Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist -  Written by Gopika Suresh (Journalist)  on 04th Jan 2021

Here's How You Can Use Humectants in the Right Way! Dos and Don'ts 

How You Can Use Humectants

What are Humectants?

Nowadays, humectants are found in skincare products like lotions and creams and hair products such as shampoos and conditioners.  

What do they do?

They are hydrating and moisturizing. However, not all humectants are the same. Humectants are very popular for having the ability to contain moisture effectively, thus, allowing the product to work better.

Although they are great for your hair and skin, there are some dos and don'ts that you must follow when purchasing and using humectants. You'd be surprised to know that some ingredients in your skin and hair care routine may even nullify the humectant's effects. Moreover, the way a humectant works depends on the product's several other ingredients or its formula. If used correctly, humectants can bring significant changes to your hair and skincare game.

So, continue reading to know more about humectants.   

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How do humectants work on skin and hair?  

The main principle through which is a humectant works is that water molecules are attracted to it, which later binds to it. Thus, this helps in retaining moisture keeping your skincare hair supple and well hydrated. To make things easier for you, you may think of a humectant as a magnet attracting iron particles. Instead, they draw water molecules.  

Where do humectants draw so much moisture from?

The moisture that is prevalent in the air is pulled by humectants and enters your skin's uppermost layers. Research states that the water that humectants draw derives from mainly two sources.

The first source is derived from the dermis of your skin into the epidermis. This would mean, from the inner layers to the outermost. The second source from where humectants draw water molecules is from the environment that we live around. This happens more so often when the weather is humid. 

Do Humectants work the same way on hair and skin? Can we use them interchangeably?

This process isn't just specific to the skin. Humectants work the same way as your hair and help retain moisture.  


Although humectants work similarly in both hair and skincare products, remember not to use them interchangeably as there are several differences.  

To elaborate on what we mentioned previously, not all humectants work the same way. This is extremely important to note while purchasing them. While some help break down dead skin cells, which evens out levels of moisture, others moisturize and hydrate your skin and hair.

What are the different kinds of humectants?  

Humectants can be synthetically prepared or natural. The skin and hair care products that you use can contain either or both of them. The significant difference between synthetic and natural humectants is that the former helps retain moisture levels. However, the latter nourishes your skin and hair. However, most of the time, manufacturers tend to use more synthetic humectants while preparing products as they are much cheaper than their natural counterparts. 

Examples of Natural Humectants

Let us have a clear look at some of the natural humectants around us.  


Honey, as you all know, has several benefits that we have heard of for ages. Research suggests that it can bring relief and smoothness to various skin concerns. It is also an excellent humectant, conditioner for your hair and emollient. Filled with several enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, honey could completely change your skin and hair for good. Honey is a natural ingredient that has several benefits. It is an amazing humectant, emollient, and hair conditioner.  


You may use honey even if you suffer from acne as it is a great antibacterial ingredient that balances out the pH on your skin.  


Do not use honey on a child below the age of 18 months.

Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs) 

AHAs or alpha hydroxy acids come from plants and are, therefore, natural. They are known for being rich in anti-aging components. A few examples of the common alpha-hydroxy acids found in several market products are malic acid, lactic acid, glycolic acid, and mandelic acid. They also help to exfoliate and remove the dead skin cells, leaving your skin well-prepped for moisturizers to seep more in-depth into the skin's various layers.  

AHA PHA BHA 32% Face Peel
AHA PHA BHA 32% Face Peel
AHA PHA BHA 32% Face Peel
AHA PHA BHA 32% Face Peel

AHA PHA BHA 32% Face Peel

₹ 689

When to use: PM

Frequency: Once in 2 weeks

View details


Alpha hydroxy acids are soluble in water and work their way on dull skin. On the other hand, beta hydroxy acids like salicylic acid are soluble in oil and battle concerns such as acne. However, the two can be used together.  

Aloe Vera

Aloe vera, like honey, has several benefits. Studies suggest that it is one of the most hydrating natural ingredients you can use on your hair and skin.


Glycerin can be found both naturally and synthetically. The natural one is plant-based and works as an excellent humectant. According to a study, natural glycerin can increase hydration levels on the skin, thus keeping it supple and soft.  

Examples of Synthetic Humectants  

Keep reading to know of some of the synthetic humectants.  


Studies suggest that urea can help keep skin hydrated by preventing transepidermal water loss or TEWL and help your skin retain water and keep it hydrated.  


Remember to use urea of concentrations below ten percent for maximum efficiency.

Hyaluronic acid

Your skin cells prepare hyaluronic acid naturally. But, it can be prepared chemically as well. Research suggests an excellent humectant that will keep your skin supple and retain its moisture levels.  

Hyaluronic + PGA 2% Face Serum
Hyaluronic + PGA 2% Face Serum
Hyaluronic + PGA 2% Face Serum
Hyaluronic + PGA 2% Face Serum

Hyaluronic + PGA 2% Face Serum

₹ 595

When to use: AM / PM

Frequency: Everyday

View details

Polyethylene Glycols (PEGs)

Some of the most common humectants found in cosmetic products are PEG 400 and PEG 600. These are petroleum-based and pull moisture and water molecules from the skin's deeper layers into the top layers.  

How to use humectants correctly on your skin?

According to (TNEA) The National Eczema Association, the following are the guidelines that must be followed while using humectants for moisturizing your skin. Here are a few do and don'ts.  

Do: Try and apply your moisturizer soon after bathing as it will be absorbed better.

Do: Apply the moisturizer in the downward direction.  


Don't apply the moisturize in an up-down or circle motion.  

What to look for while purchasing a humectant product?


If your skin is acne-prone, it is recommended that you use a salicylic acid product that will leave your skin both clear and moisturized.  


Try your best to stay away from products with added fragrances and preservatives if you have eczema, rosacea, and sensitive skin. The added chemicals can cause your skin to dry out further.  


We can safely say that humectants can significantly improve your skin and hair's moisture content and water retention properties from the several studies and research that we mentioned above.

However, it is crucial to remember that, like other products, humectants make no promises that overnight results can be seen. So, one must make sure to use these for a prolonged period to see visible changes.

Another essential thing to do before applying the humectant to your skin and hair is to do a small patch test near your elbow. Leave the product for 48 hours; if it does not cause any adverse effects, you may go ahead and use it on your skin or hair.

Lastly, it is always better and advisable to consult an expert like a dermatologist before using any new products, especially if you suffer from any skin concerns such as eczema.