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A humectant /hjuːˈmɛktənt/ is any one of a group of used (missing words?) to keep things moist; it is the opposite of a desiccant, whose purpose is to keep things dry. Instead, humectants are meant to keep a whole range of products at a stable moisture level.[1] Humectants are hygroscopic substances. They (molecules are not people so the use of a personal pronoun is not appropriate)often are a molecule with several hydrophilic groups, most often hydroxyl groups; however, amines and carboxyl groups, sometimes esterified, can be encountered as well (its affinity to form hydrogen bonds with molecules of water, is the crucial trait).

As far back as the 1940’s humectants were in already in widespread use in many industries as a preservative. One chemical compound, glycerine, was used in food storage, cosmetics, medicine, packaging, and paints. In each case, the glycerine increased shelf life and held moisture.[2]

A humectant attracts and retains the moisture in the air nearby via absorption, drawing the water vapor into and/or beneath the organism/object's surface.[3][4] By contrast, desiccants also attract ambient moisture, but adsorbs -- not absorbs -- it, by condensing the water vapor onto the surface, as a layer of film.[5][6]

When used as a food additive, a humectant has the effect of keeping the food moist and keep it at a specific water content value.[7] Not only does the use of humectants increase shelf life and reduced microbe activity,(grammar - subject verb agreement) but it also maintains flavor and overall food quality by retaining moisture in the product. For example, invert sugars, a mixture of sucrose and fructose, are natural humectants commonly used by bakers to keep their goods moist.[8] In addition, experiments were performed at the University of Froggia in Italy that tested the benefits of using humectants as a stabilizer for their pesto sauce in substitution of artificial preservatives.[9]

Humectants are sometimes used as a component of antistatic coatings for plastics.

Humectants can be used in topical dosage forms to increase the solubility of a chemical compound's active ingredient(s), increasing the active ingredients' ability to penetrate skin, and/or its activity time. This hydrating property can also be needed to counteract a dehydrating active ingredient (e.g., soaps, corticoids, some alcohols, etc.). This (subject 'this' is undedfined)is why humectants are common ingredients in a wide range of cosmetic and personal care products that make moisturization claims (e.g., hair conditioners, body lotions, face or body cleansers, lip balms, eye creams, etc.). Innovative research has delved into the possibility of utilizing the fatty acid and amino acid content of wine cake as a cosmetic humectant.[10]

Humectants are used in the manufacture of some tobacco products, like cigarettes. Wide-spread use of humectants in the tobacco industry has raised concerns about the safety factor of these chemicals. After the tobacco industry produced questionable test results involving the treatment of rats with aerosol humectants, there were concerns about the effect that humectants in tobacco had on the health issues associated with smoking, including squamous metaplasia, which can lead to many complications like cancer.[11]

Furthermore, sorbitol, a sugar alcohol and substitute found in diet drinks, toothpaste, stone fruits, and in many laxatives, is often associated with negative side effects. The use of even small doses of sorbitol comes paired with many adverse side effects, including irritated bowel syndrome, abdominal pain, and other gastrointestinal conditions. In order to be accepted as food additives on the commercial market, humectants have several standards to meet including safety, lack of odor or flavor, nutritional value, cost, and ease of use.[12]

Examples of some humectants include:

The chemical compound lithium chloride is an excellent -- but toxic -- humectant, as well. (this seems random for a header section)


  1. ^ Van Nostrand Author. (2008). Scientific Encyclopedia 10th. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc
  2. ^ Why glycerine is a superior humectant: permanence. (1945, November 10). Chemical & Engineering News, 23(21), 2021
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ Sarah Koerber. (n.d.). Humectants and water activity. Retrieved from Aqua Lab:
  8. ^ Xianhong, F., East, A., Hammond, W., & Jaffe, M. (2011). Sugar-Based Chemicals for Environmentally Sustainable Applications.. Contemporary Science of Polymeric Materials (pp. 3-28). s.l.: Oxford University Press Inc
  9. ^ Severini, Carla, Maria Corbo, Antonio Derossi, Antonio Bevilacqua, and Roma Giuliani. "Use of Humectants for the Stabilization of Pesto Sauce."International Journal of Food Science and Technology 43 (2008): n. pag. Web
  10. ^ Hsiu-Mei Chiang, Yi- Ling Ko, I-Chen Shih, Kuo-Ching Wen. (2011, March 11). Development of wine cake as a skin-whitening agent and humectant. Journal of Food and Drug Analysis, 19(2), 223-229
  11. ^ Greenspan, Moss, Wehner, Renne, Ragan, Westerberg, Wright, Deskin R, Hayes AW, Burger GT, Mosberg AT. (1996, December 16). Inhalation studies of humectant aerosols in rats. Retrieved from University of California, San Francisco; Legacy Tobacco Documents Library:
  12. ^ Severini, Carla, Maria Corbo, Antonio Derossi, Antonio Bevilacqua, and Roma Giuliani. "Use of Humectants for the Stabilization of Pesto Sauce."International Journal of Food Science and Technology 43 (2008): n. pag. Web

Category:Food additives Category:Excipients