What is the best natural topical humectant (aka hydrator)?

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Let's discuss hydrating your skin & why there is only one humectant that is one single ingredient, that has many other benefits, that is shelf stable all by itself, and thus preservative-free. Watch the video or check out the blog post below. 

Do we really need humectants (vs emollients + occlusives)? 

I'm here to simplify the incredibly daunting landscape of beauty products and routines. My mission is to provide you with the most simple, yet effective ways to support your skin.

In the video "Hydrating Creams Don’t Exist," I received comments and questions about humectants. One of the more popular questions was: Can’t humectants in creams hydrate your skin? To put it simply, hydrating creams cannot hydrate the deep skin tissue: the dermis is where water levels need to be replenished. 

What is a humectant and its role?

A humectant is an agent that is supposed to retain or maintain water. These agents are supposedly hydrating because they are aqueous (contain water), BUT what they do is they either pull water from the atmosphere into your epidermis or they pull water from the dermis into your epidermis. This is just a temporary solution, and does not address hydration in a holistic manner.

Let's use nature as an analogy 

Here in California there is a drought.

California Drought

The drought does not seem to be too bad because we still have water coming out of our taps. In order to get that water however, we are digging deeper and deeper into the water table. Over time we are robbing the water from the aquifer, which is the deep down underground layer of water-bearing permeable rock. Until the aquifer is replenished we are in for more droughts, wild fires, and severe climate change consequences.

In terms of your skin, if the epidermis equates to water flowing from the tap, if we use popular humectant ingredients in an attempt to hydrate the skin, we will only be hydrating temporarily and possibly depleting hydration on a deeper level (your dermis). But there is a humectant that seems promising in actually being able to penetrate the skin...read on to find out more.

The inside scoop on popular ‘natural’ humectants from a formulator's perspective: 

A few ingredients that you may see in products that claim to be hydrating:

※ Sodium Lactate

※ Sorbitol 

※ Hyaluronic Acid (widely used in the clean beauty space now...stay tuned for its video)

※ Glycerine

Postcard Anatolife Skincare

A humectant like glycerine is an aqueous solution, meaning that it can add water to your epidermis. In the process of making glycerine, water molecules are dispersed and thus are smaller water molecules than water that you would get from the tap, so they can penetrate into your skin more easily.  

So up until now, something like glycerine appears to be a promising hydrating agent for the skin... 

Humectants like glycerine are usually present in lotions and creams. Glycerin is not often applied directly to skin because it's rather sticky. Lotions and creams are a mix of oil and hydrophilic compounds like glycerine, and are bound by an emulsifier (something that allows for oil and water to mix).


Emulsifiers: needed to bind humectants and oils in a cream.

Some emulsifiers are plant derived, but many that are used commercially are not. But even plant-based emulsifiers labeled as super safe like Cetaryl Alcohol, require specialized equipment to make and many steps in their manufacturing process. In the case of Cetaryl Alcohol there is transesterification and distillation of coconut or palm kernel oil using methanol and zinc catalysts, followed by hydrogenating the resulting methyl esters using a copper catalyst

I believe that the oils used to make these emulsifiers lose their potency in the process. Not to mention — the energy required to create an emulsifier like Cetaryl Alcohol

In addition, anytime there's water in a product — humectants — there needs to be some sort of preservative in there ON TOP of the emulsifier. And if there’s not, that is actually illegal. 



The preservative found in these kinds of products can be plant-based and ‘natural’ for instance: Vitamin E, Citric Acid, Potassium Sorbate, Sodium Benzoate, Organic Alcohol (non-drying), Witch Hazel (alcohol-free version) Benzyl Alcohol.


Even if it’s fed a better quality sugar like cassava or cane sugar there’s still black mold used in the processSupposedly, no black mold ends up in the citric acid, but finding products that you feel comfortable with not only, putting on your body, but also supporting the ways in which they have been produced, is important. 


Looking at humectants in the context of mass produced cosmetics

Manufacturers of creams and lotions use preservatives because it enables them to churn out masses of product with a high water content and low quality ingredients to make greater profit margins, and also to give their products a longer shelf life (stay tuned for a video about this). ‘Aqua’ is often listed as the #1 ingredient in these kinds of products.

Anato, on the other hand, is not in the business of you selling water! 

Occulents and Emollients Anato Life SkincareForgo humectants and opt for emollients and occlusives instead


Emollients are oils. Oils are the best form of a daily moisturizer. They replenish epidermal lipids to allow the skin’s barrier function to do its job—a key part of which is regulating the skin’s water content. Our favorites are our Regenerative Face Oils.


Occlusives are mostly waxes like beeswax, candelila wax, carnauba wax or some butters like cocoa. These are typically found in balms and ointments. Our favorite is our Baume Réparateur

These oil and waxed based products can be used to avoid water evaporation at the surface of your skin (transepidermal water loss). In addition to this, it is recommended to hydrate your skin from the inside out. Stay tuned for more content about the importance of drinking the right water at the right time in order to achieve to healthy glowing skin! For more holistic skin tips check out the "Hydrating creams do not exist" video & blog post

"But Céline, I just want that temporary dewiness on my skin!

I don't care if it only lasts half the day, I need that plumpness!"

There is only one humectant that is 100% natural and unprocessed by man for which we have some research-backed evidence that it can actually penetrate the skin. It is not Hyaluronic AcidClick here to find out what it is.  


 TO Summarize my research and beliefs: 

⟡ Skincare products loose their potency when a humectant needs an added emulsifier. 

⟡ Emulsifiers are resource-intensive to produce

⟡ Humectant-based products (lotions + creams) need preservatives

⟡  If something needs an industrialized preservative it should just be eaten fresh or put directly onto the skin fresh. Or just not used! 

⟡ Opt for emollients and occlusivse instead of humectants

⟡ If you must use a humectant ... use a natural & preservative-free one! 

Our favorite humectant (aka hydrating product) is straight from nature and is NOT A CREAM, nor a lotion! 


1) Akdeniz, M., Tomova-Simitchieva, T., Dobos, G., Blume-Peytavi, U., & Kottner, J. (2018). Does dietary fluid intake affect skin hydration in healthy humans? A systematic literature review. Skin research and technology : official journal of International Society for Bioengineering and the Skin (ISBS) [and] International Society for Digital Imaging of Skin (ISDIS) [and] International Society for Skin Imaging (ISSI) 24 (3), 459–465.
2) Haroun, M. T. (2003). Dry skin in the elderly. Geriatr Aging(6), 41-4.
3) Sethi, A., Kaur, T., Malhotra, S. K., & Gambhir, M. L. (2016). Moisturizers: the slippery road. Indian journal of dermatology61 (3), 279.
4) Summers, B. (2013). Science gets a grip on wrinkly fingers. Nature.com.
5) Sweis, I. E., & Cressey, B. C. (2018). Potential role of the common food additive manufactured citric acid in eliciting significant inflammatory reactions contributing to serious disease states: A series of four case reports. Toxicology reports5, 808–812. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.toxrep.2018.08.002
6) Barco, D., & Giménez-Arnau, A. (2008). Xerosis: una disfunción de la barrera epidérmica. Actas dermo-sifiliográficas99 (9), 671-682.

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