July 18, 2024

What is the difference between moisturizer and emollient?

          In the world of beauty, there are so many terms used to describe the many products used in skincare. These terms may be familiar to those avid skincare enthusiasts but this might not be the case for most people. These people might end up feeling confused or overwhelmed with the many products for the skin purpose that is available in the market. Although skincare might be only related to beauty, the truth is it also involves skin health. For instance, in the case of those with eczema, a skincare product helps to soothe the skin redness causing a person to have imperfect skin, it also helps to reduce the itchiness and pain. In this DoctorOnCall’s article, we will be going through the differences between moisturiser and emollient which may seem the same thing as these terms are used interchangeably on label of skin products.

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          In short, the main differences between emollient and moisturiser are that an emollient is an agent whereas moisturiser contains many other agents or ingredients. The similarity of the emollient and moisturiser helps to bring hydration for the skin. Skin hydration is important for humans not only for beauty purposes but skin health in general. Skin hydration is always connected with skin barrier. A good skin barrier means the skin is able to retain its moisture and able to prevent the many skin disorders issues caused by poor skin barrier. This is why the terms emollient and moisturiser are always used on skin products either skincare or prescribed medication as they promised to bring skin benefits. Below are more on the differences between moisturiser and emollient:


Emollients are agents used to soften and smooth the skin. It works by locking in hydration and enhances the skin’s protective lipid barrier by covering the skin with a protective film to trap in the moisture.

There are numerous types of emollients available and usually contains oily or lipid substances such as lanolin, glyceryl stearate and ceramides.

Emollient exists in many forms of product such as creams, sprays, lotion, ointments and soaps.

Emollients work well on all skin types and can be used on the face and body. Those with dry and sensitive skin will appreciate emollients more as it is able to strengthen the skin fatty lipid barrier and prevent dehydration of skin by sealing in the skin moisture.

Emollients products are best to be applied after washing hands or after shower/bath since this is when the skin is prone to dryness. It should apply as soon as the skin is dry to ensure it the skin properly absorbs it.


Moisturiser contains more than one ingredient which can actually include emollients in it. Beside emollients, it may even contain occlusives and humectants. Occlusive are ingredients that form a layer of oil on the skin which acts as a protective barrier to reduce water loss from the skin. Examples of occlusive ingredients are petroleum jelly, paraffin and dimethicone. Humectants are agents that attract water and retain the water content inside the skin. Examples of humectants are glycerine and urea.

Moisturiser can be found in many forms such as cream, lotion and gel. Sometimes moisturiser may contain ingredients such as fragrances and preservatives. Fragrances help to enhance the experience of the user and preservatives help to improve shelf-life by preventing microbial contaminations. Nowadays moisturisers may even contain anti-ageing properties such as antioxidants from vitamins or keratolytic such as salicylic acid and alpha hydroxy acids. Additional agents such as aloe vera and shea butter give soothing effects while menthol and oatmeal ingredients help to reduce skin rash.

Moisturiser effect can be seen in the first 6 hours after first application and regular application of 2-3 times a day can help minimise the skin benefits.

          It can be concluded that differences between moisturiser and emollient can still be confusing as the terms used interchangeably in the skin care products but one thing for sure is emollient works to soften the skin whereas moisturiser helps to bring added moisture to the skin. The best way to understand a product is by reading the label and learning on the ingredients or asking medical professionals such as dermatologists for more concise information. It is important to educate on the many agents used in moisturiser and many other skin products since some people may actually have skin reactions towards ingredients in the moisturiser. This could be from irritant reactions, contact allergy or a blocked follicle causing inflamed follicles (folliculitis).

          Always buy and use skincare products that have been certified safe by NPRA. Buying skincare products from pharmacies or doctor’s clinics is the safest way of ensuring you are using genuine products. Remember to do thorough research before using any skin products. In order to reap the full benefits of skin products, always use them according to the product’s label or doctor’s instructions. Regular use of skin products is the only way to ensure the products work. Be careful when using these products since some products may contain oils that can cause slippery feet when used on skin which you might actually fall and hurt yourself from. Should there be any adverse effects or discomfort from using these products, immediately stop using it and ask healthcare providers on what to do next.

Also read – Dengue Prevention.


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