What Does “Occlusive” Moisturizer Mean?
Before we dig deep into this term, it’s best to understand moisturizers in general. A moisturizer can be any type of substance such as a cream, lotion, or oil that is applied topically to maintain proper oil and water levels in the skin. Most moisturizers are made up of three parts:
- Humectant agents draw water molecules from their surroundings. When applied to your face or body, this will help add moisture to your skin. Examples of humectant agents include glycerin, butylene glycol, and hyaluronic acid.
- Emollient agents help fill in cracks between skin cells, making the skin smoother. Most emollients are oils or lipids, such as ceramides, stearic, linoleic, and lauric, which are just some ingredients often used in moisturizers.
- Occlusive agents are ingredients that form a film on the skin to prevent water loss, and act as a barrier function. Examples include:
- Petroleum jelly
- Cocoa butter
- Mineral oils
A moisturizer’s main function is based off the balance of these ingredients. An occlusive moisturizer, then, is high in occlusive agent(s), and it aims to seal in skin moisture.
What’s the Difference Between Occlusive, Humectant, and Reparative Moisturizer?
As you’ve already seen, the way a moisturizer works depends on the balance of its ingredients. Therefore, an occlusive moisturizer is high in occlusive agents, which helps prevent water loss from the skin. These moisturizers are able to accomplish this task because your body naturally moves water up from the lower levels of the skin to the top level—the epidermis. By blocking the water’s path to the outside environment, it prevents trans-epidermal water loss.
Likewise, humectant moisturizers are high in humectant agents. As mentioned, they absorb water from their surroundings. Ideally, this would mean your skin could absorb water from the air more easily, but in some cases, humectant moisturizers can have a drying effect by pulling water from the skin and into the environment, so be careful about choosing a moisturizer based on your skin type and the climate you live in.
Another term you might run across in the cosmetic industry is “reparative” moisturizer. This type of moisturizer combines the properties of both occlusive and humectant moisturizers, which helps replenish the skin’s natural barrier to get down to the cause of dry skin rather than just treating it in the short-term.
When Should You Use an Occlusive Moisturizer?
Occlusive moisturizers are ideal for use on dry, dehydrated, or post-procedure skin. Since they’re usually fatty, oily substances, you would not want to use occlusive moisturizers on already oily skin.
Some occlusive moisturizers, such as olive oil, are not cosmetically appealing. They can feel and appear greasy or waxy, and in some cases, they can cause acne. Because of this, they’re best applied at night to treat severe dryness rather than right before you’re getting ready to go out. Even with minor drawbacks, occlusive moisturizers can be highly beneficial for those people who suffer from severely dry skin, such as the way many people experience dry skin in the winter, or after certain cosmetic procedures.
Be conscious of your skin’s type and its behavior before applying an occlusive moisturizer. If you’re prone to oily skin or acne, then perhaps an occlusive moisturizer isn’t for you. If your skin feels dry or chapped, on the other hand, then by all means test out an occlusive moisturizer to see how it can benefit your skin.