Michael Cera..Ve? Find Out The Truth


Moisturizers help hydrate and nourish your skin, but they’re not all created equal. Some feature ingredients that work to supply hydration to the skin’s surface, while others include ingredients that smooth, soften, or help protect dry, itchy skin. One of the first steps to restoring a hydrated, radiant-looking complexion is understanding what’s included in your moisturizer formulas (and why). Ahead, we’re explaining some key facts about moisturizer ingredients—beginning with the differences between humectants, emollients, and occlusives. Plus, we’ll share some examples of each moisturizer type and highlight the CeraVe products you can find them in. By the end, you’ll be equipped with the knowledge you need to build an effective moisturizing routine.

Facts About Humectants vs. Emollients vs. Occlusives

  • Fact #1: Skincare products aimed at moisturization typically feature one or more of these moisturizing agents: humectants, emollients, and occlusives.
  • Fact #2: Humectants are ingredients that help support supple, hydrated skin. They work by attracting and retaining moisture in the skin’s upper layer.
  • Fact #3: Occlusives are a type of moisturizing ingredient that creates a barrier on top of the skin—this helps seal in moisture and prevent water loss from the skin barrier.
  • Fact #4: Emollients are used primarily to help soften and smooth dry, rough-feeling skin.

Understanding Moisturizers

Moisturizers provide skin-supporting benefits using a two-fold approach: They increase skin barrier hydration and help prevent moisture evaporation. Using a moisturizer daily can help prevent skin dryness and improve the look of flaky, rough, and dehydrated skin. Moisturizers can be formulated with humectants, emollients, and/or occlusives—depending on the formulation.

What Are Humectants in Skincare?

Humectants are powerful skin hydrators that draw water to the skin’s surface from moisture in the atmosphere. Additionally, they may also attract water from the skin’s deeper layers. Humectants are important in skincare products because they help replace lost moisture and improve the skin’s water content. Products that contain humectants can be useful for improving the appearance of rough, dehydrated skin since these skin hydrators can help your complexion appear more plump, supple, and youthful. Many humectant moisturizers also have emollient properties that can help soften and smooth your skin (more on that ahead).

What are some examples of humectants?

Hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid (also known as hyaluronan or sodium hyaluronate) is one of the most popular and well-known humectants. Found naturally in your skin, it plays a key role in keeping your skin looking plump, hydrated, and smooth. Because hyaluronic acid declines with age, it’s found in many anti-aging skincare products.

Find It In: This lightweight, versatile humectant is included in many of CeraVe’s hydrating products, such as CeraVe Hydrating Hyaluronic Acid Serum, a refreshing gel-cream facial serum that can be used daily for instantly smoother, softer skin.


Another example of a humectant moisturizer is glycerin (sometimes known as glycerine or glycerol). Research shows that this clear, odorless sugar alcohol is one of the most common ingredients in moisturizers, found in approximately 50% of moisturizing products.1 The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) recommends glycerin as an effective ingredient for relieving dry skin.2

Find It In: Several CeraVe products contain glycerin, such as CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion with broad-spectrum SPF 30 sunscreen and CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion with niacinamide.

Alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs)

Alpha-hydroxy acids (such as glycolic acid and lactic acid) are chemical exfoliants that help remove dead skin cell buildup from the skin’s surface. When used consistently, these naturally-occurring organic acids can help promote smoother, more even-toned skin. However, many people don’t know that AHAs are also humectants.

Find It In: Alpha-hydroxy acids are a key ingredient in CeraVe Acne Control Gel, our daily-use acne treatment with lactic acid and glycolic acid. You can also find them in CeraVe SA Cream for Rough and Bumpy Skin, a smoothing cream with salicylic acid and lactic acid that helps improve skin texture.

What Are Occlusives in Skincare?

As mentioned above, humectants help attract and bind water in your skin—but that’s just one piece of the puzzle: It’s equally important to seal in all of that moisture so that it doesn’t evaporate off the skin’s surface (known as transepidermal water loss, or TEWL). That’s where occlusives come in. Occlusive ingredients don’t add hydration to the skin. Rather, they work by forming a barrier on top of your skin to help prevent moisture evaporation. This can help keep your skin hydrated for longer and help prevent dryness. Compared to humectants, occlusive moisturizers tend to have a thicker texture.

What is an example of an occlusive ingredient?


One of the most common occlusive ingredients in skincare is petrolatum (commonly known as petroleum jelly). According to Harvard Health, petrolatum is the most effective occlusive moisturizing ingredient.3 Often considered the “gold standard” of occlusives, petrolatum is also FDA-approved for use as a skin protectant.4 It can be used to help protect dry, itchy skin but may not be well-suited for use on your face if you have acne-prone skin.

Find It In: Two petrolatum-based options to consider are CeraVe Healing Ointment and CeraVe Baby Healing Ointment, our fragrance-free, lanolin-free skin protectants for adult and baby skin.

What Are Emollients in Skincare?

Instead of adding moisture, emollients are used to help soften and smooth the skin. They work by filling in gaps between skin cells, which could otherwise cause the skin to have a rough, dry, and flaky appearance. When it comes to emollient moisturizers, it’s important to note that some occlusives (such as petrolatum) also function as emollients, as do many humectants (like dimethicone). Learn more about some of CeraVe’s emollient ingredients below.

What are some examples of emollients?


Ceramides are one of the most popular emollients found in skincare products—and for good reason. These lipids are a key component of your skin’s natural protective barrier, which is essential for keeping moisture in your skin and harmful irritants out.

Find It In: All CeraVe products contain three essential ceramides that are identical to those found naturally in your skin. To learn more, visit The Ceramides Difference.


This ingredient is the second most common moisturizing ingredient in skincare products (after petrolatum).5 Dimethicone is often used in moisturizer formulas to help the product easily glide onto your skin.

Find It In: CeraVe Moisturizing Cream, a barrier-restoring face and body cream that continually releases moisturizing ingredients for long-lasting hydration.

Squalane oil

Squalane is a naturally-occurring oil that has emollient and antioxidant benefits. It’s also non-comedogenic (meaning it won’t clog your pores) and can be beneficial for those with dry skin or eczema.

Find It In: To include squalane oil in your moisturizing routine, try CeraVe Hydrating Foaming Oil Cleanser, our lightweight cleansing oil for dry to very dry skin on the face and body.

Should Humectants, Emollients, and Occlusives Be Used Together?

Many dermatologists recommend including all three moisturizing agents in your skincare routine. According to the Cleveland Clinic, occlusives and humectants make an ideal pair, working together to help keep your skin properly hydrated.6

In order to get the most out of these moisturizers, you’ll need to find the right products for your skin’s unique needs. Always read the labels closely when choosing moisturizers for your daily routine—this will tell you whether the product is formulated for your skin type and skin concerns. For example, if you have oily skin, you might benefit from a water-based moisturizer formula that feels weightless on your skin, such as CeraVe Ultra-Light Moisturizing Gel. Or, if you struggle with uncomfortable itching or dryness, a richer cream or ointment with petrolatum may be better for your skin, such as CeraVe Healing Ointment.

CeraVe Tip: If you have sensitive skin, you may want to opt for moisturizers that are fragrance-free, allergy-tested, and developed with dermatologists—such as CeraVe’s range of gentle yet effective formulas for sensitive skin.

For help choosing the right products for your specific skin type and skin concerns, use our Find My Skincare Solution tool.

Skincare Solution Finder

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