What's a Humectant and What Are Natural Sources?

What's a Humectant and What Are Natural Sources?

If you keep up with popular skincare trends and shifts, you’ve probably heard the word humectant. You’ve probably seen this ingredient mentioned on countless skin and hair products, and you know it has a positive connotation. According to the skincare world, humectants are good.

Of course, this inevitably raises an important question: what’s so great about humectants? And what are humectants, anyway?

If you’re looking for answers about this mysterious ingredient, you’ve come to the right place. In this article, we’re going to delve into the ins and outs of humectants, giving you all the essential information you should know about this subject. By the time we’re done, you’ll be a humectant expert.


What Is a Humectant? 


Of course, we’ll begin with the most obvious and pressing question on everyone’s minds—how does one define a humectant?

Well, here’s a basic definition for you—a humectant is an ingredient commonly found in skincare or haircare products that hydrates the skin by attracting water molecules. That is why products that contain humectants are usually very moisturizing. Humectants help your skin and hair retain moisture. Plus, they also serve to preserve the properties of whatever product they’re living in.

To get a little more technical, humectants are scientifically classified as hygroscopic substances. This means that they form hydrogen bonds with water molecules (thus attracting water). In this way, humectants are ultra-moisturizing, as they’re able to draw out water from deep within the skin.

There you have it—now you can show off your skincare knowledge by telling your friends all about humectants. 

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Common Types of Humectants


There’s a reason so many people know the word “humectant,” even if they couldn’t provide an actual definition. That is because humectants are used in so many different types of products. You’ll find this ingredient in all types of cosmetic products, like conditioners, facial moisturizers, eye creams, lip balms, soaps, and so much more.

Notably, however, not all of these products contain the same type of humectant. In fact, every humectant functions differently, which means that each of these products will contain the one that works best for the product. 

So, if you’re skimming through a product’s ingredient list searching for a moisturizing humectant, you’ll need to be familiar with the various types in order to identify and understand them. Well, you’re in luck—we’ve compiled a short guide to all the most common varieties of humectants. Broadly, they’re divided into two categories: synthetic and natural.


Synthetic Humectants 


Synthetic humectants are exactly what they sound like—basically, they’re humectants made by humans in a factory or lab. Synthetic humectants can be beneficial to the skin because they are able to lock in moisture and provide solid hydration. However, unlike natural humectants, they don’t contain any additional nutrients.

This type of humectant is so popular because they are inexpensive to produce, and they tend to preserve products very well, giving them a long shelf-life.

Some synthetic humectants include butylene glycol, tremella extract, sorbitol, dicyanamide, and sodium PCA. As you can surely tell, these substances all have very chemical-y sounding names, which can be a clear indicator that they are indeed synthetic, however it’s always important to research the name and find out for sure.

Moreover, some humectants can be either synthetic or natural. For example, some forms of salicylic acid come from natural sources, while others are made in a lab. So, if you’re looking for natural humectants only, you should certainly keep that in mind.


Natural Humectants 


Now, let’s talk about the other side of the coin: natural humectants. It should be no surprise that natural humectants come from natural sources, like plants. Frankly, this type of humectant offers far more benefits than its counterpart.

This is because natural humectants do more than just attract water molecules and lock in moisture. They also help your skin improve its own capacity to stay hydrated. In other words, natural humectants encourage the production of moisture. Likewise, they promote the growth of new cells in the skin, which helps your skin stay healthy and clear.

If you have the choice between synthetic and natural humectants, natural is probably your best bet. These are a few common forms of natural humectants: 


  • Alpha-hydroxy acids, or AHAs, are hugely popular in skincare right now. These acids offer the moisturizing perks of humectants, as well as many more benefits. For example, AHAs may have anti-aging properties, and they can help exfoliate your skin by removing dead skin cells.

  • Hyaluronic acid is a sugar molecule that is actually produced by the human body. It promotes skin repair, and so it’s often used in anti-wrinkle products. And, of course, hyaluronic acid, like any humectant, is ideal for boosting hydration.

  • Aloe vera is just about as natural as it gets. This substance comes from the aloe vera plant, and it has strong anti-inflammatory properties. It’s great for healing skin issues like sunburns, small abrasions, and cuts, while also providing intense moisture.

  • Honey is an excellent natural humectant, especially if you’re looking to give your skin a little extra hydration without purchasing an expensive product. 

  • Sorbitol is another natural humectant that you may come across in your search for hydrating products. It comes from plants and fruit, and it’s commonly used in many skincare products.

  • So, now you have a solid understanding of the basic forms of natural humectants. If a product contains any of these substances, you can trust that your skin will enjoy those extra, nutrient-packed benefits. That is why we always prefer natural humectants over the synthetic variety.


    How to Add Humectants to Your Routine 


    If your skin is feeling more dry than usual, you may be considering adding a humectant or a product that contains humectants to your regular routine. Well, here’s the good news—countless products contain humectants, so you’ll have plenty of options. From cleanser to face creams to under-eye moisturizer, there are plenty of ways to add humectants to your usual regimen.

    In our opinion, one easy way to achieve that extra level of hydration is to apply a face mask, like our Vitamin C Clay Mask. This all-natural mask contains powerful, hydrating ingredients like aloe vera. In addition to boosting your skin’s hydration, it will leave your face with a healthy and radiant glow. It may even help fight acne, reduce dark spots, and much more.

    On the flip side, if your wallet isn’t ready for a new skincare purchase, you can always make a DIY mask at home. Natural humectants, like aloe vera and honey, make for excellent at-home masks. If you want to get creative, you could even experiment with adding other household ingredients like turmeric, oats, or cocoa to your humectant base. The options (and online recipes) are endless! 


    Final Thoughts on Humectants 


    With any luck, this article has left you feeling far more educated about humectants than you were five minutes ago. 

    It should be clear to you that humectants are a powerful, effective moisturizing ingredient. If you were hesitant about testing out a product that contains humectants, just know that your skin will probably thank you for it. And remember—when in doubt, opt for a natural option.

    Good luck!




    What Is the Humectant in Moisturizers? | VeryWell Health

    Humectant: Definition, Common Examples, Occlusives, and Products | Healthline

    What Are Humectants in Skincare? Benefits of Humectants for Skin | Good Housekeeping

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