What are emollients?
Skin cream contains emollients to preserve moisture in the skin, preventing it from becoming dry and flaky. There are both synthetic emollients, such as squalene and mineral oils, and natural emollients such as lanolin and cocoa butter.
What are they used for?
The loss of water through the skin is an ongoing process that never stops, it is known as transepidermal water loss or TEWL. Emollients have an occlusive effect, which means they cover the top layer of the skin and prevent water evaporation. Due to their moisture-promoting properties, they are used in skincare to increase hydration – particularly in products for drier skin types.
Normal skin retains moisture and remains soft thanks to the hydrolipidic film, a unique oily layer covering the outermost layer, the epidermis. The hydrolipidic film maintains the skin’s barrier function and the emollient component of skin cream consists of natural oils or mineral oils like paraffin oil, waxes, and butters. Its purpose is to imitate the hydrolipidic film as closely as possible, thereby contributing to a more effective barrier function in dry skin.
Emollients to look for in skincare
First of all, look for emollients that the skin itself produces, examples include ceramides, squalene, omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, and cholesterol. You can find these emollients in the hydrolipidic film. Several studies have shown that creams containing ceramides reduce skin inflammation, while also enhancing the barrier function. Natural ceramide levels in the skin change with the seasons. They’re at their lowest in winter, which may be one reason why many people experience drier skin during cold spells.
The same applies to omega 3 fatty acids and other lipids, which can reach low levels during the winter if you live in a cold country. Creams containing ceramides and omega 6 have been shown to help people suffering from psoriasis. Ceramide creams have also proven beneficial for children with eczema, improving hydration levels in the skin. As regards omega 6, people who are prone to develop spots have been shown to have lower levels of this oil in their skin.
Squalene, naturally present in the skin (or a variant, squalane, which has longer durability) is an oil widely used in the skincare industry. It used to be extracted from shark’s liver, but fortunately, a way has now been found to obtain it from olives. Squalene is good for the skin and has very effective emollient properties.
INCI: Ceramide, Squalene, Squalane, Cholesterol, Linoleic Acid (Omega 6), Linolenic Acid (Omega 3)