Emollients are substances which soften and soothe the skin. They are used to correct dryness and scaling of the skin. They are a key component in the manufacture of lipstick, lotions and other cosmetic products.
The terms "moisturizer" (something that adds moisture) and "emollient" (something that softens) are sometimes used interchangeably, as they describe different effects of these agents on the skin. However, the term emollient is most often used to describe single ingredients, whereas "moisturizer" describes finished products.
Mechanism of action
Emollients have three basic properties:
- Occlusion - providing a layer of oil on the surface of the skin to slow water loss and thus increase the moisture content of the stratum corneum.
- Humectant - increasing the water-holding capacity of the stratum corneum.
- Lubrication - adding slip or glide across the skin.
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