If You Have Dry Skin, This Skincare Category Will Change Your Life

While there are certain things I love about colder weather, like hot drinks, fireplaces, and being able to wear tons of cozy layers, I always dread winter for one specific reason: My skin becomes dry, scaly, and uncomfortable. I can’t get by with just a normal moisturizer—my clothes are not the only thing that needs layering in the winter. 


(Image credit: @whatsonvisface)

I’ve always been a fan of sealing my favorite night cream with a hydrating oil for plump, soft skin, but last winter, I started mixing in humectants, and I totally changed my own life. I talked to dermatologists to get the lowdown on this miracle skincare ingredient. If you have dry skin, you’ll want to take notes—and get your own humectant to start using ASAP.


(Image credit: @whatsonvisface)

What exactly are humectants?

"Humectants are water-loving ingredients that attract and retain moisture from their surroundings,” says Azadeh Shirazi, dermatologist and founder of AziMD. This means that they pull in water to your skin for an instant plumping and hydrating effect.

"[Humectants] can trap moisture within the skin as well as pulling moisture towards the skin," says Cheryl Burgess, dermatologist and founder of the Center for Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery in Washington, D.C.


(Image credit: @browngirlhands)

You’ve probably heard of hyaluronic acid, which is one of the most well-known humectants. "Hyaluronic acid has the ability to bind up to 1000 times its own weight in water,” says David Kim, a dermatologist in New York City. "Polyglutamic acid is another example and has been shown to be five times more potent than hyaluronic acid.”


(Image credit: @whatsonvisface)

What are the main benefits of humectants in skincare?

Not only do humectants hydrate and plump the skin, but according to Kim, they can also diminish the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Since they mostly stay on the top layer of the skin instead of penetrating deeper, this result is temporary. Some humectants also work to exfoliate skin while hydrating it.


(Image credit: @thevycsource)

Are humectants best suited for certain skin types?

Everyone can use and benefit from humectants since they’re one of the key ingredients to properly moisturize your skin with (yes, even if you’re oily). "Since humectants draw moisture from wherever they can find it, both from the air and deeper skin layers, it’s important for the formulation to also have occlusives to help trap the moisture the humectant draws in the skin,” says Shirazi. "This is particularly important when the humidity is low and there’s little water in the air.”

Burgess notes that occlusive emollients can sometimes be comedogenic to oilier skin types, so heavy occlusives are best suited for drier skin.


(Image credit: @mexicanbutjapanese)

How do you use humectants?

The way you use humectants is important since, if you use them incorrectly, they might actually make your skin drier. For moisturizing benefits, apply humectants directly to damp skin—either after cleansing or after spritzing with a face mist—so that they have moisture to pull from.


(Image credit: @whatsonvisface)

Our favorite humectants for dewy, hydrated skin:

1. L'Oréal Paris 1.5% Pure Hyaluronic Acid Serum

2. Drunk Elephant B-Hydra Intensive Hydration Serum

3. AmLactin Daily Moisturizing Body Lotion

4. AziMD Skincare Hydrate Rx

5. The Inkey List Polyglutamic Acid Hydrating Serum

6. Vichy Minéral 89 Daily Skin Booster

7. Susanne Kaufmann Hyaluron Serum

8. Skin Proud Frozen Over Gel-to-Ice Hydrator

9. Glossier Super Bounce

10. Dr. Barbara Sturm Hyaluronic Serum

11. Skinfix Barrier+ Triple Lipid-Hyaluronate Serum

Products to pair with humectants for a complete hydrating routine:

Associate Beauty Editor

Katie Berohn is the associate beauty editor at Who What Wear. Previously, she worked as the beauty assistant for Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and Prevention magazines, all part of the Hearst Lifestyle Group. She graduated from the University of Colorado, Boulder, with a major in journalism and minor in technology, arts, and media, and earned her master's degree at NYU's graduate program for magazine journalism. In addition, Katie has held editorial internships at Denver Life magazine, Yoga Journal, and Cosmopolitan; a digital editorial internship at New York magazine's The Cut; a social good fellowship at Mashable; and a freelance role at HelloGiggles. When she's not obsessing over the latest skincare launch or continuing her journey to smell every perfume on the planet, Katie can be found taking a hot yoga class, trying everything on the menu at New York's newest restaurant, or hanging out at a trendy wine bar with her friends.