How To Choose The Right Moisturiser

Everyone always talks about how important a good moisturiser is in your skincare routine. But what makes a good moisturiser? And how do you pick the right one? The key is in knowing the three classes of moisturising ingredients, and what each one does for you.

What’s a moisturiser for?

A moisturiser is anything you put on your skin to combat dehydration or dryness. It’s usually used after cleansing to replace whatever your skin is missing. They can also contain special ingredients like plant extracts, antioxidants and more. A good, basic moisturiser should be geared towards your skin type and condition, and contain some key moisturising ingredients.

The three things to look for when choosing a moisturiser

Moisturising ingredients can do three things – increase hydration (water), retain hydration, or replace oil. Each of these is achieved by one of three different kinds of ingredients – HUMECTANTS, OCCLUSIVES and EMOLLIENTS. Let’s learn what each of these classes of ingredients does for you.


Humectants are ingredients that attract and hold on to water. These encourage water to come up from the deeper layers of the skin (dermis) up to the dead outer layer (epidermis). Increasing the amount of water in your epidermis has two effects. Firstly, it counteracts dehydration which is common in dry climates or in those with skin barrier disorders such as eczema. This can improve irritation and sensitivity in the skin. Secondly, plumping the skin with hydration reduces the appearance of fine lines and skin flaking, improving the skin’s texture. They usually feel very lightweight and cooling on the skin, and sink in quickly. Humectant-rich moisturisers are great for dehydrated or oily skin types that don’t necessarily need the heaviest moisturiser ever, but still want hydration.


Hyaluronic acid


Glycols – e.g. propylene, butylene, hexylene, caprylyl glycol


Alpha Hydroxy Acids – Lactic, Glycolic


Aloe Vera

Sodium PCA




A good humectant isn’t very helpful without an occlusive. Occlusives prevent evaporation from the skin (Trans-Epidermal Water Loss aka. TEWL). It creates a ‘barrier’ so that skin stays moisturised, preventing dehydration in the first place. This works very well in tandem with humectants which draw water into the epidermis to keep it where it is needed. You can layer straight occlusives like Vaseline on after your other moisturisers to lock in the water. The only issue with these are their cosmetic inelegance – in other words, they can feel and look bad. They can be greasy and thick, and sometimes will not sink in. This means occlusive products are easier to use at night rather than during the day or under makeup. To manage this, I personally use a sunscreen rich in silicones (Sunplay Superblock 50+ PA++++ if you’re curious) to act as a mild occlusive during the day, without being greasy. It also works great under makeup, similarly to a primer. Similarly, you can find a moisturiser that contains occlusive ingredients in the formula which will make them easier to manage.


Petrolatum (Vaseline)

Silicones – Dimethicone, Cyclomethicone etc. (anything ending in -one or -xane)


Carrier oils – Squalane, Jojoba, Mineral Oil (NOT essential oils)



An emollient is an ingredient that encourages skin pliability and elasticity and keeps the skin soft, flexible and lubricated. They replace missing oils and natural moisturising factors (which live between your skin cells). As such, emollient ingredients are great for people with dry skin who lack oil and thus have a scaly, flaky, or rough skin texture. They are usually what make up traditional creamy, rich moisturisers. Emollients often feel thicker and heavier than humectants, but less greasy than occlusives, and sink in slowly over time.


Butters – ie. Shea, Cocoa



Carrier oils – Squalane, Jojoba, Mineral Oil (NOT essential oils)

Fatty alcohols – Cetyl, Stearyl and Cetearyl Alcohol


Esters – ie. words ending in ‘ate’ e.g. benzoate, myristate, palmitate, stearate


As always, these distinctions aren’t black and white – some ingredients fall into multiple categories. For example, urea is both an emollient and a humectant. Many occlusives like beeswax, shea/cocoa butter and carrier oils are also great emollients. The key to a great skin is using a moisturiser with all three of these kinds of ingredients, or using several seperate products to get all the benefits.

In summary, dehydrated skin types (that includes those with oily skin, too) should use humectant rich moisturisers, and where possible follow it up with an occlusive. Dry skin types can benefit from humectants and occlusives too, but will also need emollients to keep their skin supple. Overall, remember that using all three of these types of ingredients in tandem (from light to heavy – Humectant > Emollient > Occlusive) will drastically benefit your skin. They work better together.

But in the end, the best moisturiser is the one you will reach for every day. Most importantly, you have to like the way it looks and feels, and only then you will use it regularly and see a difference.

So remember to look at your ingredient labels, and use this guide to help you choose your next moisturiser!