Emollients | Uses, Types, and Benefits


What is an Emollient? 

When you dab on that anti-aging wrinkle cream or smooth some lotion onto your dry, chapped skin, it's not necessarily the fancy-sounding ingredients or the expensive herbal extracts that improve your skin's health and restore your skin's natural moisture levels. It's actually your skincare product's emollient ingredients that do the heavy lifting to soften, soothe and improve the appearance of dry, rough skin. 

An emollient is an oil-based ingredient that covers your dry skin in a thin, healing film of natural fats (technically referred to as lipids). This coating seals your skin's surface, trapping moisture in your skin and helping to maintain your skin's hydration levels.

Types of Emollients

Emollients, as defined by the National Institutes of Health, are any substance that helps to increase your skin's moisture levels and soften or soothe irritated skin. Thus, this category of skincare ingredients is quite broad and encompasses:

  • Ointments: These tend to be the thickest and richest form of an emollient. They're ideal for situations where your skin needs intensive moisture, but because they're oily and greasy, you may find them less than ideal for use during the day.
  • Creams: Emollient creams are less thick and oily than ointments, making these emollients more suitable for all-day use. However, they're still quite heavy compared to other skincare treatments.
  • Lotions: Emollient lotions are a step down from creams in terms of emollient concentration. While they're thinner and more diluted than ointments and creams, lotions tend to be very easy to use and absorb very quickly into your skin. 
  • Bath and shower products: You can add oils and other emollient additives (such as pure liquid lanolin) the next time you shower or bathe. These additives help reduce the drying effects of bathing, and help to coat your skin in a thin layer of oil. 
  • Emollient soaps: Most conventional soaps, shampoos and similar cleansing products contain detergents and other harsh ingredients that strip your skin of its natural oils. Emollient soaps do the opposite, moisturizing your skin as you wash. 

Specific ingredients that act as powerful emollients include:

  • Glycerin
  • Urea
  • Petrolatum
  • Plant-based oils, such as coconut oil, sunflower seed oil, hemp oil, etc.
  • Lanolin
  • Silicones

Sometimes, these emollients are also combined with other ingredients that improve their skin-soothing and skin-healing efficacy, such as aloe vera.

Benefits of Emollients

Clinical skincare and dermatological research have shown that emollients restore your skin's natural moisture barrier and seal in critical hydration. In fact, according to the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, emollients are a superior treatment for all forms of "dry skin barrier disorders."

One of the most well-researched benefits of emollients is for the treatment of eczema, with several studies showing that it helps reduce and prevent this common skincare disorder. In some clinical trials, using natural plant-based oils and emollients like sunflower oil or lanolin oil led to eczema improvements in as little as a few days. 

Other benefits of emollients include:

  • Soothing skin that's dry from medical conditions like diabetes, psoriasis, kidney disease, hypothyroidism, etc.
  • Preventing and treating dry skin due to environmental concerns, such as hot weather or cold, dry air
  • Reducing skin irritation from lifestyle routines like frequent hand washing or frequent bathing
  • Speeding up the healing time for surface skin injuries, such as sunburns
  • Preventing and treating skin concerns for those with very sensitive skin, such as diaper rash on infants
  • Restoring a youthful complexion, because hydrated skin appears firmer and more plump (and thus minimizes the depth and severity of fine lines and wrinkles)
  • Preventing the signs of aging, because skin that has a healthy moisture barrier is more resistant to the damage that causes premature aging in your skin

How to Use an Emollient

For the best results and the fastest improvement in your skin's health and appearance, apply an emollient at least twice a day.

Aim for once in the morning and again in the afternoon or early evening. This helps ensure a constant protective barrier on your skin's surface as you go about your day. However, this is the bare minimum. Emollients work best when used frequently. The more often you apply an emollient, the better your skin will feel in the long term.

Finally, don't forget that an emollient seals your skin's surface. However, it doesn't add moisture to your skin itself.

Thus, the most important strategy is to apply the emollient immediately after washing your skin, showering, or bathing. This locks the moisture into your skin and dramatically improves your skin's hydration. 

Tips when Using Emollients

Whether you're trying to proactively protect your skin’s health or you're trying to treat a skin concern like excessive dryness or eczema, a few tips and tricks can help you get the most out of your emollients:

  • Adjust for the time of day and your schedule: Use creams or lotions during the morning and afternoon, shower and bath additives when you're bathing, and an ointment at night before you go to bed.
  • Always apply to moist skin. 
  • Dab, don't rub. Rubbing your skin can exacerbate existing skin irritation and lead to micro-injuries that trigger wrinkles, fine lines and other signs of premature skin aging.
  • Be proactive. If you know you're about to strip your skin of its natural moisture barrier, add an emollient ahead of time. For example, proactive use of emollients are very helpful in the winter, before you go swimming in a chlorinated pool, or applied to your face and mouth when you're coming down with a cold and know you'll be irritating your facial skin a lot.

Shop Emollients at Co-op Market

Regular emollient use supports your skin's natural health and helps you have skin that's as healthy as it looks. At Co-op market, we have a wide range of all-natural bath and body care products, including a diverse array of emollient-rich treatments that will restore your skin's hydration and protect your skin from irritation and future dryness. Start your morning with a vitamin E-infused moisture cream or coconut oil lotion. Then wind down after a busy day by adding ultra-hydrating lanolin oil to your bath or shower. Your skin will thank you.

Learn more about the benefits of emollients and find emollient-enriched products to add to your skincare routine at Co-op Market.

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