Humectants in Skincare: Types & Benefits

If you’ve ever used any kind of hydrating beauty product, you’ve used a humectant before, even though you might not have realised it. You might already be a fan of one - hyaluronic acid.

It’s probably the most well-known humectant out there! However, it’s just one in a group of amazing skincare ingredients that all have amazing benefits for the skin. Just what are those benefits, you ask? You’ll just have to keep reading to find out. 

What Is a Humectant?

If you’re thinking, “that’s weird, I’ve never noticed ‘humectant’ listed on any of my products before…” it’s because they won’t be listed that way. They’re a specific type of ingredient, and I’ll bet you’ve definitely used skincare with them before! 

Humectants serve a super special role when it comes to your skin. What they have in common (and how you know if something is a humectant) is the ability to draw water to the upper layer of the skin. Keeping this layer (known as the stratum corneum) well-hydrated has major benefits to keeping skin looking good such as:

  • Maintaining a healthy moisture barrier
  • Heals symptoms of dehydrated skin
  • Temporarily reduces the look of fine lines and wrinkles
  • Giving skin a natural glow
  • Supports the skin’s healing processes

How Humectants Strengthen SkinThat’s why humectants are also called hydrators - they’re basically a drink of water for your skin. I know what you’re thinking - I drink a lot of water, doesn’t that keep my skin hydrated from the inside out?

It’s true that drinking water helps, but only up to a certain point. Water that’s inside our bodies can’t make it up to the upper layers of the skin where we need it to fix things like flakey skin and dullness - at least not without a little bit of help. That’s where humectants come in!

Dr Irena Eris Aquality Serum Bottle

Dr. Irena Eris Aquality Water Serum Concentrate | $150
Contains ground-breaking polyglutamic acid, a powerful humectant that can hold five times more hydration in the skin than hyaluronic acid.

How Do Humectants Work?

These ultra-hydrating ingredients work by grabbing water molecules from both the external environment and from deeper under the skin from the bloodstream (see, I said they helped alongside drinking water)! By ensuring that your skin has a steady source of hydration, you get all the benefits listed above for beautiful skin. 

Humectants are also technically part of the moisturiser category - yes, they help your skin look amazing, but that’s not without the help of the other two types of moisturisers. 

Moisturiser Categories (Humectant, emollient, occlusive)

When I say moisturiser in this context, I’m not talking about a specific skincare product - I’m talking about categories of ingredients. The two other types of moisturisers are occlusives and emollients, which help to lock in all the hydration that humectants bring to your skin. Combined, they all work together to help you get gorgeous skin.

 Guerlain Abeille Royal Night Cream jar packagingGuerlain Abeille Royal Night Cream | $255
Guerlain combines honey with squalane and centella asiatica extract for a powerfully hydrating and soothing night cream formula.

Which Ingredients are Humectants?

We’ve already talked about hyaluronic acid as a popular humectant ingredient, but there are so many more out there. Other than hyaluronic acid, some humectants commonly used in skincare are:

  • Aloe Vera Gel: Derived from the aloe vera plant, aloe vera gel helps to hydrate and heal skin
  • Glycerin: Usually sourced from oils, this common humectant is incredibly effective and found in many skincare formulas
  • Polyglutamic Acid: A soybean-derived humectant that can hold even more hydration than hyaluronic acid
  • Panthenol: Also called Vitamin B5, Panthenol has humectant effects when applied to skin
  • Honey: Other than antibacterial and healing effects on the skin, honey is also known for its humectant ability 

Certain ingredients can also have humectant characteristics in addition to their main effect on the skin. For example, while glycolic acid’s main purpose is to exfoliate, it also has humectant benefits - making glycolic acid not as drying compared to salicylic acid. Don’t you love it when skincare actually does more than one thing?!

When it comes to humectants, they’re great for all skin types. While it’s true that their ultra-hydrating benefits are more appreciated by dry and dehydrated skin, all skin types benefit from their ability to draw water into the stratum corneum for healthy, hydrated skin. So, have you gotten your beauty affairs in order and added any humectants to hour skincare routine yet? 

Need some help putting together the best skincare routine for your skin type? Try our skin quiz!

Beauty Affairs Skin Quiz 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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