Cosmetics – Exploring humectants

Ever wonder how your lotion helps prevent dry skin? There are many ingredients that go into creating the perfect moisturizing lotion, but one class of ingredients in particular helps lotions and other cosmetic and personal care products work; humectants.

Updated April 10, 2023

What are humectant ingredients? 

Humectants describe ingredients that draw in and retain moisture. There are a variety of humectants. Some are naturally occurring others are synthesized from organic compounds or petrochemicals.  

Synthesized humectant ingredients are important in providing cosmetic and personal care products with the ability to work effectively by attracting and retaining moisture. 

How do humectants help moisturize? 

When used in a cosmetics or personal care product, manufacturers formulate humectants with several ingredients such as occlusivesemollients, antioxidants, preservatives, and more to provide our skin with moisture and aid our skin in absorbing other active ingredients. Additionally, humectants can create a desired barrier to outside elements that helps retain skin moisture.  

By keeping moisture close to the skin or hair, humectants can play a crucial role in preventing dryness. 

What are common humectant ingredients? 

There are many ingredients with humectant properties. Here are a few common ingredients we may find in our cosmetics.  Subscribe for weekly updates_

Why do we need humectant ingredients?  

Humectant ingredients can play an essential role in maintaining the health and appearance of the skin, hair, and nails. Especially if we live in dry climates where we may be prone to cracked or dry skin, keeping our skin healthy can help prevent infection and increase the overall appearance of our skin.  

Are humectant ingredients safe? 

Humectant ingredients are safe for most individuals. However, if you have allergies or sensitivities to specific humectant ingredients, you should avoid using them and check ingredient labels before using new-to-you cosmetic products.   

Are humectants found in food and other products? 

Humectant ingredient use is not limited to cosmetics and personal care products. We can find them in food, often as an anti-caking agent, in electronic cigarettes, and even in agricultural production products. 
Uses for humectants vary significantly between industries, so a humectant used in agricultural production, for example, will be formulated differently than if used for a cosmetic product. 

What else do I need to know about humectant ingredients? 

Humectants in cosmetics, personal care, food, and agricultural products have been studied for many years and are considered safe for everyday use. However, researchers have yet to test humectant use in electronic cigarettes in long-term studies, and we need more information before determining the long-term safety of this application. 

You can always check the safety of any ingredient, including humectants, on the FDA’s website. You can also check out the ingredients of specific cosmetic and personal care products at the Cosmetic Ingredient Review’s website database. 

The good news.

We’ve safely used some humectant ingredients since ancient times. As we’ve modernized and science has evolved, we’ve developed new humectant compounds and formulas that are more effective and remain safe for daily use.  

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