What’s the Difference Between Hydrating and Moisturizing?December 21, 2022
Skin hydration refers to the absorption of moisture from the air or dermis that infuses your cells with water, says Dr. Barba. Dehydrated skin is void of water, according to Dr. Lal, and needs to be replenished in order to rehydrate.
“There are tons of factors that play into skin hydration,” explains Dr. Barbara, “from getting enough sleep at night, drinking enough water, limiting long exposure to water while showering, using lukewarm water instead of hot water and using gentle skincare products to avoiding over exfoliation (which can rub off natural moisturizers produced by your skin).”
Why It's Important to Keep Your Skin Hydrated
Skin hydration is important for the health and proper functioning of skin cells, but it’s also important for aesthetics. Without proper hydration, skin can look lusterless and crepey. And, fine lines and wrinkles are more prominent, says Dr. Lal. Hydration helps keep skin looking smooth and feeling soft.
Signs Your Skin Is Dehydrated
Dehydrated skin appears lackluster and dull, and is generally deficient in radiance and the ability to reflect light well. Dehydrated skin can also sometimes appear flaky and itchy, which makes it more difficult to distinguish from dry skin.
Shadow-y and Sallowness
According to Dr. Barba, dehydration can cause shadows and sallowness around the face. Often, the eyes appear more sunken into the face than normal and have dark circles around them.
Emphasized Fine Lines and Wrinkles
Dehydrated skin tends to have a crepey texture to it, says Dr. Lal. And, fine lines and wrinkles look far more prominent and harsh when skin is dehydrated. This increases visual signs of aging and can be difficult to cover up with makeup.
How to Hydrate Your Skin
When it comes to hydration, you can’t simply splash water on your face and hope for the best. Instead, our experts suggest focusing on nourishing, hydrating skincare ingredients.
Both Dr. Barba and Dr. Lal are fans of hyaluronic acid when it comes to hydrating skin. The gel-like molecule holds water and helps keep skin plump and hydrated by helping the skin retain water.
Polyglutamic acid (PGA) is another go-to hydrator for Dr. Lal. Though less popular in traditional skincare, polyglutamic acid holds four times more moisture than hyaluronic acid. The water-soluble polypeptide is a hydration powerhouse, pulling moisture from the air to hydrate the skin’s surface and the layers beneath it while also locking in moisture.
Ceramides are also great hydrators, according to Dr. Barba. Nearly 50% of the skin lipids that form the natural skin barrier are actually ceramides, which act as glue to hold skin cells together and seal in moisture and hydration. When the skin barrier is compromised, skin becomes dehydrated. By restoring lost lipids, you can likely increase skin hydration.
Interestingly enough, Dr. Barba points to lactic acid as a great skin hydrator. Though the ingredient is technically an exfoliator, its unique structure also allows it to bind water within the skin. And because it’s one of the more gentle exfoliators, it’s less likely to disrupt the skin barrier and cause dehydration.
The outermost layer of skin, called the epidermis, is covered with a thin film layer of water and lipids. “Skin moisture is composed of those lipids and water,” explains Dr. Lal. “We lose moisture throughout the day and replenishing that moisture is essential for maintaining a healthy skin barrier.” Without the right balance of moisture, the skin cannot act as the body’s protective barrier. The key here is that moisture helps prevent water from escaping the skin.
Why It's Important to Keep Your Skin Moisturized
Moisturized skin can more easily repair itself than dry skin, which is especially important in the face, neck and chest areas since they’re so sensitive to environmental changes. It’ll also help that skin appear younger, as the daily loss of skin cells leaves these areas vulnerable to fine lines and wrinkles. Moisturization also reduces the chances of both extreme dryness and oiliness.
Perhaps most importantly, moisturized skin helps the skin barrier remain strong and healthy, keeping hydration in the skin and pollutants and other irritants out, says Dr. Barba.
Signs Your Skin Is Dry
Tightness and Rough Texture
When skin becomes excessively dry, it can feel tight and have a rough texture to it, says Dr. Barba. This can also make the skin feel itchy and uncomfortable. Especially dry skin can result in near constant itchiness.
Flakiness, Peeling, Scaling and/or Cracks
As we know, the outermost layer of skin continually renews itself and sheds dead skin cells. We don’t usually see this shedding, but if skin is too dry, it can start to peel off during this shedding process. Likewise, as skin dries out and shrinks, it may develop cracks and flakes, according to Dr. Lal. If deep enough, some cracks may even cause bleeding.
Emphasized Fine Lines and Wrinkles
Because dry skin has lost moisture and water, it may start to show signs of dehydration too. In particular, Dr. Barba notes emphasized fine
lines and wrinkles.
How to Moisturize Your Skin
Dr. Barba suggests looking for water-based ingredients that grab and, more importantly, hold onto moisture. Both experts are fans of glycerin, a humectant that pulls moisture from the air and draws it to the deeper layers of the dermis to replenish lost moisture. It’s commonly found in moisturizers (because it so effectively, well, moisturizes), and helps keep skin soft and supple.
Petrolatum is another great moisturizing ingredient, according to Dr. Lal. Sometimes called petroleum jelly, the emollient has long been considered one of the most effective moisturizers thanks to its ability to prevent moisture loss. It provides immediate occlusion, making it particularly great for compromised skin, by creating a physical barrier that prevents moisture from leaving the skin.
And, interestingly enough, both dermatologists note some overlap when it comes to hydrating and moisturizing ingredients. Ceramides and hyaluronic acid, for example, both attract water to the skin and subsequently help keep moisture within the skin.
Hydrating vs. Moisturizing: What's the Difference?
Both hydration and moisturization are absolutely key to maintaining the skin barrier. And while there’s certainly a lot of overlap between the two, Dr. Barba offers a keen distinction: “Hydrating ingredients attract water to the outermost layer of the skin, while moisturizing ingredients provide a layer to prevent water from escaping.” Dr. Lal agrees, adding that hydration refers to water content in the skin, whereas moisturization refers to the lipids in our skin (which keep water from escaping the skin).
Best Hydrating and Moisturizing Products
Packed with ceramides, hyaluronic acid and petrolatum, the CeraVe Healing Ointment offers long-lasting moisture in a non-irritating, gentle formula. By forming a protective layer on top of the skin, the ointment temporarily protects and relieves chapped, cracked skin. It can also be used as the final step in your hydrating skincare routine to help lock in water and moisture overnight.
La Roche-Posay pairs its classic thermal water (which adds hydration and antioxidant properties to the skin) with glycerin and ceramide to deeply moisturize and nourish skin. The facial moisturizer also features niacinamide for added soothing properties.
The SkinCeuticals Phyto Corrective Essence Mist is clinically proven to minimize the appearance of redness with a botanical blend featuring cucumber, thyme, olive leaf and rosemary. Meanwhile, a combination of hyaluronic acid and glycerin work to draw in water (hydrate) and retain it within the skin (moisturize). Best of all, it can be applied over makeup throughout the day for lasting hydration.
This oil-free face serum features just 11 ingredients, including glycerin and pure hyaluronic acid. The non-sticky, fast-absorbing formula visibly plumps and hydrates skin while simultaneously strengthening the skin barrier.
The latest addition to the Kiehl’s lineup provides instant repair and relief for dry, irritated skin. The formula blends colloidal oatmeal and beta-glucan for intense barrier repair in a balm-to-cream texture that relieves dryness up to 10 layers deep.
To visibly plump skin and smooth fine lines, this cream contains hyaluronic acid and ceramides — a popular ingredient combo that virtually assures locked-in moisture and skin barrier repair. The Water Cream features a lightweight formula for easy and fast absorption.
The Lancom Advanced Génifique Night Cream restores overnight for healthier, radiant-looking skin. A blend of (you guessed it) hyaluronic acid and ceramide, plus bifidus prebiotic, boosts hydration and plumpness to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.
The SkinCeuticals Emollience offers a heaping dose of lipids, combined with nourishing plant oils, hydrating algae extract and soothing essential oils, to deeply nourish skin and restore necessary moisture. The extra-moisturizing formula is optimal for higher altitudes or dry, cold climates, though it can be used anywhere for an added boost of skin-loving ingredients.
For intense hydration and visibly plump skin, try the L’Oréal Paris Revitalift Hyaluronic Acid Serum. The formula immediately replenishes for softer, smoother skin. Plus, the fragrance-free formula makes it a great option for more sensitive skin types.
Give dehydrated skin a cool glass of water with this hydrating moisturizer-toner hybrid. According to the brand, the formula delivers fast hydration by lowering skin surface tension and supporting the reduction of transepidermal water loss.
A blend of hyaluronic acid, marshmallow root, coconut water and probiotics works to deeply nourish and protect dry, dehydrated skin. According to the brand, the fluffy, soft formula cools, calms and helps reduce redness while soothing irritation and inflammation.
Deeply hydrate with this serum-moisturizer hybrid that simultaneously smoothes and clarifies for clear, plump skin. The slushy-like serum and blend of hyaluronic acid and bakuchiol provides skin with all the benefits of a serum and moisturizer, in one, according to the brand.
We like our skincare products hardworking and multifunctional, like this priming moisturizer that leaves skin hydrated and radiant. It features a non-comedogenic oil in water formula for deep nourishment without any pore clogging. It leaves skin with a glowy, dewy look with or without makeup thanks to the infusion of light-reflecting pearls and illuminating rosat extract.