Why humectants are the dry skin-heroes we really need

The beauty industry has a great way of creating hype around ingredients and often times that hype is warranted. On the other hand it can also overshadow ingredients that might not be as trendy, but are just as (if not more) effective and vital for our skin. Hyaluronic acid is an amazing ingredient but personally for me, on it’s own, it can be kind of drying and lack-lustre. When choosing a hydrating serum for myself I now look for other humectants in the formulation.

Before I continue I just want to clarify that I am not a scientist or skin expert. I am a skincare obsessive and I love learning about ingredients and what they can do for my skin. I should also add that although I’m focusing here on humectants, they are not the be-all and end-all (no ingredient is). It really comes down to great formulation and what I want to highlight is that it’s not just about a single ingredient. It’s how they work together. Occlusives, emollients, hydrating ingredients – it’s about balance. But for now I want to hone in on humectants because I think they’re so often forgotten.

What is a humectant?

Humectants, in simple terms, attract water to the skin. They help to slow down trans epidermal water loss (TEWL) which is basically evaporation of water from the skin. In a nutshell they are fantastic at keeping skin hydrated and an absolute essential in many formulations.

Glycerin is a humectant and it’s probably the most well known one. It’s the foundation of a lot of moisturisers and serums, as well as being an affordable ingredient to formulate with. This means you don’t need to be spending too much to gain some glycerin in your life. Just be mindful it’s not about finding a 100% pure glycerin serum, in fact if humectants are used at a concentration that is too high then they can have the opposite effect and dry out your skin.  They’re best combined with other hydrating, occlusive and emollient ingredients and products as part of a balanced skincare routine.

I thought I’d put together some of my favourite hydrating products that contain glycerin and other humectants. Some I’ve used for a while and others are new to me and waiting in the wings to be tested.

Jordan Samuel Skin

Jordan Samuel is a big proponent of glycerin and humectants so you will find these ingredients in almost all of the products from his range. Hydrate – The Mist is one of those beefy mists that is actually hydrating. I like to apply it during any part of my skincare routine. Just be warned the glycerin does make it a bit quite squirty when it is dispensed but I am happy to overlook it as it is that good. Similarly, the Hydrate Facial Serum is packed full of humectants and makes my skin feel like a plump little cushion. The Performance Cream is a lovely finishing step, morning or evening. I absolutely can’t fault Jordan Samuel Skin! He’s a great educator too and never too busy to answer a question.

Medik8 Hydr8 B5 Intense

I have lost count of how many times I’ve repurchased the Medik8 Hydr8 B5 Intense. This serum is a powerhouse as it contains Natural Moisturising Factors – a bunch of humectants and amino acids that naturally occur in the skin. It’s also features lactic acid and creatin to aid in cell turnover. Multiple weights of Hyaluronic Acid finish off the formula beautifully which is why I will go back to this serum time and time again. There is also a regular version (just called Hydr8 B5) but when it comes to hydration my skin definitely needs the intensity!

Alpha-H Hyaluronic 8

Another serum that I’ve used a few times is the Alpha-H Hyaluronic 8* which contains a host of humectants along with some other neat ingredients. This serum focuses on hydration but also lifting, plumping and protecting the skin’s collagen stores. It has Hyaluronic Acid in a small molecular size so it penetrates the skin easily to give a smooth appearance. I highly recommend this one!

Niche Beauty Lab Pure Glycerin Face Serum

So you know how I said not to use a pure glycerin serum or your skin will get dry? Well this one has a bit of a sneaky name but don’t let it fool you. The Niche Beauty Lab Pure Glycerin Face Serum contains 15% glycerin and 5% of an Amino Acid Complex. A point of difference with this serum is not only its high glycerin content but the host of silicones in the formula. Long have silicones been demonised as a “toxic” ingredient but fear not – that was just pseudoscience talking and I assure you silicones are absolutely fantastic for dry skin and a necessary emollient. This one is still quite new to me but so far I really like it!

The Ordinary

The Ordinary are a great brand when it comes to non-fussy formulations with tried and true ingredients. Although new to me, I am really excited to try Natural Moisturising Factors + HA.* I think I’m going to run out of steam if I try to list every amazing humectant and amino acid packed into this formula but what I can tell you is that this is one of their most popular products and it’s super affordable too which we love to hear. Another one waiting for me to test is the Marine Hyaluronics* which has a whopping 23% of active ingredients such as marine-derived water reservoirs (music to my ears).

tbh skincare Rebound Serum

Hannah English (scientist, skinfluencer and all round amazing person) along with tbh skincare created the “one and done” Rebound Serum that I just had to mention in this post. Although it doesn’t solely focus on hydration it is one that I think thirsty skinned people will appreciate because it is great for healing your skin barrier. Very often dry skin and skin barrier damage go hand in hand as we try to fix the mess we’ve created when over-exfoliating the dry bits (we’ve all been there). A newbie to me but an instant favourite. Unfortunately it has sold out but it will be back up soon! Sign up for the notification on their website.

I hope you enjoyed this love letter to humectants. The key takeaway is that Hyaluronic Acid alone isn’t going to be as effective as a team of ingredients working together to combat dehydrated skin . I’d love to know your favourite hydrating serums! Send me a DM or email me.

*Gifted product. No obligation to write about it, I just love it.


This blog post contains affiliate links