AskDefine | Define emollient

Dictionary Definition

emollient adj : having a softening or soothing effect especially to the skin [syn: demulcent, salving, softening] n : toiletry consisting of any of various substances resembling cream that have a soothing and moisturizing effect when applied to the skin [syn: cream, ointment]

User Contributed Dictionary



emollient-, present participle stem of emoliare ‘make soft’, from e- + mollis ‘soft’.


IPA: /ɪ'mɒlɪənt/


  1. something which softens or lubricates the skin
    • 1993: It must be most painful to have a hard rod thrust into the nether orifice. That was a most painful punishment you had for the King in your play. Painful but fitting. —There are emollients, Kit said, oil, butter and the like. The pleasure is considerable. — Anthony Burgess, A Dead Man in Deptford
  2. anything soothing, or that makes something more acceptable
    • 2004: Attentive conversation is an emollient I lack sorely aboard Prophetess & the doctor is a veritable polymath. — David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas



  1. soothing
  2. mollifying


Extensive Definition

Emollients are substances that soften and soothe the skin. They are used to correct dryness and scaling of the skin. They are a key component in the manufacture of lipstick, lotions, and other cosmetic products.
The terms "moisturizer" (something that adds moisture) and "emollient" (something that softens) are sometimes used interchangeably, as they describe different effects of these agents on the skin. However, the term emollient is most often used to describe single ingredients, whereas "moisturizer" describes finished products.

Mechanism of action

Emollients have three basic properties:
  • Occlusion - providing a layer of oil on the surface of the skin to slow water loss and thus increase the moisture content of the stratum corneum
  • Humectant - increasing the water-holding capacity of the stratum corneum
  • Lubrication - adding slip or glide across the skin.
emollient in Spanish: Emoliente

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

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