Occlusive, Emollient & Humectant – Terms to know

Written by: | June 19, 2017 | 3 responses

Every industry has jargon, and the beauty industry is no exception. We use jargon to quickly communicate the properties of a product, however, it’s easy to forget that not everyone knows what every term means. The terms sometimes get watered down through overuse in marketing or simply get used incorrectly. We often get questions about what the difference is between and occlusive, emollient, and humectant. Here’s an easy guide to help you understand these terms.

Occlusive: Occlusive ingredients create a physical barrier helping to trap moisture in the skin or hair. You may have used zinc before in a diaper ointment or even seen lifeguards with those funny white noses. Zinc is a great example of an occlusive ingredient creating a physical barrier. Moisture can’t escape very well, nor can it penetrate this barrier. Other occlusive ingredients include waxes, dimethicone (or any ingredient ending in “cone”).  These ingredients tend to feel heavy and not very pleasant on the skin on their own so you most likely won’t find them as a stand alone skin or haircare product, even zinc is combined with emollients.

Emollient: An emollient will provide some occlusive properties, but the main function is to help soften the skin. Common emollients include butters, oils, esters, lipids, and fatty acids. Emollients can have a wide range of spreadability on the skin. The selection of emollients used in a formula can greatly affect the way a finished product feels on the skin. Most emollients also help to nourish the skin, think of them as healthy food for the skin. Emollients generally feel very nice on the skin and are often sold as single ingredient products, or in combination with other emollients.

Humectant: Humectants work by attracting water and bringing moisture to the skin and hair. Humectants are crucial ingredients when formulating for dry skin or hair needs. Common humectants include vegetable glycerin, honey, sorbitol, hyaluronic acid, lecithin, and of course – water. These ingredients tend to feel sticky on the skin so they are rarely used alone but add to the effectiveness and overall feel of your finished product.

Now that you know the difference between these three types of ingredients, you can better understand how your favorite lotion, creme, serum or any other hair or skincare product is designed to work! Let’s break down the ingredient deck on Essential’s Basic Lotion. The ingredient deck is listed as organic aloe leaf juice, organic coconut oil, glycerin, emulsifying wax, stearic acid, grapeseed oil, phenoxyethanol, xanthan gum, Tetrasodium glutamate diacetate. Knowing the different types of ingredients will allow you to better understand the function of each ingredient. Let’s separate the ingredients into their categories –

  • Humectants: organic aloe leaf juice, glycerin
  • Emollients: organic coconut oil, grapeseed oil, stearic acid
  • Occlusives: emulsifying wax, stearic acid
  • The xanthan gum acts as a thickening agent and the phenoxyethanol and tetrasodium glutamate diacetate work together as the preservative system.

Essential Basic Lotion is designed to moisturize (with humectants), nourish (with emollients), and also keep those lovely ingredients on your skin (occlusives).  Of course, there are many other categories of ingredients, and we will be covering them all so please check out our blogs for more!

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