Awakening Wednesday: You Say Tom8to, I Say TomAuto…

By Rob Hardwicke, Product Master, Awakening Mineral Skin Care

My wife and I bicker endlessly about pronunciation.  She’s from the Atlantic coast and says ‘aunt’ (as in “ont”); I’m from the Pacific Coast and say ‘aunt’ (as in “ant”).  She says ‘apricot’ with a short “a”; I say it with a long “a”.  I guess one could say we’re both right.  Then again, President Bush (“W”) was clearly wrong with ‘nuclear’ coming out “nuclar”, or my dear cousin calling a ‘library’ a “lie-berry”, or calling the real estate person a “real-a-tor”!  Wrong, wrong, wrong.

In my world of skin care product creation, there are additional terms that may be pronounced correctly but nonetheless are used incorrectly,  What really is the difference between a ‘moisturizer’, a ‘humectant’ and a ‘hydrator’?

One of my favorite bloggers is Cindy Jones, a PhD who writes for the blog, Personal Care Truth.  In a recent post, Dr. Jones laid out skin care definitions that are most helpful:

Moisturizer: A substance or product that adds or restores moisture to the skin.  Keep in mind that moisture refers to water, so oils alone do not moisturize.  (Once water is involved, then bugs become an issue; therefore, see also “Preservative” described below).

Humectant: A substance that binds to water to help retain moisture.  This is important for the product itself to keep from drying out, but also to help keep the skin moisturized.  The best example of a humectant is glycerin, but humectants also include propylene glycol.

Emollient: A substance that softens and sooths the skin making it more supple.  Typically this is an oil.  It is thought to fill the crevices between the cells in the stratum comeum — or outer layer of the skin — to improve appearance.

Lubricant: A substance that reduces friction and often forms a film on the skin.  This is important for ‘feel’ when applying a product to the skin.

Barrier: Something that bars passage.  Healthy skin is a barrier in and of itself, in that it bars passage of substances into and out of the body, protecting it form the outer environment and holding moisture in.  Lotions and creams help support this barrier function of the skin.  Damaged skin is less of a barrier making it more prone to infection.  “Dry skin” is a form of damaged skin.

Occlusive: Impenetrable; a film spread on the skin to prevent moisture loss.  Petroleum oil is one of the most common occlusive agents, but vegetable oils also work in this way.

Emulsifier: Binds together substances that could otherwise not be mixed, such as oil and water.  Emulsifiers are used in any cream or lotion to help hold the oil and water phases together.

Surfactant: Reduces the surface tension of a liquid such as water.

Antioxidant: A chemical that inhibits oxidation reactions or free radical damage to other molecules.  Common antioxidants are vitamin A, C and E and polyphenols.  Antioxidants in care care products are important both to protect the product itself aswell as to diminish the signs of aging.

Preservative: A compound that inhibits the growth of bacteria and fungus, or actually kills bacteria and fungus.  Preservatives are important to protect the product itself as well as to protect the consumer from getting an infection that could be serious.  It is absolutely necessary to make sure products containing water or water-based ingredients are properly preserved.  Old-school preservatives most often included one or multiple forms of parabens, although these preversatives now have been removed from all but the biggest drugstore and department store brands.

Exfoliant: Something that removes the outer, dead skin cells, the stratum corneum.  This can be done physically with an abrasive substance such as salt, ground seeds and natural earths, or chemically with substances such as salicylic acid and alpha hydroxy acid.

Fixed oils: Non-volatile oils which are lipids or fats.  These are sometimes used as a carrier for essential oils.  Fixed oils include olive oil and almond oil.

So, for this year’s birthday for that very special person in your life, just ask him or her whether they’d prefer a humectant or an occlusive!


 Awakening Mineral Skin Care and Sea Awakening are boutique formulators of nature-derived, vegan skin care products utilizing concentrated mineral crystals isolated from the Dead Sea, essential oils and botanical extracts.  With only a few exceptions, we call our products by what they do: Awakening HANDS treats hands, Awakening FEET treats feet, Awakening BODY treats bodies, SeaAwakening SCALP Treatment treats scalps — you get the idea.  However Awakening MUDFace is mud for the face (and feet!) — so, as with 9th grade English, there are always exceptions to every rule!



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