Emollient vs Occlusive: Difference and Comparison

Dry and damaged skin requires special care and protection. The cause of the problems can be chronic diseases and aggressive environmental influences, and specially cosmetic products – can help to solve them. These products are designed for those who suffer from chronic skin diseases – psoriasis, atopic or seborrheic dermatitis, and others – and want to care for their skin properly. 

People knew that the skin needed care. Professional cosmetic products with a well-thought-out composition and easy-to-use act in several ways: sand moisturize the skin, retain moisture in it, promote regeneration and improve appearance, and in some cases, also help to reduce irritation and itching. 

Key Takeaways

  1. Emollients are moisturizing agents that sand smooth the skin, while occlusives form a barrier on the skin’s surface to prevent water loss.
  2. Emollients are best suited for dry or rough skin, whereas occlusives are ideal for dry or damaged skin.
  3. Many skincare products contain emollients and occlusives to provide a comprehensive moisturizing effect.
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Emollient vs Occlusive

Emollient is a type of skin ingredient that is used to fill the spaces between skin cells to make the skin smooth and prevent wrinkles. It is done by increasing the water content of the skin. Occlusive provides a shielding effect on the skin to keep skin hydrated by locking moisture in the skin.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonEmollientOcclusive
DefinitionEmollients are a whole class of active substances whose main property is to make the skin softer and smootherOcclusive ingredients form a protective barrier on the surface of the skin, they are best for those with very dry skin and conditions such as eczema 
MeaningRestoration of the skin’s hydro-lipid barrier, strengthening the skin’s natural barrier functionOcclusive products create a barrier on the skin to retain moisture
Function Strengthen the skin’s natural water-lipid barrierReduce inflammation and itching in skin diseases
PurposeFor daily care of sensitive, dry skinStop the evaporation of water and natural moisture from the skin
UsageIn cosmetic productsIn cosmetic products

What is Emollient?

The term “emollient” comes from the Latin verb “emollire” to soften. The etymology of the word immediately gives a clue as to what emollients are in relation to skincare.

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So, emollients are certain ingredients that have a softening effect, eliminating peeling and tightness of the skin. The mechanism of action of emollients is that they work on the surface, the horny layer of the epidermis, forming a kind of protective film that prevents the evaporation of moisture. 

Emollients were used long before the appearance of cosmetic products – the face was smeared with animal fat to protect against frost and wind. First, an emollient is a substance, not a cosmetic product, and second, emollients are part of creams and other cosmetic products.

Emollients for the skin are useful primarily for their lipid-lowering effect. Imagine that epidermal cells are bricks, and lipids act as cement to hold them together. This is how a protective barrier is built, protecting the skin from excessive moisture loss. If our own lipids are not enough, the integrity of the hydrolipid mantle is disturbed, leading to dryness, flaking, and rough skin.

After applying the emollient-rich product, the skin immediately becomes soft and, most importantly, protected:

  1. The feeling of discomfort and tightness disappears;
  2. Moisture levels increase over time as the skin stops losing moisture;
  3. Scaling disappears;
  4. Resistance to aggressive environmental factors, including cold or excessively dry air, increases;
  5. Sensitivity is reduced;
  6. Lines of dehydration disappear;
  7. The overall appearance of the skin improves.

What is Occlusive?

Occlusives are moisturizing agents that create a barrier on the skin’s surface to block moisture loss. Occlusives establish a barrier over the skin to hold moisture. Many emollients, including petrolatum, lanolin, and mineral oil, also have occlusive characteristics.

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If you wish to use occlusives on acne-prone skin, be sure the ingredients are non-comedogenic to avoid getting clogged pores and outbreaks. 

People with oily skin may be reluctant to use occlusives on their faces because they primarily consist of lipid (oil)-based flavours and can end up leaving skin with a slightly greasy sheen. Luckily, cosmetic science has discovered a way to include limited and still useful levels of occlusive agents in facial skincare products designed for oily skin.

Main Differences Between Emollient and Occlusive


  1. They bind water on the surface of the skin and deliver it to the deeper layers of the epidermis, replenishing the lack of moisture.
  2. They strengthen the skin’s natural water-lipid barrier, which retains moisture and protects it from negative external influences.
  3. Restore the structure of the epidermis, filling the gaps between the skin cells with a nourishing mixture of lipids and amino acids.
  4. They improve the appearance of the skin.
  5. They reduce itching and help heal lesions.


  1. Occlusives have a thick, heavy consistency.
  2. Occlusives stop the evaporation of water and natural moisture from the skin, creating a waterproof coating on the skin.
  3. Petrolatum, silicones, waxes (such as carnauba or beeswax), and most oils and batters are examples of occlusives.
  4. Occlusives contain mostly lipid-based ingredients (oils).
  5. To keep the skin moisturized, occlusives create a physical barrier on top of the skin.
  1. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jocd.14782
  2. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/ced.12104 

Last Updated : 27 July, 2023

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