Everything you need to know about Emollients - Surgicept

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March 11, 2021 3 min read

All You Need to Know About Emollients

The word emollient comes from the Latin verb "mollire" to soften."

Emollients soften, hydrate, and condition your skin to eliminate dryness, prevent eczema flare-ups, and create a protective barrier to help damaged cells heal.

While, by itself, dry skin isn't a health issue, it could be a sign of such conditions as atopic dermatitis or psoriasis. It can also accompany such problems as kidney disease and diabetes. Dry skin can cause significant discomfort, forcing people to look for remedies. That's where emollients come in.

Even if you use emollients without any other treatments, they can do an excellent job moisturizing, softening, and soothing your skin while forming a protective barrier to keep it safe from the elements.

Even if you use emollients without any other treatments, they can do an excellent job moisturizing, softening, and soothing your skin while forming a protective barrier to keep it safe from the elements.

Emollients vs Moisturizers

Does it sound like an emollient is simply a moisturizer? Yes and no. An emollient is one of the ingredients used in moisturizers and other skincare products.


Emollients form a lipid layer on the skin's surface to prevent water from escaping it. They keep water from rising from the deeper part of the skin layers, thus keeping the skin soft and smooth.

What emollients don't do is give your skin any extra moisture. They simply work on keeping the existing water in place.


Common moisturizers contain emollients and humectants. Humectants draw water from the environment toward the epidermis.

As the amount of water increases, emollients step in to keep it in place. The most popular humectants you probably know about are glycerin and hyaluronic acid.


In addition to emollients and humectants, skincare products can contain occlusives. They work similarly to emollients, forming a protective layer on the skin's surface. However, unlike emollients, they don't soothe the skin.

Occlusives are generally oil-based. While being highly effective, they can clog skin pores and cause acne.

Oil-Based vs Water-Based Emollients

Emollients can be oil and water-based. Oil-based emollients are better for dry skin since it produces less sebum than necessary and has issues with the lipid layer's integrity.

Types of Emollients

Emollients come in several types. The most popular are:

Ointments these products are usually oil-based. They are thick and greasy. Ointments don't absorb quickly and work best for very dry and thick skin. They usually don't contain preservatives, thus minimizing adverse reactions. Ointments are perfect for nighttime use.

Creams these products contain both oil and water. They have better absorption qualities but don't create as thick of a barrier as ointments. Creams are usually light and easy to apply. They are suitable both for daytime and nighttime use.

Lotions these products are usually water-based but may contain a small amount of oil. Lotions don't moisturize as well as ointments and creams do. However, their light texture makes them easy to use on hairy parts of the body. Your skin absorbs lotions quickly, which makes them suitable for daytime use.

Sprays these products are usually water-based. They are similar to lotions in texture. You can use these emollients on hard-to-reach places as well as sore and infected skin that shouldn't be touched.

Benefits of Emollients

Emollients are excellent for soothing, softening, and treating the dry skin that occurs for the following reasons:

  • Eczema, psoriasis, atopic dermatitis
  • Burns
  • Cold and dry weather
  • Diaper rash
  • Frequent hand washing
  • Taking hot baths
  • Handling products with chemicals
  • Hypothyroidism, diabetes, kidney problems.

Besides treating and soothing the skin, emollients can make it look fresher, plumper, and younger.

How to Use Emollients

To achieve the best results, emollients should be used regularly. Each product comes with specific instructions. Usually, you should apply emollients between two and four times a day.

Besides the regular application, you should use emollients each time the affected area gets wet. Water can wash away the product, nullifying its effect.,
If you are using emollients to alleviate the effects of eczema and other skin conditions, you may want to consult your doctor about the frequency of application.
Emollients can sometimes cause such adverse skin reactions as:

  • Burning or stinging sensation that doesn't go away for more than one day
  • Inflamed hair follicles
  • Rashes

If you experience any of these side effects, you need to stop using emollients immediately and consult your doctor.

The Takeaway

Emollients are softening and soothing agents that you can find in many skincare products and topical medications. Their key effect is keeping the moisture from escaping your skin.

Emollients can help deal with the side effects of various medical conditions while improving the quality of your life.