Hydration vs. moisture – it’s the same thing, no? It is easy to understand why many of us would think so. Stroll around your high street beauty store, and you’ll see pots and tubes with hydrating and moisturising slapped on them. Even though these terms are often used interchangeably by brands, they do not mean the same thing. What is the difference between hydration and moisture? What type of product should you use?
Hydration means your skin cells need water to look plump and bouncy. It is important to stress – all skin types need hydration.
In skincare products, this means they need to include humectants. Humectants are hydrophilic agents that create a hydrogen bond by drawing and attracting the water from the body and the environment.
Humectants are natural or synthetic. Natural humectants (like Aloe vera and Alpha-Hydroxy acids) attract and bind water to the skin. They also have additional properties like boosting the water production in the dermis and replenishing the skin. Synthetic humectants (like Urea, Butylene Glycol, and Sodium PCA) are equally effective. However, they do not offer additional properties for the skin.
Hyaluronic acid and Glycerine are the most popular humectants on the market. Both are effective and replenish the skin. Sources of Glycerine are natural or synthetic. On the other hand, Hyaluronic acid occurs naturally in the skin, but in skincare products comes in a synthetic version. It also has antioxidant properties. All skin types (normally) tolerate humectants well.
Moisturising means your skin needs to lock in the moisture to restore and reinforce the moisture barrier. By doing this, it prevents Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL).
To moisturise the skin, you need occlusives. Occlusives work by creating a protective film on the surface of the skin that prevents water loss. Likewise, by reinforcing the moisture barrier, they protect us from outside stressors like pollution. Oils (like squalane), silicones, butters (like cocoa or shea), waxes, and lanolin are all examples of occlusives.
Due to its nature and depending on the product formulation, occlusives can be too heavy for people with oily or combination skin because they can clog pores. They are best suited for people with dry skin with a compromised moisture barrier.
Dehydrated vs. dry skin
Does your skin need hydration or moisture? It depends on whether it is dehydrated or dry. All skin types can be dehydrated, which means the skin lacks moisture. Dry skin is a skin type and lacks oil.
What are the tell-tale signs of dehydrated skin? Fine lines and wrinkles are more prominent, skin can look dull, feel tight, or, in more extreme cases, be prone to sensitivity. Also, sometimes skin can overproduce oil to compensate for the dehydration.
As dry skin lacks oil, it means it doesn’t produce enough sebum. It can also feel tight and itchy, flake, or in some cases, peel. Dry skin can feel rough to the touch. It’s worth pointing out sometimes our skin can get drier as we get older.
How to put it all together
If your skin is dehydrated, look for products with humectants that will boost hydration. Light moisturisers or lotions on top will help lock in that moisture.
Dry skin can benefit from both humectants and occlusives. Layer a humectant-based serum with a richer moisturiser to reap the benefits. Top it up with an oil to aid moisture barrier repair.
Suggested routine for dehydrated skin:
Suggested routine for dry skin: