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Skin Care Formulators: What Is A Humectant and Why Do We Use it?

Updated: Mar 14, 2023

As a skin care formulator or soap maker, you may be thinking of producing a formulation that solves a specific skin problem. Being able to tell the difference and how ingredients perform is extremely important to me. For me, it's not just about making a pretty soap or lotion, but actually taking the time to educate myself makes me feel empowered to help someone solve a specific skin problem. In addition to that, as an acne "victim" growing up, I wished I would of known what I know today and this gives me purpose around the products I sell to my own customers. That makes a huge difference in creating trust with my audience and turns those customers into fans.


Today, I will share with you why you should know what a humectant is and why it is beneficial in your formulations. I will share 3 popular humectants used by handmade skin formulators or soap makers.





First, Let's define Humectants:

A humectant is a substance that attracts water. In personal care, they pull moisture from the air and hydrate the skin, hair & nails. The purpose is to relieve and strengthen dry skin. If you read my previous post on body butters, they are different than an emollient or occlusive in the sense that instead of creating a barrier to seal in moisture, humectants pull the moisture in. They are lightweight and not greasy or oily like butters. Humectants are also noncomedogenic meaning they don't have the ability to clog pores which can be a nightmare for people with oily or acne-prone skin.



What are some examples of products that humectants are used in?

  1. Face serums

  2. Face masks

  3. Nail care products

  4. Face & body washes

  5. Creams & Lotions

  6. Specialty Soaps

  7. Hair conditioners

Some of the benefits:


  • Anti Aging - smooths fine lines & wrinkles

  • Keeps the skin hydrated, smooth, soft & supple


What are some popular humectants used amongst formulators and soap makers?


  1. Glycerin

  2. Sodium Lactate

  3. Hyaluronic Acid

  4. Urea

  5. Alpha -hydroxy acids ( eg, sodium lactate, lactic acid)

  6. Propylene Glycol

  7. Sorbitol

  8. Honey

There are many humectants out there but for the purpose of getting you started, I will start off highlighting three out of the list below:


Benefits of Sodium Lactate

  1. A moisturizer, boost absorption when combined with other ingredients.

  2. It also acts as a mild alpha hydroxy acid meaning is has exfoliating properties which smoothes and softens skin.

  3. It can make other butters and oils less greasy.

  4. Brightens skin complexion

  5. Can be used in soap formulations to help harden soap and make it last longer.


Benefits of Glycerin

This is a common humectant and is considered an endogenous humectant, meaning it is part of a natural moisturizing factor we already have built in our skin. Benefits of Glycerin are long lasting even after using a product.


Tip- it is sticky so should only be used in small amounts. Using 3 % or more in formulations can make the product feel sticky.



Benefits of Hyaluronic Acid

Our bodies produce a the highest form of Hyaluronic acid molecules. The texture is gooey and slippery substance that produces naturally. This substance helps our skin stay hydrated and moisturized. It plays an important role in our connective tissue and joints keeping them lubricated and soft. As we age, the amount we naturally produce starts to diminish which is why we start to look for products that can replenish it.

The Hyaluronic acid we purchase is often produced by fermenting certain types of bacteria. Rooster combs ( the red Mohawk) is also a common source.


Hyaluronic Acid treats:

  • Wrinkles and fine lines

  • Burns and wounds

  • Scars

As you can see, the benefits of humectants are endless and I hope that gives you a good understanding of what they are and hopefully it will help you with formulating and adding these into your recipes. Please subscribe to my community for future post and exclusive access to my digital printable library!




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