The difference between Hydrating and Moisturizing

Hydration is key

You might think hydration is something that only people with dry skin need to worry about, but hydrating your skin is just like hydrating your body. Water plays a central role in making sure your skin stays healthy, smooth, and radiant, so it only makes sense that every skincare aisle is lined with products that promise to hydrate and moisturize skin. But what many of us may not realize is that although they are often used interchangeably, moisturizing and hydration are not exactly the same thing. While both are key in providing skin with much-needed nourishment, knowing the difference will help you make the best choice when targeting your skin’s specific needs.

Moisturize or hydrate your skin?

Hydrator vs. moisturizer

Moisturizers and hydrators both address the importance of making sure the skin is getting all the water it needs to fight dryness and dehydration, premature signs of aging, and environmental damage. The difference, however, lies mostly in how they go about achieving these results.

Hydration refers to the water content within the cells that leads them to swell and be plump and bouncy. If water flows out of the cells and the cells are dehydrated, they can become shriveled, which leads to lackluster skin. This means that when you’re using a topical hydrator, you’re infusing your cells with water and improving your skin’s ability to absorb moisture and nutrients.

On the other hand, moisturizing is about trapping and sealing in moisture to build the skin’s protective barrier, preventing transepidermal water loss, and keep the skin soft and smooth. They lock in and seal in moisture.

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Which is best for your skin?

If your skin tends to be on the dry side, it’s easy to assume that a healthy dose of moisturizer is all it takes to restore its plump appearance and youthful glow. While this may be true at times, it’s also possible that your skin may not, in fact, be dry but dehydrated. And if the latter is true, then a hydrator is what you need to get the job done.

There are a ton of different products on the market, but the truth is, most of them do the same thing. Most skin products will contain both occlusive and emollient ingredients and humectant ingredients so they moisturize and hydrate at the same time. The particular form that a product takes, gel, balm, oil, cream, etc., doesn’t really affect the performance of the product. It’s the ingredients that matter. The form just affects the experience of applying the ingredients.

That being said, read the ingredients and experiment. Sometimes your skin might do better with only a moisturizer or hydrator, not both. By learning exactly how your skin likes to drink, you maximize your way to hydrated skin.

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If your skin is naturally dry year-round and tends to flake or peel, chances are, it’s not weather-related dehydration that’s causing your dryness, your skin just has a hard time retaining moisture. For that, you’ll need to moisturize to create a protective seal on the surface to lock in moisture. A thick, emollient moisturizer will help prevent water from leaving your skin and, with the right formula, will provide the nutrients and nourishment your complexion needs to thrive all winter long.

For acne-prone skin, a light, oil-free moisturizer works best, usually in the form of a lotion. These have less oil and more water content. For combination skin, lotion or cream will do fine, while a serum or a more emollient cream is best for dry skin types.

Hydrating ingredients are generally appropriate for all skin types. They are water-soluble, won’t clog pores, and should be devoid of alcohols so they don’t actively dry out or irritate the skin surface. Natural humectants allow the skin to improve its ability to hydrate itself over time, so look out for products that contain hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, and marine extracts. 

The best is to use both a moisturizer and a hydrator. Just hydrate by applying humectants like hyaluronic acid first, then follow up with an occlusive like plant oils to lock it in.

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