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Ingredient Lists 101: Humectants
A Must Read for People with Dry Skin
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, just a cartoon deer on the internet with a background in chemistry and a hyperfixation on skin. This is not medical advice.
They say if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. Unfortunately, I’m an herbivorous deer, so I wouldn’t know. What I do know is that if I teach you guys how to read ingredient lists, you’ll be able to pick out products that work well for your skin without needing my help. So today, we’re talking about humectants.
Humectants are a class of moisturizers whose molecular structure is hygroscopic. I’ll spare you the science, but essentially, humectants attract and bind water molecules from the surrounding environment. My preferred humectants in skin care are hyaluronic acid and glycerin. Since half of y’all are gym bros, let’s think about it like this: you know how when you’re trying to cut weight quickly, you drop your carbs to shed water? We know this is because each gram of glycogen binds to 3-4g water. Humectants work the same way by pulling water from two sources:
From the dermis to the epidermis: pulling water out of the skin
From the air to the epidermis: pulling water into the skin
To optimize our use of humectants, we want to minimize the former and maximize the latter. We can do this in two ways:
Applying humectants to damp skin (not dry!)
Topping with an occlusive (like vaseline) to prevent TWEL (transepidermal water loss)
Okay, Fawn, now we understand humectants. But who should be using them, and how do we use them?
I would recommend humectants to people with dry skin, people who live in cold environments (or just in the winter), or anyone who is starting to develop fine lines or wrinkles. Because humectants will draw water to your face, they have a temporary plumping effect that will reduce the visibility of fine lines. I have dry skin but do not have wrinkles yet, so I use humectants mostly just in the winter or before a social event when I want my skin to glow nicely. If you have oily skin, you could just look for a moisturizer that lists hyaluronic acid or glycerin in the ingredient list. If you have dry skin, you may want to opt for a separate product entirely. Specifically, I apply this one in between my cleanser and moisturizer steps in the winter.
That’s all for now! Happy skincare!
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