Understanding Emollients: Types & Benefits

Like humectants, emollients have an important role to play as one category of moisturising ingredient for skin. Almost every single moisturiser has emollient ingredients - they’re crucial for making moisturisers feel the way they do - hydrating, smoothing and above all, super satisfying to apply to your skin. 

Why Moisturisers Have Emollients

White cream moisturiser texture close up

No matter your skin type, moisturisers pretty much have the same job - they’re meant to keep your skin soft, healthy and hydrated. Depending on your skin type, moisturisers have different ratios of these three ingredient categories: humectants, emollients, and occlusives

Humectants are ingredients that attract water to the skin, while occlusives help to prevent water loss in the skin. They’re like a protective barrier that keeps all the good stuff in your skin. Emollients are somewhere in between, and play a crucial role in both the texture of the moisturiser and making sure that your skin looks and feels good. 

They’re responsible for your moisturiser having the texture it does - something with just humectants would be way too watery, while something that has only occlusives would be super thick (like Papaw Ointment or Vaseline). By adding emollients to the mix, your moisturiser feels just right. 

But what is an emollient in the first place? Here’s a good explanation on exactly what an emollient is and how exactly they work for your skin. 

Declaré Good Mood Cream image

Declaré Good Mood Cream | $169
This moisturiser uses shea butter to put both you and your skin in a good mood - plus, it’s great for all skin types. 

What Is an Emollient & How Does it Benefit Skin?

An emollient is a skincare ingredient that directly helps with skin smoothness and hydration. When you put on a moisturiser, the instant smoothness that your skin has after is because of emollient ingredients.

They smooth and hydrate skin by providing essential moisture to lubricate skin cells (and yes, that’s official scientific phrasing)! They have a direct effect on the structure of the stratum corneum - they fill any gaps between corneocytes (aka, the skin cells that make up the stratum corneum). By temporarily filling these gaps, emollients help to boost skin hydration, softness, and overall contribute to beautiful skin. 

How emollients affect skin illustration

Here’s a recap on how emollients benefit your skin:

  • Smooth dry skin texture
  • Improve skin health
  • Increase skin hydration

How can you tell what ingredient is an emollient? Here’s the thing - there are a lot. We’re not going to go through them all - instead, let’s run through some of the common emollient categories that you probably already know. 

Sisley Sisleya L'Integral Anti-Ageing Firming Concentrated Serum image

Sisleÿa L'Intégral Anti-Âge Anti-Wrinkle Concentrated Serum | $630
This serum is packed with nurturing emollients, skin soothing ingredients, and plant-based antioxidants to fight off the signs of ageing. 

Which Skincare Ingredients Are Emollients?

One of the biggest ingredient categories that count as emollients are plant oils (and all of their derivatives). Plant oils technically have both emollient and occlusive properties, however it’s their ability to soften skin that plants them in the emollient category as well. Examples of nourishing emollient plant-derived lipids include: 

There are also fatty acids and fatty alcohols that work as emollients on skin - they don’t sound as sexy to market as pure plant oils, but are still effective emollients. They include:

  • Cetyl Alcohol (which is a type of fatty alcohol - totally unrelated to drying unrelated to isopropyl or denatured alcohol!)
  • Isopropyl Myristate
  • Palmitic Acid

In fact, most of these ingredients actually come from plant-based oils anyways, which is what makes them such effective emollients. However, not all emollients come from oils - ceramides are another famous emollient skincare ingredient with a few unique benefits of its own.
GA-DE Hydra Essential Night Cream image

GA-DE Hydra Essential Night Cream | $65
Jojoba Seed Oil features as the star emollient in this night from for super soft, super moisturised skin. 

Which Skin Type Are They Best For?

Emollients are best for every skin type - they’re not the kind of skincare ingredient that benefits just one skin type or concern over all the others. They’re an essential part of a well-formulated moisturiser - something that goes a long way to ensuring that your skin stays healthy and glowing.

However, it is important to know your skin type to choose skincare that’s optimised for your skin concerns - that's where our skin care quiz comes in. It'll give you a skincare routine, accounting for your skin type and your skin goals!

Beauty Affairs Skincare Quiz Call To Action Image

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Alexis Adrienne

Alexis Adrienne

Alexis Adrienne is a passionate beauty writer with over 10 years of experience. She’s incredibly keen on all things skincare, makeup and cosmetics, with a fingertip on the pulse of the latest global beauty trends at all times.

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