Are seed oils moisturizing?

What about seed butters and plant waxes? Are they moisturizing?

What do we mean by “moisture” and what is a “Moisturizer”?

What is the difference between a Salve, a Balm, an Ointment, or an Unguent, a Lotion or a Cream - why do these terms matter?

How do we know what our skin needs when it feels dry?

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The word “Moisturizer” is nothing but a marketing term and often listed on products containing no moistening ingredients at all. We see this all the time!

Not only is describing an oil as moisturizing inaccurate, it can have negative impacts when your skin craves WATER not OIL.

If the label says “moisturizer” but contains zero “moisture” it will not have the effect you are hoping for and it can definitely make matters worse!

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A quick google search proves that oils and butters are commonly claimed to moisturize skin. Despite this inaccuracy this is a very common practice. Check out this google search for “NATURAL MOISTURIZERS”. Confused?


Recently, a women I know who lives in my town came to me with very irritated, itchy, dry, red, flaky skin on her face. MJ is 67. She had recently stopped using a “moisturizer” and was applying facial oils to dry skin constantly yet her condition was worsening.

She reported that her usually mild, dry skin condition, was becoming intolerable - redness, flaking, itchy skin on her face was causing her serious discomfort and concern.

In a desperate attempt to get relief she tried a lovely coconut oil based botanical salve. After using that salve for a few days her situation went from bad to worse!

My friend is not alone. I am SO glad she came to me for help. I provided her with information, some products, and a routine. Her skin immediately began to calm down and healed quickly.


In lieu of lotions, creams and “moisturizers’ many of us seeking a pure, natural option are turning to the use of pure oils and seed butters to relieve dry skin. These include Shea, coconut, olive, almond, mango butter etc.

Not too long ago there was an internet flurry over some articles disparaging this practice. It is true that many people do not get great results with this approach, but others … absolutely do!

Who benefits and who does not depends on many factors: The current condition of the skin, your age and even your sex, the climate, season of the year and environment, your diet, genetics, skin type, skincare routine, just to name a few.

If you discover you are among the many NOT getting great results you might be wondering what could be causing new dry skin issues or making dry, flaky, itchy skin worse.

WATER DRY (dehydrated) or OIL DRY (dry skin type)?

Our skin requires both Oil AND Water to stay happy and plump. When skin is lacking either the outward appearance can be very similar: dull, rough, irritated, redness, you may even have exacerbated acne issues, clogged pores and bumps!

Step 1: Accurately determining the root cause of your situation is key to choosing the right product to bring relief and healing. Once you have a better understanding of your skin issue - knowing what to reach for is critical to addressing the problem.

Step 2: Understanding the fundamental differences between moisturizers, salves, serums, blams, creams, lotions - this is your road map.

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It may seem like I’m mincing words but it’s important to have an understanding of the difference to unlock the unique balance of water and oil YOU need for happy, healthy skin.

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When skin feels dry, you may assume that it is “dry”. But it might just be dehydrated for some reason and that is something we can fix.

Dry skin is a “skin type” and is a lifelong condition. It’s characterized by fewer oil-producing glands on the face, body and scalp.

Dehydrated skin, on the other hand, lacks water, not oil. This is why you can have an oily complexion, experience outbreaks, clogged pores and acne but still have dehydrated skin. .


Our skin is the LAST organ to receive nutrients from food we eat. It’s also the last organ to get the water we drink.

Skin dehydration is very rarely from not drinking enough water. In most cases if your skin is dehydrated due to lack of water consumption you would be experiencing systemic symptoms beyond the scope of this discussion. That said, skin CAN become dehydrated at the surface. 

click for a full sized image

click for a full sized image


first things first …. OILS DO NOT MOISTURIZE.


The molecular construction of pure fats, oils, seed butters, and plant waxes does not include even one molecule of H20.

Salves, balms, facial oils, none of these have a water component. So according to the laws of nature they can NOT moisten the skin.

Oils deliver many important benefits to the skin, but they don’t penetrate into the deepest cellular layers the way water, or an emulsion (lotion or cream) that contains water does.

While oils, with their unique skin loving properties, are vital for maintaining happy healthy skin, oils do not hydrate. Only water can do this. But one needs the other, which is why both oil and water in skincare are the two most fundamental ingredients for healthy skin. 

So if oils DON’t moisturize: What do they do?

Oils, seed butters, and plant waxes can be used alone, or to create salves, balms, unguents, and ointments, all different emulsions of oils with waxes or seed butters.

They are all emollient and occlusive. They condition and nourish the dermis and epidermis, helping it stay healthy, resilient, soft and supple and they SEAL in moisture by reducing trans-dermal water loss from the surface.

Over time, a reduction or lack of skin oils can compromise your skin’s natural barrier, defenseless against water evaporating, leading to a loss of hydration. Climate, age, genetics, environment, emotions, skin care routines and habits, all impact skin oil production.

Soft, supple skin is better able to RETAIN moisture but in order to relieve dry skin we need more than that. We need oil AND water.



The simple answer: MOISTURE = WATER

Ingredients which are water based include plain old distilled water, Aloe Juice or Hydrosol water or Flower water. These are sources of actual moisture. These “Water” ingredients are emulsified with other ingredients (oils, butters, humectants) which capture and hold that moisture on the skin for a period of time.

“Humectants” greatly enhance the efficacy of a moisturizing product.

“Humectants” are different from the water ingredient in that they function by grabbing moisture from the environment (or the water in the formula) and holding on to it. While the water ingredient itself does not do that.

Natural humectants include glycerine and glycerites, hyaluronic acid, seaweed extracts, Aloe gel, alpha hydroxy acids such as lactic acid, and honey - look for these to bring additional healing properties. (There are many synthetic humectants also).

“WATER IN OIL” or “OIL IN WATER” EMULSIONS? How to know what you need?

Without getting too technical, the important thing to remember when looking for a product to relieve dehydrated skin which is not lacking natural oils choose an “oil in water emulsion” because they contain more water than a “water in oil emulsion”. This makes them more moisturizing.

But it’s difficult to tell just by reading a label. What you need to know is simple … Choose a “LOTION” when skin needs more moisture and a “BODY BUTTER or CREAM” when the skin craves more oils.

Just remember that a good rule of thumbs is “Creams” and “Body Butters” are “water in oil emulsions” comprised of about 2/3 oil (oils, butters, waxes) and 1/3 water (or water soluble ingredients) while “Lotions” are “oil in water emulsion” - about 2/3 water and 1/3 oil.

click for a full size image

click for a full size image

LAST BUT NOT LEAST: how to turn a pure facial oil into a moisturizer.

If your dry skin issues are not severe or acute then you can absolutely reduce your use of lotions and creams with the use of facial oils - BUT! We must applying facial oils to damp skin for them to be the most effective and to provide moisture.

Massaging the oils into your skin while it is damp or wet increases the absorption rate, reduces the emolliency (oily feeling) of the oils, and seals in some of the moisture.

Pure, 100% Hydrosol waters are the best way to provide the wetness (moisture). They are slightly acidic, which the skin needs, and provide hundreds of nourishing plant compounds.

Add MORE moisture to your routine by spritizing with a pure, steam distilled hydrosol water before application of your facial lotion or cream.

Skin hydration - How water and osmolytes influence biophysical properties of stratum corneum

DRY SKIN— IT’S A SURE THING: a look at epidermal lipids. Diana L. Howard, Ph.D. . 2005.

Moisturizers: What They Are and a Practical Approach to Product Selection

Natural (Mineral, Vegetable, Coconut, Essential) Oils and Contact Dermatitis