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HomeHealthHydrating and Moisturizing Aren’t the Same for Your Skin — Here’s Why

Hydrating and Moisturizing Aren’t the Same for Your Skin — Here’s Why


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Hydration is key

You might think hydration is something that only people with dry or dehydrated skin need to worry about.

But hydrating your skin is just like hydrating your body: Your body needs hydration to look and feel its best — and, no matter your skin type, so does your skin.

But what, exactly, is hydration? Is it the same as moisture? And with so many different products claiming to give you the hydrated skin you crave — oils and creams and gels, oh my! — how do you choose one that actually gives your skin the potent dose of moisture it needs?

Hydrator vs. moisturizer: What’s the difference?

Scientifically, moisturizer is an umbrella term for moisturizer types:

  • emollients (fats and oils)
  • squalene (oil)
  • humectants
  • occlusive

But in the world of marketing and the world in which we buy products, the terminology has gone through a makeover.

“[Hydrator and moisturizer] are marketing terms and can be defined by the brands pretty much however they want,” says Perry Romanowski, cosmetic chemist and co-founder of The Beauty Brains.

But while there’s no gold standard for what defines a hydrator and a moisturizer, for the most part, brands use these terms to differentiate how your skin gets the moisture it needs.

IS WATER A GOOD MOISTURIZER?Water alone isn’t a strong enough ingredient to keep your skin moisturized. It’s also likely by the time you leave the bathroom, it’s evaporated away — along with your skin’s natural oils. In fact, the more you wash your skin without applying a moisturizer or hydrator, the more likely your skin will dry out.The technical terms are occlusives, which you may see labeled as moisturizers and hydrators (humectants).“Moisturizers … are oil-based ingredients, including occlusive agents, such as petrolatum or mineral oil, and emollients like esters and plant oils. They work by creating a seal on the surface of skin that prevents water from escaping. They also make the skin feel smoother and less dry,” says Romanowski.“Hydrators are ingredients called humectants, such as glycerin or hyaluronic acid, that absorb water from the atmosphere or your skin and hold it in place on your skin.”It’s important to recognize that they work very differently because what you choose can make or break your skin health. The end goal might be the same — better hydrated skin — but the game plan to get there depends on your skin type.

But if someone wants to avoid petrolatum, [then] shea butter or canola oil or soybean oil can work. In reality, petrolatum is the best, however.”

Ingredients you’ll definitely want to try: petrolatum, oils including plant oils, like jojoba oil, and nut oils, like coconut oil

If you have dehydrated skin, try a hydrating serum

If your skin is dehydrated, you need to actively add water back into the skin. Look for a hydrating serum with hyaluronic acid, which retains an impressive 1,000 times its weight in water — and will add a healthy dose of hydration back into the skin.

Ingredients you’ll definitely want to try: hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, honey


  • Aim to drink plenty of water. A good goal is at least half of your body weight in ounces of water every day. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, shoot for 75 ounces of water per day.
  • Add water-rich foods such as watermelon, strawberries, and cucumber. These can help give your skin and body the hydration it needs to look and feel its best.

If you have oily skin, try water-based hydrators and moisturizers

Just because you have an oily skin type doesn’t mean your skin isn’t dehydrated. And if your skin is dehydrated, it can actually exacerbate your oil issues.

People with oily skin often have compromised barrier function, which makes it hard for their skin to retain moisture. As moisture leaves the skin, it becomes dehydrated, causing the skin to produce more oil.

It’s a vicious cycle, and the only way to break it is to give your skin the proper hydration and moisture it needs.

Look for water-based, non-comedogenic hydrators and moisturizers. Water-based products will feel lighter on the skin and won’t clog your pores.

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