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4 Types Of Moisturizers And Their Uses

Moisturizing is an essential part of your skincare routine. But there isn’t just one type of moisturizer. There is a wide variety of moisturizers, each with different properties and for different skin types. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with choosing the right moisturizer, we’re here to simplify the process.

What is an ideal moisturizer? 

An ideal moisturizer will:

  1. Make your skin smooth and soft 
  2. Increase skin hydration 
  3. Improve your skin’s appearance
  4. Deliver ingredients to the skin’s surface

All moisturizers work through 4 basic mechanisms of restoring skin water content: occlusion, humectant, hydrophilic matrices, and photoprotection. Read on to learn about the different types of moisturizers and which skin types they work best with.


  1. Occlusive 

Occlusive moisturizers prevent moisture loss by creating a protective seal over your skin. Occlusives are heavy moisturizers and often feel greasy. Because of its heaviness and property to create barriers, Occlusives may also trap grease or anything else that is on your face. Before applying an occlusive moisturizer, it’s a good idea to cleanse to avoid clogged pores and dampen your skin so your occlusive can trap and hold that moisture.

Examples of Occlusive moisturizers: Petrolatum, mineral oil, squalene, dimethicone, lanolin, Shea butter, oils (avocado oil, hemp oil, a jojoba oil), lanolin, propylene glycol, Cetearyl alcohol, beeswax, and cholesterol.

  • Petrolatum may feel greasy, but it is the most effective moisturizer, reducing transepidermal water loss by 99%. Petrolatum works to restore the upper most layer of the skin barrier. It does this by stimulating the skin to make its own natural fats, which create a seal, that are essential for the skin barrier to function. Petrolatum can also reduce the appearance of fine lines caused by dehydration.
  • Dimethicone is the second most common active agent in moisturizers today. It is also hypo-allergenic, non-comedogenic, and non-acnegenic. Dimethicone is permeable to water vapor. Therefore, if the skin barrier is compromised it will not reduce the transepidermal water loss. This can be beneficial in some foundations and sunscreens because it prevents the skin from feeling warm.


  1. Humectants 

Humectants are ingredients that absorb moisture. These include gel-creams, hydro-gels, oil-free cream and include water as an ingredient. These work for all skin types. Examples include hyaluronic acid, glycerin, honey, sodium lactate, urea, propylene glycol, sorbitol, pyrrolidone carboxylic acid, gelatin, vitamins, and some proteins. 

It is best to combine humectants with an occlusive ingredeint. Humectants attract and absorb water. When applied to the skin they can draw water from the dermis (deeper layer of the skin) into the epidermis (upper layer of the skin). Without an occlusive agent to trap that moisture, it will evaporate causing water loss. Luckily most products account for this during formulation so you don’t have to worry! 

Glycerin is most effective at drawing water from the dermis to the epidermis, allowing the skin to feel smooth. Glycerin can produce a moisturizing effect in the skin long after it’s been completely absorbed. 


  1. Emollients 

Emollients are rich and thick moisturizers. They help to improve appearance and texture by filling in the crevices in your skin, resulting in increased softness and smoothness. Some common emollients include essential fatty acids such as linoleic acid Emollients are best suited for skin that is dry, dehydrated, and/or mature.

Examples of Emollients

  • Collagen
  • Cocoa Butter
  • Colloidal oatmeal
  • Elastin
  • Isopropyl palmitate
  • Linoleic acid
  • Oleic Acid
  • Shea Butter
  • Stearic Acid


  1. Ceramides 

Ceramides function to help maintain the structural integrity of the skin barrier. Ceramides act like a 'glue' holding the structure of your skin together. 50% of your skin's natural moisture is made of ceramides. Ceramide levels are reduced in atopic dermatitis, a genetic condition with a compromised skin barrier. Any skin can benefit, but ceramides are best for sensitive or damaged skin.

Examples: Products that contains ceramides will list 'ceramides' in the ingredient list. It may be accompanied by a number to signify which of the 9 types of ceramides it contains. Don’t worry about the number, they all have similar benefits.