeper layers of cells into the cells nearer the surface. This produces visible hydrating results.

Examples of top humectants include glycerin, honey, aloe vera, and hyaluronic acid. Two of the most ancient humectants that are still used in skincare today are salt and sugar. Just think what happens if you get water on either of those! Salt and sugar scrubs are super popular because they make great exfoliants and they help to hydrate your skin.

What are occlusives?

water splash

Occlusives are the opposite of humectants — they repel water. Which seems strange for a moisturizing ingredient, right? But when humectants draw water up into the top layers of your skin, occlusives are what stop it from going any further. The last thing you want is for your skin to dry out! Occlusives are usually made of waxy substances like fatty acids or oils. They make a protective barrier across your skin that stops anything from getting in or out. This locks moisture in your cells.

Examples of common occlusives found in skincare include petroleum jelly, lanolin, mineral oil, and silicone. Occlusives are great for people with dry or irritated skin, or who have skin conditions such as eczema. They usually have large molecules that stop them from absorbing into the skin, so they don’t cause more irritation. However that also means occlusives are bad news if you have naturally oily or pimple-prone skin, because they can block pores and cause breakouts.

What are emollients?

woman with soft skin touches her face

Emollients are the last of the three ingredient types that make up moisturizer, but they’re the ingredient you’re most likely to see on the front label. That’s because emollients are skin conditioners that leave your skin feeling soft and supple. They’re the rockstars of the moisturizer world!

Some favorite emollients include beeswax, jojoba oil, cocoa butter, and shea butter. They’re usually oil-based or fatty acid-based, so they help to repair the skin’s natural protective barrier. They absorb into the skin and work at a deeper level than occlusives, but they’re better tolerated by all skin types. From dry to oily skin, almost everyone sees the benefits of using moisturizers rich in emollients.

How does moisturizer work?

woman applies moisturizer

Moisturizers work by combining these three ingredients to attract moisture (humectants), lock it into your skin (occlusives), and provide deeper nourishment and protection (emollients). However there is some overlap between how these ingredients act on your skin, and the combination of ingredients used can affect your skin.

For example, many humectants also act like emollients, because they make your skin feel softer and more supple. And many emollients act just like occlusives, helping to create a protective oily barrier across your skin that stops moisture from escaping. When ingredients that are too similar are used together, they can have unwanted results. For instance too many oil-based ingredients can create a product that leaves a greasy residue behind.

Your skin plays a part in this reaction. If your skin is naturally very dry, you need to use richer, thicker products than somebody with naturally oily skin. And while it’s not true that people with oily skin should avoid oil-based moisturizers completely, they do have to use a lighter formulation that won’t clog their pores.

How to find the right moisturizer for my skin?

smiling woman touches face

Your ideal moisturizer will change over time, as you age and your lifestyle changes. In the summer, you might need a water based, lightweight moisturizer, but then in winter you might need a much heavier product. If you move from a dry climate to a humid one, or a hot climate to cold, you’ll probably notice your moisturizer doesn’t produce the same effects that it once did. And as we age, our skin tends to dry out, so we might find our old faithful isn’t cutting it anymore.

Pay attention to your skin, consider your environment and lifestyle, and look at the ingredients in your products. There’s some trial and error involved in finding the right moisturizer, and unfortunately what’s right today won’t necessarily be right tomorrow.

How Qyral moisturizer works

qyral moisturizer personalized for you

Qyral is different. Every bottle of Fortify Nourishing BioPlacenta Moisturizer is customized with a personal blend of humectants, occlusives, and emollients, designed to work with your skin and change with your lifestyle. If you move to a new state, notice changes in your skin, or simply grow older, your formulation will adjust and grow with you. That means no more trial and error, just an amazing moisturizer that suits you skin’s unique needs and never stops working!

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