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What are Emollients?

By Shannon Kietzman
Updated May 21, 2024
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Emollients, also commonly referred to as moisturizers, are products that help to soften skin or to treat skin that has become dry. Most emollients are forms of oil or grease, such as mineral oil, squalene, and lanolin. They work by increasing the ability of the skin to hold water, providing the skin with a layer of oil to prevent water loss, and lubricating the skin.

Many natural ingredients are typically added to moisturizing products in order to give them their emollient properties. The juice from the aloe vera plant contains emollients, and is commonly added to skin lotions. This plant has long been used to preserve the moisture of the skin and to soothe dryness and other skin problems. The Mayas and the Incas used aloe vera to provide relief from sunburn. Today, it is used in special emollients to help burn victims heal quickly and with as little scarring as possible.

Another ingredient commonly used as an emollient is jojoba oil. Like aloe vera, jojoba oil helps to keep the skin moist. Jojoba oil is similar to sebum, an oil that is naturally found in the skin. For this reason, jojoba oil helps keep dry skin moist and suppresses the production of oil in skin that is oily.

Vitamin A is also used in many skin products as an emollient. It has been shown to be effective in keeping the skin healthy by increasing the amount of collagen in the skin, which helps keep the skin moist and elastic. Forms of vitamin A commonly used as emollients in lotions include retinyl, retinoic acid, palmitate, retinal, tretinoin, and isotretinoin.

Vitamin E is another emollient ingredient commonly used in moisturizers, as are soybean oil and avocado oil. All three of these emollients provide protection for the skin and help it retain its moisture. Avocado also contains large amounts of vitamin A and potassium.

Vitamin C is also an emollient, as well as an antioxidant. This vitamin has been proven to help create smoother, firmer skin when applied on a regular basis. In addition, it helps preserve moisture in the skin and prevents the skin from drying out.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By anon996422 — On Aug 26, 2016

Thanks for the simple explanation of emollient. I'll try to avoid using the word in presentations for now, however, your explanation of what it is, what it does, and how emollients are helpful is very nice indeed. Please, keep on writing.

By anon60143 — On Jan 12, 2010

yeah all that has been said is good but is formulating an emollient easy business? I'm only asking this because I'm studying Pharmacy.

By Mrsyarosh — On Dec 11, 2008

How can Emollients help heal/alleviate someone with mild psoriasis? Any natural known or proven research remedies?

By anon20963 — On Nov 08, 2008

How do i use vitamin c emollient in addition to astringent 8 and resurfacing gel 15

By rippedskin — On Oct 13, 2008

I have no idea when this was posted but you can purchase avocado oil at a health food store. It is a wonderful oil that is excellent for your skin!!!

By anon6360 — On Dec 26, 2007

My grandson dumped a bottle of bubble bath in the tub. Yes. Where was the mom? Regardless, he has now acquired a severe reaction to baths due to shampooing and soap. I am reading the article about emollients and am relieved that aloe vera will possibly relieve this little fella. Any ideas about how to make avocado oil? We like avocados.

Thanks

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