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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.