Science of Beauty: Humectants, Emollients, & Occlusives

Moisture & hydration… Just a small portion to obtaining healthy, glowing skin — or what some like to call, ‘glass skin’.

Refer back to Science of Beauty — The Basics: Science of Skin and Science of Beauty — The Basics: Science of Hair for a refresher! This can help you have an even better understanding of the importance of hydrating and moisturizing your skin and hair.

TEWL (Trans Epidermal Water Loss)

Trans epidermal water loss is a common word used in skincare and cosmetics; however, not many people actually understand the meaning of TEWL.

TEWL is hydration that is lost by water passing or diffusing from the dermis through the epidermis and evaporating from the skin’s surface.

You want to reduce TEWL and maintain the hydration and moisture content of your skin. To do this, there are hydrating and moisturizing agents that can be used in cosmetic products known as humectants, emollients, and occlusives.


Humectants help to draw moisture to the epidermis. It can draw moisture from the air when it is humid or draw moisture from the dermis in low humidity conditions. It attracts and retains water through different means.

Look for humectants if you have dehydrated skin that has lost its luster and looks dull!


Emollients act as a lubricant that goes into the nooks and crannies of the skin. It can soften and smooth skin, and it can be absorbed to help regulate oil production.

Look for emollients if your skin is dry and flaky!


Occlusives create a protective barrier on the surface that helps to MAINTAIN water content. It prevents skin water loss! Think of it like a bandaid acting as a protective barrier for your cuts and wounds.

Look for occlusives if you’re experience both dull and dry, flaky skin!

What can all 3 do for you?

Humectants, emollients, and occlusives combined can give you hydrated, moisturized, and glass-skin like skin!

Your skin will be hydrated from humectants from inside-out, the emollient will smooth skin, and the emollient will protect and prevent water loss — making sure that your skin stays hydrated and looking smooth.

Back to the bandaid example:

  • Humectant: cleaning the cut or wound ensuring no infection occurs
  • Emollient: the Neosporin that you put on top
  • Occlusive: the bandaid that keeps your wound clean

Oily, Acne-Prone Skin?

Look for a light moisturizer in the form of a lotion 🧴 or a gel/gel cream. Lotions contain a lower oil content than a cream, and gel/gel cream formulations typically have little to no oil content at all. They will have a higher water content, and I recommend that you look for humectants at the top of the ingredients list!

Normal to Dry Skin?

Normal skin can use the above recommended for oil, acne-prone skin or they can also use creams — recommended for dry skin. Creams typically have a higher oil content than a lotion or gel/gel cream. Some creams include silicone oils and other emollient/occlusive agents to enhance slip and cushion feel of the product. This makes the product feel like it is nourishing the skin — and it probably actually is nourishing the skin. Dry, flaky skin will benefit from the higher oil content and the inclusion of occlusives to create the barrier that keeps your skin from becoming even more dry.


  • Dry skin = lack of oil
  • Dull skin = lack of water

To combat this? Use products that contain humectants, emollients, and occlusives. Your skin will look plump, soft, and supple with a healthy glow — and it’ll thank you!

Additional Reading

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