Know your Moisturizers: What are Humectants, Emollients and Occlusives?

Devoid of sebaceous glands, the soles of our feet are naturally dry. It is therefore important to moisturize them daily.  But what are moisturizers?

“Moisturizer” is a generic term that covers an array of topical creams, gels, lotions, emulsions and ointments. All foot creams claim that they can moisturize dry and cracked heels, but did you know that the various active ingredients can be classified into three main groups, namely humectants, emollients, and occlusives? Some foot cream formulas contain all three ingredients. In order to choose the best moisturizer for your skin, it’s important to understand the differences between them.

Even more importantly, we need to ensure that the moisturizers are allowed to work, and that requires that you wear a Heal CupTM after applying your favorite cream. Always use your Heal CupTM in conjunction with a good quality foot cream or oil.

Why It’s Important to Moisturize Your Skin

Given that you are reading this article on our website, the soles of our feet are probably very dry, and your heels are cracked and sore. It is therefore important to moisturize them daily.  However, there is a key difference between moisturizers that solely hydrate the skin and those that can repair cracks and/or offer skin protection. Depending on how bad your heels are, you’ll want to choose a moisturizing foot cream formulated with humectants, occlusives and/or emollients.

The difference between emollients, humectants and occlusives boils down to the benefits. Moisturizers make dry, tight skin feel better. They hydrate the outer surface of the skin and help resolve dryness by locking in the water. When the skin on the soles of our feet loses natural moisturizing factors such as hyaluronic acid, and lipids like ceramides, cholesterol and fatty acids that keep our protective barrier intact, it becomes inelastic. Dry, inelastic skin can split or crack, instead of stretching. By reintroducing these key moisturizing elements to your skin daily, you are helping to not only improve the appearance of your skin but also prevent further cracking and damage as a result of a compromised skin barrier.

What Are Humectants?

As moisturizers, humectants work by attracting water to the upper layer of the skin, like a magnet, and by extracting water molecules from the air. In more scientific language, humectants pull water from the dermis (the second layer of skin) to the epidermis (the top layer of skin). This process increases the level of moisture in the stratum corneum, the layer of dead cells that comprise the outermost crust of the epidermis. By doing so, the skin will look less flaky and be less prone to cracking and chafing.

Humectants also encourage the shedding of dead cells (called desquamation) by breaking down the proteins that hold the cells together. If the humidity is over 70%, humectants can draw water vapor from the air onto the skin’s surface, helping to moisturize the skin.

The term “humectant” does not typically appear on the product label, so you need to look for specific humectant ingredients. Humectant ingredients you will often see in foot creams include: glycerin, amino acids (urea), sugar alcohols (glycerol and sorbitol), aloe vera gel, honey, and hyaluronic acid. Humectants can either be man-made or derived from nature. Synthetic humectants are widely used in foot creams because they are inexpensive to produce and have an inherently long shelf life, but they lack any nutrients. Glycerin and urea are two of the more commonly used humectants in foot creams and both are synthetic. Some of the more popular natural humectants include aloe, honey and hyaluronic acid.

What Are Emollients?

Emollients come in the form of creams, gels, lotions and ointments and work to help the skin feel more comfortable and less itchy. Emollients increase the rate of skin barrier restoration. Common emollients include lipids and oils, colloidal oatmeal, shea butter and isopropyl palmitate. 

What Are Occlusives?

Occlusives serve as a physical barrier to help prevent water loss from the skin’s surface, while protecting the skin from external irritants. In other words, something that is “occlusive” works to keep moisture from leaving your skin by blocking exposure of the skin to air, and dry air literally sucks moisture from your skin. Common occlusive agents include waxes (carnauba and beeswax), silicone, oils (olive and soybean), dimethicone, lanolin, mineral oil and white petrolatum. Shea butter is also occlusive. Occlusives often boast a thick, heavy consistency, making them ideal for foot creams, which are designed for very dry skin.  Petroleum jelly is a strongly occlusive, of course, and is often recommended by Podiatrists. However, it is too thick and sticky to be included in a retail foot cream product – so you need to rub it on yourself, after applying the moisturizing cream.

OR, you can use the ultimate occlusive – our unique Heal CupTM - the perfect way to lock in your favorite moisturizing foot cream!

Check out my 10 Fav Foot Creams here

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