Humectants – Everything you need to know

About a month ago, I uploaded a video about the difference between dry and dehydrated skin (here if you missed it).

I promised to do one more about humectants, emollients and occlusives as a follow up and here I am to live up to that promise.

Not exactly though, as I had so much to say about humectants that it filled a video all by itself. The one (ones?) about emollients and occlusives will follow at a later date.


Humectants – Everything you need to know


Which will make it easier just to get the information you need, and if by last months video you already know you don´t care about humectants, you can totally skip this upload and invest your time in something more productive.

That would be of course your loss, so I suggest you grab something to drink (we are talking about hydration after all) and follow along.

All the information is in the video below, but for further reference (or those that just prefer to read – I feel you!) the key points are listed below.


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What are humectants?

Humectants are substances that are hydrophil, meaning they love and attract water and bind it in your skin.

The humectants that naturally occur in your skin are called “Natural Hydrating Factors” (NHF). Humectants can be found in the Dermis and Epidermis.


Which humectants are among the NHF?

The NHF naturally occuring in your skin are:

  • Aminoacids
  • Peptides
  • Sodium PCA
  • Lactic Acid
  • Urea
  • Sugars
  • Anorganic iones
  • Glucosamin
  • Uric Acid
  • Kreatin

Their number is genetically determined, but majorly affected by lifestyle (smoking, products you use, climate you live in…)


Can humectants dry out the body?

That is a myth that keeps reappearing in my Pinterest feed: Hyaluronic acid in drier climates will draw moisture up from the deeper skin layers and the water will evaporate easier, making you more dehydrated.

But is that true?

Well, if humidity is below 70%, NHF will attract some water from the atmosphere and some from the deeper layers of your skin. But as the deeper layers of your skin are replenished by water from your blood vessels, that is not a problem. It could become one if you are in the Sahara desert without water, but I think humectants are the least thing you would need to worry about then.


Can I hydrate my skin by drinking more?

Another one that  have seen around a lot: The more you drink, the better hydrated your skin is.

Is that true?

No. The more you drink, the more you pee.

Above the normal amount of water intake (depending on climate and activity levels, but usually 2 or 2.5 litres a day) you will get no relevant increase in skin hydration.

Don´t believe me? “Kind of Stephen” has all the scientific backup here.


Which humectants are available for topical application?

More than 800, so forgive me if I will not provide a complete list. The most common ones are the ones I have already listed above though, the ones that are NHF.


Which humectant is the most effective?

You will find lists that rank the humectants by effectiveness and company cliams like: “300 times as effective as hyaluronic acid” a lot on the internet.

I can´t offer you advice on which of these lists is entirely true, as many are published by companies and, even more important, the effectiveness of a humectant is influenced by factors like molecular weight, depth of penetration and environmental factors like humidity.

Hylauronic Acid does perform pretty well though.


Which product should I buy now?

You have asked for specific recommendations under my last video, so I will give you some examples:

I found a pretty great one at my local Aldi, the Lacura Hyaluronic Acid Serum (Hydro Boost). It is not much else but humectants, perfect for my skin when it is dehydrated from retinol or too much sun.

A great source to look at if you know your ingredients is The Ordinary. I have listed their humectant rich products beneath, but haven´t used them myself.


The Ordinary Natural Moisturizing Factors+ HA, 7,70 € here

Basically a selection of almost all NHF I have listed above.


The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5, 6,80 € here

Combining several molecular weights of HA to ensure hydration through all skin layers.


The Ordinary Marine Hyaluronics, 6,80 € here

The claim is that the marine derived water reservoirs feel lighter than HA, but work as well. I can´t offer you science to back up that claim, but it contains a selection of different NHF so it should work.


In general: Check the ingredient list of your product and see how many humectants you´ll find and at which place in the list they are, then you will be able to figure out if the product will suffice your needs.

Easy, don´t you think?


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