The Differences Between Hydration and Moisturizer


Hydration and moisturizing… aren’t they the same? They both include water right? Well not really! The difference between hydrating and moisturizing the skin is often lost on many people, and the two aren’t really interchangeable.   

Hydration doesn’t just apply to the skin, and we are often told that we need to stay hydrated. Hydration is so important for our bodies to function healthily and normally, and that’s because 60% of our bodies are made up of water!

H2O is such an important element for us to even be alive. Likewise, skin hydration is also crucial to getting healthy, firm, and supple skin! We see many products that promise to be hydrating, and we also see products that are moisturizing. We are probably more familiar with moisturizer as an essential part of any skincare regimen, but less so with hydration.

What’s the Difference Between Hydrating and Moisturizing

What do hydrating and moisturizing products do?

Products that are “hydrating” or “moisturizing” have a similar goal and may sound like the same thing, which is to help your skin absorb moisture to either prevent or heal dry, dehydrated skin. However, many skincare and beauty brands do not really make an obvious difference between moisturizing and hydrating products, and often use them interchangeably. The big difference between hydrating and moisturizing is the way that it works on the skin.


Hydrating involves increasing the water content of skin cells, which causes them to swell up and become plumper and hence bouncier. This also leads to luminous-looking skin as these plumped skin cells reflect light very nicely. As such, hydrators are what you need for glow skin enhancement and keeping your skin hydrated. 

When cells are dehydrated due to an outflow of water, this leads to shriveled-up skin cells and dull-looking skin. Hydrators, products that hydrate the skin, are also known as humectants and common ingredients include glycerin and hyaluronic acid which work by drawing water from deep within the skin and the skin surroundings into the cells, improving the ability to absorb nutrients. Alpha-hydroxy acids are another effective hydrator that prevent fine lines and wrinkles. 


Moisturizing is what prevents trans-epidermal water loss, also known as the evaporation of moisture from the skin. Unlike hydration which traps water into the skin cells, moisturizing involves reinforcing the skin’s protective barrier to lock in moisture. This prevents the loss of water, hence maintaining the skin’s water content and ability to retain moisture. There are many types of moisturizing ingredients, but some common ones are usually oil-based such as emollients and squalene, and ceramides. 

Many skin care products contain both moisturizing and hydrating ingredients, to do the double duty of adding water to the skin and locking it in. But it doesn’t mean that everybody needs both moisturizing and hydrating ingredients. Depending on your skin type you might need more moisture or more hydration. The next section will discuss skin types and the recommended skincare products to boost the skin’s water content!

If you have dry skin and fine lines…try a thick moisturizer with ingredients like jojoba oil and coconut oil

A sign of extremely dry skin is that it is pretty much dry all the time, and you experience flaking or peeling at times. That’s probably a sign that your skin is dehydrated and has trouble keeping moisture and water in, leading to dry skin.

The best solution is a moisturizer to seal in the moisture by creating a preventive skin barrier on the surface of the skin, preventing water from escaping the skin. A thick moisturizer with emollients is the best option. Emollients come in the form of moisturizing creams, ointments, lotions, and gels and work by penetrating the skin.

If your skin is extremely dry, occlusives are the most effective. A very well-known and easy to get occlusive is the ubiquitous petroleum jelly such as Vaseline. The only problem with occlusives is that they tend to be a lot stickier than emollients, so you could try oils if the stickiness is too uncomfortable. Those with super sensitive skin might have issues with such products, so testing it first would help.

If you have dehydrated skin… try a hydrating serum

Dehydrated skin sounds like dry skin but it’s a little different. Remember that hydrated skin means there is high water content in the skin cells. Dehydrated skin hence means that there is a very low water content in the skin cells, therefore the aim would be to hydrate and increase the water content in your skin.

That concept should explain further the benefits of hydrated skin. The most effective way is to use a serum which is more concentrated and will penetrate the skin to deliver hydrating benefits. Go for a hyaluronic acid serum, which is naturally produced in the skin, but boosting its levels of it will also improve your skin’s natural ability to produce it.

In fact, skincare ingredients like hyaluronic acid can retain up to 1000 times its weight in water content, which makes it such an impressive hydrator. This could also help with how to decrease redness in face.

If you have oily skin or acne-prone skin… try water-based hydrating and moisturizing products

People with oily skin often fear moisturizer because they’re afraid it will add to the oiliness. It’s true that you don’t want to increase the amount of oil already on your skin, so don’t reach for an oil or cream-based product that can leave the skin even greasier. Instead, go for a water-based product that won’t clog your pores.

Oily skin does not mean that your skin is producing too much moisture, it just means that your oil glands produce more oil and your skin can actually still be dehydrated even if it’s oily. Remember that oiliness and skin cell water content are different, so it doesn’t mean you skip moisturizing!

If your skin is a combination of oily and dry… try a non-oil-based moisturizer to provide moisture

Combination skin means that you experience both oiliness and dryness in different parts of the face. You might have an oily T-zone but your cheeks get dry and flaky. It’s a frustrating combination but there are many products that can target this skin type!

The best way to deal with combination skin is to use a non-oily moisturizer that will not add extra oil to your oily parts but will also be able to hydrate and moisturize the dry areas. Water-based products are also a great way to go!


Moisturising and hydrating might both be involved in keeping the moisture within your skin, but at the end of the day, the way they work is different! Think of hydration as the pump to inject water, and moisturizer as the barrier to prevent the water from escaping. They are complementary, and different skin types require different products to make it work!

Stay tuned for more topics, such as when should you pop a pimple, how to achieve hydrated lips, and more!

Share this post