Dehydrated skin is very common in winter, when cold dry air speeds up water evaporation from skin. It’s also made worse with air conditioning and recirculated aeroplane air. Exfoliants, moisturisers and masks help, but sometimes what your skin really needs is a targeted humectant product that will give a hardcore hydration boost.
What is dehydrated skin?
Dry skin occurs when you don’t have enough oil in your skin, while dehydrated skin occurs when your skin is lacking water. Dry and dehydrated skin are related issues, but they don’t necessarily appear together – your skin can be dry and hydrated, or it can be oily and dehydrated (like mine).
What are humectants?
Humectants are one of the three classes of moisturiser ingredients (the other two are occlusives and emollients). Humectant ingredients are good at holding onto water, a bit like a sponge. Applying a humectant moisturiser essentially means you’ll have a bunch of teeny tiny wet sponges sitting on your skin, keeping it moist.
(The more technical version: Humectant ingredients tend to contain lots of oxygen (O) and hydroxy groups (OH), which can form strong hydrogen bonds with water. This means it’s harder for water to evaporate and escape once it’s on your humectant-covered skin.
Glycerin, a common humectant ingredient, also has the advantage of being able to travel and take water through small channels in the skin called aquaporins, so it can hydrate more deeply.)
What are the benefits of humectants?
Humectants, occlusives and emollients are found in moisturising creams and lotions, which are a must for your morning and evening routines if your skin is dehydrated. However, in dry weather, your skin might dehydrate between moisturiser applications, or your regular skincare routine might now be enough.
Here’s where humectant sprays come in! Unlike occlusives and emollients, humectants are water-based. Since makeup and sunscreen is oil-based, applying oils during the day will mess up your makeup and sunscreen. The beauty of a humectant mist is that they will hydrate your skin with as little disturbance as possible.
Unfortunately, water-based humectant products usually don’t come in spray form! They’re commonly designed mostly to be used after cleansing and before serum in a skincare routine, so they come in toner-like bottles with a small hole so you can apply them using a cotton pad or your fingers (they’re sometimes labelled as toners too). I transfer these into cheap spray bottles from the variety store, and watch out carefully for signs of rusting (you can also get spray bottles from eBay or Amazon). It also makes them a lot more portable for hydration when you’re out or in the office.
Humectant waters don’t have a common name, so to find them you’ll have to look at the ingredients lists! You’re looking for a product that is quite watery, with a humectant near the top of the ingredients list. Common humectant ingredients include glycerin and hyaluronic acid.
Here are three products that I’ve been using:
Burt’s Bees Intense Hydration Nourishing Facial Water
Burt’s Bees Intense Hydration Nourishing Facial Water is the first product I’ve seen that’s specifically designed to be a humectant water, which I reviewed a while ago. It’s mostly water and glycerin with some fruit extracts thrown in for antioxidant effects and to make it smell nice. It’s $12.99 for 118 mL (4 fl oz) in the US, and $24.95 in Australia.