Humectants and Skincare

shea butter for black skin

You may have heard of the word, 'humectant', but not really sure what it is and why it may be useful. 

A humectant is a common moisturizing agent found in lotions, shampoos, and other beauty products used for your hair and skin. They’re known for their ability to retain moisture while also preserving the overall properties of the product being used.

Humectants can be good for your skin and hair, but not all humectants are created equal. It’s important to look out for other ingredients that can undo the benefits of the humectant in a particular product formula.

You can think of humectants as magnets that attract water. They pull moisture from the air into the upper layer of your skin.

But not all humectants work the same way. Some supply your skin and hair with moisture directly. Others help get rid of dead skin cells first to even out the moisture levels in your skin.

Plus, not all humectants are used interchangeably for skin and hair. This is why you’ll likely see a difference in the humectants used in skin and hair products.

Common Humectants

Alpha-Hydroxy Acids (AHAs)

AHAs are naturally derived ingredients. They’re commonly used in anti-aging skin regimens. AHAs can also help get rid of dead skin cells. This allows your moisturizer to better penetrate your skin.

Salicylic Acid

Salicylic acid is technically a beta-hydroxy acid. It’s commonly used for treating blackheads and whiteheads.

Salicylic acid dries out excess oil and dead skin cells that can get caught in the hair follicle and cause breakouts. This can also help your moisturizer penetrate your skin more effectively.

Some salicylic acids are naturally derived, while others are synthetically made.


Glycerin is a common cosmetic ingredient used in soaps, shampoos, and conditioners. It may also be found in various cleansing and moisturizing products for your skin. Glycerin may be derived from animal or plant-based lipids. We add plant-derived glycerin to all our body creams to add in adding moisture to the skin. 

Hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid is primarily used in wrinkle treatment products. It’s often combined with vitamin C to help lubricate dry skin.

Other humectants

Other humectants you might see in an ingredient list include:

  • panthenol
  • sodium lactate
  • glycol

You can also retain more moisture in your skin by following these tips:

  • Use lukewarm or warm (not hot) water for bathing and washing your face and hands.
  • Limit your shower times. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends no more than 10 minutes at a time.
  • Consider using a humidifier in your home, especially during cold, dry weather.