Humectants draw water into the top layer of the skin, while emollients help fill the cracks and seal in the water to provide a smooth, soft complexion. Occlusives provide a thicker protective barrier to prevent water loss.
Most facial moisturisers have humectants and emollients acting in tandem, while occlusives are more beneficial on thicker parts of the body, such as hands, feet, elbows and knees.
When choosing a moisturiser, look for key ingredients
Popular humectants include glycerin (or glycerol), hyaluronic acid, propylene glycol, urea, sorbitol and alpha hydroxy acids (AHA’s). At high concentrations AHA’s and urea soften the outer layer of the skin, leading to exfoliation.
Common emollients are lanolin, mineral oil, ceramides, dimethicone, coconut oil and other plant-based oils.
Occlusives include shea butter, petrolatum, bees wax and paraffin, among others.
How do I choose the best moisturiser according to my skin type?
Those with sensitive skin may want to stick to products with glycerin because the other ingredients can create a burning sensation on irritated skin. You should also avoid occlusives in areas that are prone to acne.
If you tend to have dry skin, look for oil-based creams or lotions. Any moisturiser with alcohols or fragrances should also generally be avoided for those with dry skin, as they can make the problem worse.