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Natural Emollients: What Are They And How To Choose The Right One

Natural emollients in skincare

Wherever you look these days, it is all about emollients and their unending list of benefits. Sometimes it seems impossible to keep track of them all with so much information out there. So what are they, how do they work, and what they can do for you? 

Table of Contents

What Are Natural Emollients?

Natural emollients are ingredients used in skincare to smooth the skin by creating a barrier between the skin and the environment. They primarily protect the skin from harsh environmental damage, but they also improve skin condition and hydration. They occur naturally in plants or animals and moisturise the skin by forming a layer that prevents water from evaporating from the skin surface into the environment.

How Do They Work?

Our outer layer of the skin, the stratum corneum, acts as a barrier between our body and the external environment. Its primary function is to prevent water loss and protect the skin from bacterial infection, microbes, and other environmental stressors. However, that function can be sometimes compromised, leaving us exposed to external threats. 

Abundant in lipids, plant-derived natural emollients work by forming a protective layer on the skin that helps restore skin moisture levels, softens the skin, and protects it against various threats. They also supply the skin with vitamins and minerals that can help soothe the skin, reduce inflammation, slow down the ageing process, and so much more. 

Interesting fact: Humans shed about 200 million dead skin cells every hour!

Naturally Derived Emollients

These include plant-derived and animal-derived emollients. So let’s take a closer look at them. 

Natural, plant-derived emollients are oils derived from plants by cold-pressing fruit pulp, nuts, seeds or kernels. Cold-pressed oils are a mixture of lipids (up to 99%) and unsaponifiables, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, triterpenoids, polyphenols, and so much more. They vary in colour, degrees of viscosity (thickness), smell, and overall skin benefits. 

Animal-derived emollients are fats derived from animals such as lard, butter, tallow, egg yolk and lanolin, among others. Used throughout history, they have been used to soften, condition, and tighten the skin, but also to cleanse the skin and remove any dirt or sebum. However, today we will focus on plant-based emollients.  

How To Choose Natural Emollients

When it comes to choosing an oil for your skin, you can select an emollient based on your skin type, use, properties, or even source.  

Then, whatever your requirement, it is crucial to consider the effects of each oil and choose one suitable for your specific skin condition and needs. 

Natural emollients by skin type

If your skin is normal, you will require a light oil with well-balanced fatty acids. In contrast, someone with oily skin will benefit from choosing cleansing oils to help calm overactive sebaceous glands and replenish the skin. Let’s take a look at various skin types and natural oils that work well for them. 

Normal skin is the most common skin type. Its sebum production is balanced, and it is less prone to acne, acne scars, or redness. In addition, people with normal skin have a good balance of oil and water in the skin. Oils that work best for normal skin include apricot, cranberry, and jojoba oil

Oily skin is typically characterised by the overproduction of sebum and large pores. As a result, it frequently suffers from blocked pores that lead to acne. To combat oily skin, you would benefit from oils rich in omega 3 and omega 6 that can help balance sebum production, prevent pore blockage and remove impurities. Oils that work best for oily skin include kiwi, blackberry, castor and camellia oil

Acne-prone skin is common in teens but also affects adults with oily skin or a family history of acne. This skin condition is characterised by blackheads, whiteheads, and pimples caused by excess sebum production, pore blockage, and the overgrowth of bacteria on the skin. To keep acne at bay, you should opt for cleansing oils to remove impurities from your skin and help stop pore blockage. Oils that work best for acne-prone skin are rich in omega 6 and include watermelon seed oil, passion fruit seed oil, and evening primrose oil

Dry skin is often chapped, flaky or cracked. As it lacks moisture, the skin is prone to dryness and needs emollients that help it to protect the skin’s barrier and retain moisture. Oils that are most suitable for dry skin are often abundant in oleic acid and include acai, avocado and brazil nut oils.

Combo skin is usually caused by irregular oil production. It typically responds well to emollients that are not too heavy or too light yet nourish the skin without clogging the pores. Oils that work best for combo skin include jojoba, almond and hemp seed oil

Sensitive skin is easily irritated by external factors such as detergents or environmental pollutants. One challenge in treating sensitive skin is that it quickly reacts to emollients and other products. Therefore, it is vital to find one that will calm, nourish, and protect the skin without causing irritations. Oils that work well for sensitive skin are evening primrose and rice bran oil.

Natural emollients by use

Cold-pressed oils offer a wide variety of benefits in skincare and are used to treat various skin conditions. Some are best suited for minor skin conditions; others work to improve the skin over time. Depending on the type of oil, they can improve the appearance of stretch marks, protect the skin from UV radiation, reduce hyperpigmentation, improve signs of ageing, aid wound healing, diaper rash, and so much more. 

The most common use of natural emollients is for their general skincare benefits and maintenance. However, the most effective way to achieve this goal is by choosing the right oil to apply daily. The following table lists the different emollients, their effect on the skin, and some of their notable properties.

UsePlant-based emollientsBenefits
Anti-ageingBlackberry seed oilRich in essential fatty acids, vitamin C & E, and antioxidants, it can improve the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, reduce inflammation and improve skin elasticity.
Red raspberry seed oilExceptionally abundant in Omega 3 and Omega 6, pro-vitamin A and vitamin E, red raspberry seed oil can improve skin hydration, prevent oxidative stress, soothe inflammation, reduce skin redness, reduce moisture loss and protects skin against photoaging.
Passion fruit seed oilRich in Omega 6 and vitamin E, the oil can help improve the skin’s overall appearance by reducing inflammation, dryness, puffiness around the eyes, and dark circles.
EczemaBlack cumin seed oilRich in antioxidants, with an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effect, topical application of black cumin seed oil may help relieve itching, inflammation and irritation.
Sunflower seed oilAbundant in linoleic fatty acid, sunflower’s anti-inflammatory properties make it a versatile natural emollient that can help soothe itchiness and inflammation, improve skin hydration, and preserve the skin’s skin barrier.
Rice bran oilWith a high content of gamma-oryzanol, rice bran oil has been shown to have a positive influence on eczema. Gamma-oryzanol is a natural antioxidant that may help improve the skin’s condition and reduce itchiness, which has many benefits to eczema and dry skin.
HyperpigmentationPapaya oilRich in Omega 9 and papain, papaya oil can reduce hyperpigmentation caused by UV radiation. It can also unblock and eliminate pores and lighten the appearance of dark spots.
Rosehip oilThe antioxidant properties of rosehip oil are thought to help reduce hyperpigmentation, blemishes and scars. Abundant in linoleic and alpha-linolenic acids, rosehip oil may have a moisturising and lightening effect.
InflammationCalendula oilIt is a macerated oil that can help reduce inflammation associated with skin conditions such as eczema.
Jojoba oilTechnically a wax, jojoba oil absorbs easily by the skin, with a mild, non-greasy effect that can help soothe and relieve inflamed skin.
Rheumatism and arthritisBacuri butterBacuri is a potent anti-inflammatory agent, which, based on research, can help relieve pain and reduce inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
RosaceaCucumber seed oilRich in Omega 6, linoleic fatty acid, phytosterols and silica, the cucumber seed oil is a lightweight oil with astringent action. Valued for its anti-inflamatory effect, it can help reduce inflammation and soothe the skin.
Sea buckthorn oilAbundant in essential fatty acids, vitamins A, C and E, sea buckthorn has a wide range of skin benefits with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Fantastic oil that may help to reduce the redness associated with rosacea.
ScarsPracaxi oilAbundant in Omega 9, Omega 6, behenic acid, β-carotene, α-tocopherol and phenolic compounds, it is a highly moisturising oil that can improve the appearance of pre-existing scars but also improve their feel and size.
Rosehip oilRich source tretonin (a form of vitamin A), which encourages new cell growth, rosehip oil has been shown to be effective in treating acne scars.
Stretch marksPracaxi oilAmazonian women have used Pracaxi oil during pregnancy and after birth to reduce the chance of developing stretch marks for centuries. However, there is no scientific evidence it works.
Cocoa butterCocoa butter is a moisturising ingredient that can be applied to the skin regularly to reduce stretch marks. However, the research has not yet confirmed the butter to be effective.
UV protectionBuriti oilHigh in unsaturated fatty acids, vitamin A, E and phenolic compounds, buriti oil can prevent skin damage from UV rays.
Tucuma oilRich in vitamin E, the Tucuma oil has been shown to protect the skin from UV radiation. It also contains phenolic compounds that fight free radical damage and maintain skin moisture.
Raspberry seed oilThe oil contains a significant amount of linoleic acid, pro-vitamin A, vitamin E, and antioxidants, which work together to protect the skin from free radical damage. It also contains smaller amounts of other compounds that can inhibit UV-induced skin damage.

Note: Natural emollients cannot be used as a standalone sun protection ingredient. They can work only as SPF booster.

Natural emollients by properties

Oils rich in vitamin A

Buriti oil: It is one of the richest sources of vitamin A. This well-known antioxidant may reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and ageing skin. 

Carrot seed oil: Naturally abundant in pro-vitamin A, carrot seed oil has been shown to reduce skin ageing and may help with skin elasticity. 

Rosehip seed oil: Contain good amounts of carotenoids that can help fight skin ageing.

Oils rich in vitamin C

Pomegranate seed oil: Pomegranate seed oil is a good source of vitamin C, an effective antioxidant that helps protect the skin from free radical damage, may boost collagen production, reduce inflammation and promote a more even skin tone.

Papaya seed oil: Abundant in vitamin C, A and E, papaya seed oil can help reduce inflammation, even out your skin tone, brighten up your complexion, but also tackle dark spots and blemishes. 

Rosehip seed oil: Rich in vitamin C, the rosehip seed oil is a good source of antioxidants. In addition, it may help reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles and promote a more even skin tone.

Oils rich in Vitamin E

Wheat Germ Oil: Easily absorbed by the skin, wheat germ is a rich source of vitamin E, an important antioxidant that supports collagen formation, combats free radical damage but also moisturises the skin to keep it so soft and supple. 

Hazelnut oil: Abundant in natural vitamin E and essential fatty acids, hazelnut oil offers several skin benefits. It hydrates and moisturises the skin, helps boost collagen production, and reduces the appearance of fine lines and scars. 

Almond oil: Abundant in vitamin A, E, essential fatty acids and zink, almond oil is valued in the skincare industry for its ability to reduce damage caused by UV radiation, improve acne, scar appearance, reduce puffiness under the eyes, but also possibly reduce the appearance of stretch marks. 

Note: Oils can cause unpleasant skin reactions, such as irritations, rashes and, in some cases, even trigger an allergic reaction. If you are trying out a new oil, remember to carry out a patch test first!


As you can see, many oils possess anti-ageing, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. All of these are important to maintain an overall good skin condition. Hence, it is crucial to choose the right oil for you. 


How to use natural emollients

Oils have been used for millennia, and for a good reason. Wildly versatile, you can incorporate them into your skincare in a variety of ways. For example, you can use them instead of facial cleanser, as a moisturiser, add them to your homemade lotions, soaps, body scrubs and so on, and so forth. 

When to apply them?

Our daily activities affect our skin. Swimming, exercise, dry air, and pollution can leave our skin looking relatively dry and dull. Once you have decided on the emollient, it’s best to apply it regularly throughout the day. For the best results, 3-4 times at least. 

How long does it take to notice results?

Oils are rather potent ingredients and benefit the skin in several ways. However, don’t expect overnight results. It can take from a few days to a few weeks to notice any improvements. So start small and give it time.


  1. Nigella sativa L. (Black Cumin): A Promising Natural Remedy for Wide Range of Illnesses
  2. Alternative eczema treatments from natural oils to elimination diets
  3. Gama-oryzanol: Uses, Side effects, Dosage, Interactions
  4. Therapeutic Applications of Rose Hips from Different Rosa Species
  5. Characterization of Rosehip (Rosa canina L.) Seed and Seed Oil
  6. Power of the Seed by Susan M Parker

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