There is more than one emollient. In fact, there are several natural emollients that you probably already use in your skincare routine. Emollients are the mainstays of dry, cracked and damaged skin. They are almost always used in moisturizers because they trap water in the skin while providing a protective barrier that keeps irritants out. But what is an emollient, and why is it used in beauty products?

What is an emollient?

An emollient retains moisture in the skin while providing a barrier that protects it from irritants. Emollients are used in skin care products and cosmetics to soothe and moisturize the skin, make it softer, and improve conditions that cause dryness, itching, and redness. Emollients work by forming a thin hydrophobic film on the surface of the skin that repels water and prevents moisture loss. This effect is different from that of humectants, which attract water vapor to hydrate the skin.

The main ingredients are similar, namely petrolatum, paraffin, glycerin, butters and vegetable oils. The lipids (or fats) in these ingredients fill the tiny cracks in dry skin and smooth the surface. Formulators use a combination of these ingredients to create skincare and cosmetic products for skin hydration. Although people may think of an emollient as a moisturizer, and they use the two terms interchangeably, an emollient is actually an ingredient used in a moisturizer to retain water in the skin.

Types/varieties of emollients

Not all emollients work the same way on the skin. Some contain more fats or oils, while others are better at forming a skin barrier. You will find emollients in many forms, such as creams, serums, lotions and ointments. The thicker and higher in fat the formula, the more barrier it will serve.

Here are some of the main natural emollients:

1. Aloe vera

Aloe vera contains fatty acids with soothing properties, antioxidant vitamins A, C and E that neutralize free radicals that contribute to aging, and enzymes with anti-inflammatory effects. It is often used in skin care products to improve skin irritation and burns, moisturize the scalp, and treat cold sores.

2. Shea butter

Shea butter is a popular emollient used in creams, balms, body butters and hair masks. It is rich in oleic acid, a fatty acid that softens the skin and reduces wrinkles.
Shea butter can also be used to moisturize the scalp and hair, helping relieve dandruff and providing a protective layer against irritants.

3. Coconut oil

Coconut oil for the skin contains three fatty acids that have disinfectant and antimicrobial properties: capric acid, caprylic acid and lauric acid. These fats help prevent moisture loss from the pores of the skin, thereby improving the skin barrier function. Coconut oil also contains powerful antioxidants that reduce the signs of aging as they fight free radical damage.

4. Rosehip oil

Rosehip oil provides fats, antioxidants and vitamins A, C and E. It promotes cell renewal and protects the skin from toxins and free radicals. Rosehip oil is commonly used to reduce the appearance of age spots, help treat conditions like eczema, and boost collagen production.

5. Urea Cream

Urea cream is a must-have product for dry, rough and even cracked skin. Urea is actually part of the skin’s natural moisturizing factor – it’s a component of the epidermis.
Synthetic urea is made for topical creams to improve skin integrity, smooth cracks and lock in moisture.

6. Bakuchiol

Bakuchiol is an extract from the leaves and seeds of the babchi plant. It is known as the gentler alternative to retinol, commonly used to reduce fine lines and wrinkles. It is an emollient that has nourishing and anti-inflammatory effects and helps soothe rough and damaged skin.

7. Cocoa butter

Cocoa butter is an ultra-hydrating emollient that has become a popular ingredient in commercial beauty products. It is rich in fats, like coconut oil, which allows it to prevent dryness and flaking of the skin. Cocoa butter also contains polyphenols that help reduce signs of aging and improve skin elasticity.

8. Squalane Oil

Squalane oil is created from an antioxidant that makes up about 12% of skin’s sebum. It is rich in fatty acids capable of penetrating and softening the skin. Squalane oil face serums are used to reduce the appearance of wrinkles, fight acne and treat eczema.

9. Beeswax

Beeswax is an excellent skin moisturizer, rich in vitamin A and with anti-inflammatory effects. It has antibacterial effects and can be used to improve conditions like diaper rash, psoriasis, and eczema. It can also help clear up acne and reduce the appearance of stretch marks.

10. Jojoba Oil

Jojoba oil forms a protective oily layer on the skin’s surface that seals in moisture, soothing rough patches and irritation. Jojoba is also considered non-comedogenic, meaning it won’t clog pores. In addition to being used as a skin moisturizer, jojoba is an alternative to shaving cream, helps get rid of dandruff, and can speed wound healing.

Benefits for the skin

1. Improves Dry, Cracked Skin

Emollients are most often used for their moisturizing effects, and studies show that they are actually beneficial for helping the skin retain moisture. Research published in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology indicates that emollients help break the cycle of dry skin and maintain skin smoothness. People with dry, flaky, and cracked skin may benefit from topical application of an emollient to the affected area. Another study published in Nursing Older People found that for aging skin, emollient therapy can help reduce both dryness and loss of skin barrier function.

2. Reduce the signs of aging

Research shows that emollients are able to improve sun damage and reduce fine lines and wrinkles. One study found that applying fatty acids to the skin improved skin hydration, barrier function, and pH. After 28 days of treatment, a moisturizer containing lipids significantly reduced wrinkles and improved texture.

3. Relieve skin irritations

Emollients are commonly used in the treatment of several dermatological conditions and skin irritations. A 2018 study published in PLoS One concluded that emollients worked as a preventive tool for infants at high risk of developing atopic dermatitis. Research also indicates that emollients have anti-inflammatory activity, relieve irritation, and may improve skin conditions including psoriasis, keratinization, and xeroderma.


Emollients are available in many forms. You’ll find them in almost all skin moisturizers, including ointments, creams, and lotions. To use an emollient, simply apply it to clean skin, usually once or twice a day. You can also use an emollient on your scalp and hair. Just massage it into the scalp and ends of the hair. Depending on the product, it is then rinsed out or used as a leave-in moisturizer.

You want to make your own moisturizer with an emollient. Try this homemade lotion with frankincense, lavender and peppermint oils.

Risks and side effects

There are several types of emollients and they are often combined with other ingredients in a skin care product. Although applying an emollient topically is considered safe for most people, it is possible to experience side effects, such as irritation, redness, and stinging. If you notice any of these side effects, stop using the product immediately.

* criptom strives to transmit health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE, the information given can not replace the opinion of a health professional.