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How To Incorporate Emulsions Into Your Skincare Routine

What are Emulsions?

In the world of skincare, emulsions have emerged as an ideal formulation that’s both light and comfortable for your skin, yet efficacious and deeply hydrating. Because of their lightweight texture—and having a consistency that’s known for being lighter than a cream, heavier than an essence, and more substantial than a serum—these hybrid formulations can provide a nourishing yet targeted layer of support to address a variety of your specific skin concerns.  

At their core, emulsions are a blend of water and oil and come in two primary formulations: oil-in-water (O/W) and water-in-oil (W/O), with O/W emulsions being the more common formulation. Oil-in-water formulations tend to feature a higher water content, making them suitable for normal to oily skin types, whereas W/O emulsions have a higher oil content, making them more suitable for dry or sensitive skin types.  

Model with Calendula Skin-Smoothing & Stabilizing Emulsion on their cheek

Why Add Emulsions To Your Routine?

The main benefit of emulsions is their hydrating support that comes in a lightweight texture. Emulsions can provide a powerful delivery of targeted actives that can address a range of skincare concerns, from fine lines and wrinkles, to skin irritation and managing combination skin.  

At Kiehl’s, we sought to develop emulsions that provide the most efficacious support for healthier, stronger skin–like our Calendula Skin-Soothing & Stabilizing Emulsion. Packed with soothing Calendula Flower Extract, which is known to instantly treat visible redness, excess oil, and help reduce blemishes on skin, and formulated in a lightweight, hydrating texture, this emulsion delivers soothing and calming relief for distressed skin. 


Emulsions can come in a variety of formats—think anti-aging emulsions, acne-targeting emulsions, dry skin
emulsions, and many more—the key factor is the composition of the emulsion itself, which provides a strong
vehicle for the active present in each formula.

Some of the most common types of emulsions include:

Model applying Calendula Skin-Smoothing & Stabilizing Emulsion

Oil-in-water (O/W) Emulsions

The most prevalent type of emulsion, these formulas are lightweight and easy to apply, and they can help to improve the skin's elasticity, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and soothe and calm irritated skin. Our Calendula Skin-Soothing & Stabilizing Emulsion is an example, which helps to gently soothe and refresh skin, while reducing redness, discomfort, and excess shine for normal-to-oily, acne-prone, and sensitive skin types.  

Close-up of water-in-oil emulsion

Water-in-oil (W/O) Emulsions

With a higher oil content, these emulsions are better suited for dry or sensitive skin as they are more occlusive than O/W emulsions, which means that they can help to create a barrier on the skin's surface that prevents moisture from escaping. At Kiehl’s, we strongly believe that healthy skin starts with a strong skin barrier, and W/O emulsions can help to keep dry skin hydrated, and prevent it from becoming irritated. 

Texture example of a mixed emulsion

Mixed Emulsions

These formulations are a little more complex as they can contain a mixture of oil, water, and silicone, and can offer a wider range of benefits. For example, mixed emulsions can help to improve skin's elasticity, reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, soothe and calm irritated skin, and protect the skin from environmental damage. 

The Unique Nature of Emulsions

Emulsions, creams, and lotions can all differ in their composition, texture, and what they aim to target for your skincare concerns. Emulsions are lightweight and easily absorbed, creams tend to be thicker and more emollient, and lotions are typically lighter than creams (but heavier than emulsions).  

Emulsions are typically made with a combination of water and oil, while creams are made with a higher percentage of oil, and lotions are made with a higher percentage of water. This difference in composition gives emulsions their lighter texture and faster absorption rate. Emulsions are also more hydrating than creams and lotions, as they contain a higher percentage of water. 

When it comes to choosing the right formula for your skin, the choice ultimately depends on your individual skin type and needs–no one formula fits everyone the same. If you have combination skin, for example, you may want to have a variety of textures on hand in your skincare routine to address your varying skincare needs. 

The Versatility of Emulsions

Emulsions, just like our Calendula Skin Soothing & Stabilizing Emulsions, possess soothing and calming properties, making them suitable for individuals with sensitive or irritated skin. They can gently alleviate discomfort, leaving the skin feeling refreshed and revitalized. Additionally, emulsions can provide a lightweight protective barrier against environmental aggressors, such as pollution and harsh weather conditions, safeguarding the skin from potential damage.  

The versatility of emulsions extends to their wide range of applications. They can be incorporated into various skincare routines, whether as a standalone moisturizer or as a nourishing layer beneath makeup. Emulsions are particularly beneficial if you live in dry climates or during the colder winter season, as they can deliver hydrating support to help combat dryness and dehydration.  

It’s also important to consider what kind of emulsion will help target your specific skincare concerns. If you’re primarily concerned about visibly reducing fine lines and wrinkles, you’ll want to select an emulsion that contains ingredients like Retinol, Proxylane, and Peptides, which can help improve skin’s elasticity and reduce wrinkles. If you’re concerned about acne, look for emulsions that contain skin-soothing ingredients like Calendula and Salicylic Acid to help control breakouts and manage oily skin. You’ll also want to select an emulsion that is non-comedogenic, which means it’s specifically formulated not to clog pores. If you’re concerned with an uneven skin tone, look for emulsions that have ingredients like Vitamin C, Niacinamide, and Melacyl.  

Choosing The Right Emulsion For You

Some emulsions are lightweight and easily absorb, while others are thicker and more emollient. Consider which texture you find the most
comfortable and suited to your needs and that will support your skin type.

Here are some helpful tips from Kiehl’s to help you choose the right emulsion:

  1. Receive a complimentary Healthy Skin Consultation from one of our Kiehl’s Skin Pros, which includes a skin analysis and custom routine recommendation. You can look up your local Kiehl's and book your complimentary in-person service.

  2. You can book a complimentary virtual consultation from the comfort of your own home and have a Kiehl’s Skin Pro virtually assess your skin type and suggest the best products for you.

  3. Obtain a free sample from your nearest Kiehl’s, and try a small amount of the emulsion to your skin and see how it feels. If you want to be totally sure about your formula before committing to it, we understand. Stop by and try before you buy.

  4. Once you’ve selected your chosen emulsion, you can incorporate the formula into your routine in the morning, where it can help to hydrate your skin and provide a smooth base for makeup, or in the evening, when the emulsion can be layered beneath your favorite moisturizer for double moisturizing support.


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