Moisturizers 101: How Occlusives Seal in Moisture

Most of us know that skin moisturizers work by hydrating the skin. But how many of us truly understand how moisturizers deliver that hydration? While the science of skin moisturization isn’t the most thrilling topic on planet earth, a basic understanding of how skin moisturizing products function can help individuals make their own skincare decisions when it comes to purchases and product usage.

With this in mind, today we will be discussing one of the pillars of skin hydration: occlusives. These ingredients are perhaps the most widely used and for good reason! Read on to see what occlusives are, how they moisturize our skin, examples of common occlusives, and how occlusives work with humectants and emollients to deliver unparalleled moisturizing products

What are Occlusives in Moisturizers?

Simply put, occlusives are the ingredients which are responsible for forming a protective barrier on the outside of your skin. These types of ingredients are often heavier in consistency, and may be waxy or oily to the touch. This is due to the fact that occlusives are predominantly hydrophobic. Hydrophobic materials repel water, essentially creating a waterproof barrier on the outside of your skin.

Unlike other active ingredients in moisturizers, occlusives do not directly heal your skin. Yet they are perhaps the most important ingredient of all. The other ingredients of powerful moisturizers might be rendered useless without occlusives to help trap in moisture and protect skin from outside irritation.

How Occlusives Work to Seal in Moisture

As mentioned above, occlusives work to moisturize skin in two primary ways:

  1. Occlusives work to create a waterproof seal which locks in moisture. Your body naturally produces tons of moisture as it is comprised of ~60 percent water. The best way to keep skin hydrated is simply to retain the water which already exists.
  2. Occlusives also protect skin from outside debris, dirt, and irritants. They also work to prevent skin from drying out in low humidity. Think of a typical winter where your hands are starting to get dried, cracked, and damaged. Occlusives fight back against moisture loss in these situations to keep skin hydrated and healthy.

Occlusives are generally oily, waxy, and/or fatty ingredients which sit on the exterior of the skin without penetrating too deep within. This is perfect for moisturization as it allows for the two benefits discussed in this section without actively clogging pores or exacerbating existing skin concerns such as acne. 

Examples of Powerful Occlusives

Now that we understand what occlusives are and how they work for skin hydration, what are some common examples that you mind find in moisturizing products? Here are just a few:

  • Stearic Acid: a naturally occurring long-chain fatty acid, stearic acid is found in many skincare products for its powerful occlusive properties. A typical sample of animal fat might contain ~30 percent stearic acid, and it is also found in ample supply in plant sources.
  • Cetyl Alcohol: derived from plant sources such as palm or coconut oil, cetyl alcohol is another common skincare occlusive. Not only is cetyl alcohol a potent occlusive, but it also works as an emulsifier to keep other ingredients from separating.
  • Petrolatum: perhaps the most well known and widely used occlusive on the market, petrolatum, also known as petroleum jelly, is best known for being branded as Vaseline. Anyone who has used Vaseline knows that petroleum jelly is a thick, waxy substance that coats the skin. It is a highly effective occlusive, but sometimes not ideal for overall skin health.
  • Mineral Oil: a more mild alternative to petrolatum would be mineral oil. This family of oils are generally derived from vegetable oils and distilled into a more skin-friendly product.

The Three Pillars of Skin Moisturizing Ingredients

Last but not least, how do occlusives fit into the larger picture of overall skin moisturization? After all, if they do not deliver moisturization themselves, how exactly can they truly work? To understand this, we must identify the three pillars of moisturizing skincare ingredients.

Humectants work by literally attracting moisture to the skin from within the body. Our 60 percent water composition is useful when our moisturizing products can harness that natural resource. Humectants work almost like a magnet to draw moisture where our skin needs it most.

Emollients penetrate the skin’s surface to repair, restore, and renew from within. Emollients are what literally fills gaps in damaged skin to restore skin’s strength and moisture levels.

Occlusives form that top layer of protection to let the other ingredients do their work. Not only are they essential for allowing humectants and emollients to be effective, but they prevent moisture loss which leads to the majority of skin dryness in the first place.

HEFF Daily Moisturizer Harnesses the Power of Occlusives for Unparalleled Skin Relief

At HEFF, we only do one thing and we do it well — provide a high quality moisturizing cream for cracked and chapped hands, feet, and elbows. If you or a loved one are dealing with dry skin from your job, an active lifestyle, or even just dry air, HEFF cream has what you need. Our formula was developed by a team of doctors, chemists and researchers to repair damaged or injured skin. Packed with amino acids and other skin-healthy ingredients, you can rest assured that HEFF has the restoring power your skin needs.

To find HEFF products, look for us in any of these major retailers, shop online, or feel free to contact us directly with any questions. For each tube of HEFF sold, we will donate a free tube to Operation Gratitude.