Humectants at a glance

  • Ingredients that draw and bind moisture to skin
  • Keep skin’s water levels balanced
  • Can give skin a plump, dewy, smooth look
  • Commonly found in moisturizers and serums

Humectants description

Humectants are ingredients that attract water to skin. They include glycerin, hyaluronic acid, sodium hyaluronate, sodium PCA, various glycols, amino acids, glycolic acid, various plant sugars known as polysaccharides, honey, and the B vitamin panthenol. Humectants draw and bind this moisture to skin, then help evenly distribute it within skin’s water channels, known as aquaporins. This can give skin a plump, dewy, smooth look, which is why humectants are commonly used in moisturizers and serums. Along with attracting water from the ambient air, humectants can also pull it from skin’s lower layers. While that may sound like it would make dry skin worse, in reality humectants (and the ingredients paired with them) form a flexible film on skin that keeps the water that’s drawn from skin’s lower layers from evaporating. In essence, humectants are smart ingredients that attract moisture in the areas that skin needs it the most, and act accordingly to keep skin’s water levels balanced. Today’s best skin care products artfully combine humectants with emollients, replenishing fatty acids, peptides, and hydrating antioxidants to help skin get the most from them. At the same time, such blends work with humectants to minimize water loss and keep skin soft, smooth, and comfortable.

Humectants references

  • Medicina, July 2022, pages 1-17
  • Clinical, Cosmetic, and Investigative Dermatology, October 2018, pages 491–497
  • Clinical Medicine and Research, December 2017, pages 75–87
  • Indian Journal of Dermatology, May-June 2016, pages 279–287
  • International Journal of Cosmetic Science, April 2017, pages 165–178

Peer-reviewed, substantiated scientific research is used to assess ingredients in this dictionary. Regulations regarding constraints, permitted concentration levels and availability vary by country and region.

Ingredient ratings


Proven and supported by independent studies. Outstanding active ingredient for most skin types or concerns.


Necessary to improve a formula's texture, stability, or penetration.


Generally non-irritating but may have aesthetic, stability, or other issues that limit its usefulness.


There is a likelihood of irritation. Risk increases when combined with other problematic ingredients.


May cause irritation, inflammation, dryness, etc. May offer benefit in some capability but overall, proven to do more harm than good.


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Not Rated