Medically reviewed by Minimalist Health Specialist - Written by Shreya Singh (Pharmacist) on 23rd Sep 2020
Does Your Skin Need Moisturizing Or Hydration? Find Out
When looking for skincare products, we often come across products that call themselves “Hydrators” or “Moisturizers.”
But when it comes to knowing the actual difference between these two, it might confuse a lot of people. It is because both of them share similar goals for your skin, which is to help your skin get enough water so that it’s not dehydrated.
A lot of beauty brands tend to use these terms while listing their product as a hydrator or a moisturizer.
The reason why they do that is that a lot of their beauty products are formulated with both types of ingredients, which are humectants and occlusives. But what if we told you there is a difference between the two? Well, that’s what we are going to discuss in this article.
The difference between hydration and moisturization
A lot of people might mistakenly confuse hydration and moisturization as the same thing that helps you get dewy-looking skin. But actually, there is a significant difference between them.
The purpose of hydration is to find and pull water into your skin, whereas moisturization is done to prevent that water from leaving your skin. Hydration always comes before moisturization if you’re using both of them in your skincare routine.
In simpler terms, hydration signifies the water content in your skin cells, and moisturization signifies the content of natural oils in your skin.
According to board-certified dermatologist Anna Guanche, MD, FAAD,
Hydration refers to the water content within the cells that leads them to swell and be plump and bouncy, thus reflecting light well. If water flows out of the cells and the cells are dehydrated, they can become shrivelled, which leads to lacklustre skin
According to board-certified dermatologist Tsippora Shainhouse, MD, FAAD.
“Moisturizing is about trapping and sealing in moisture to build the skin’s protective barrier, prevent water loss and keep the skin soft and smooth."
Dehydrated skin lacks water and needs to be hydrated with hydrating products such as a hydrator. On the other hand, dry skin lacks oils and needs to be moisturized with a moisturizer.
Hydrating ingredients are more watery in consistency and are not heavy on the skin, whereas moisturizing ingredients tend to be thicker and creamier.
What is a hydrator?
A hydrator, basically known as humectants, consists of hygroscopic substances and helps the epidermis absorb water by pulling in water from the surrounding environment into your skin cells.
They sink deeper into the skin to increase the water content within your skin cells. According to research, a hydrator (such as Hyaluronic Acid) significantly improves the skin's hydration levels and lipid barrier function.
A hydrator is what makes our skin more supple, bouncy, which kind of reflects light because it is filled with water, making it more lustrous.
If your skin cells are deprived of that water content, then they look dull, and people may think that their skin is dry, but it’s actually just dehydrated! A humectant draws in water into your skin cells and helps you get that youthful glow again.
Not to mention, as they leave your skin feeling damp, they help other products and nutrients absorb into your skin better.
Some of the commonly used hydrators are:
- Hyaluronic Acid (most widely used)
- Honey, Sugars
- Fatty acids
- Amino Acids
- Tremella mushroom
These work like magnets by pulling water from the environment into your skin and binding the water molecules with the skin cells, which allows the deeper layers of the skin to absorb water. It can also pull water from the atmosphere. Therefore, if you live in a really humid area, it can pull a lot of water in your skin.
On the contrary, if you’re in an extremely dry area, it can pull too much water from your skin since it does not get it from the environment. Hence, people living in dry areas should make sure to apply a hydrator on damp skin so that it can absorb the water present on the surface of the skin.
What is a moisturizer?
Moisturizers are the ingredients that contain oils and work by creating a hydrophobic barrier on the surface of the skin, which prevents water from escaping.
The main function of the moisturizers is to prevent TransEpidermal Water Loss (TEWL) and they do so by locking in the moisture content in the skin and making sure that it stays in there and doesn’t evaporate out.
Studies show that moisturizers help in treating dry skin conditions by basically moistening and softening the topmost layer of the skin and maintaining healthy skin.
It also helps in reinforcing the skin’s protective lipid barrier function and strengthens it by preventing moisture loss, keeping the skin soft and hydrated.
Unlike hydrators, it doesn’t penetrate deeper into the skin and stays at the top surface of the skin. They trap and seal all the little water content which is present in the skin so that it doesn’t escape or dry out the skin.
Moisturizer is basically the umbrella term for various types of moisturizing ingredients such as:
- Emollients (fats and lipids) - The main function of emollient is to smooth out the surface of the skin and fill in all the cracks that are produced by flaking off.
- Occlusive (oils) - They form a film over the topmost layer of the skin and trap water in it so that it can’t escape.
- Squalene (oil)
Some examples of moisturizers or moisturizing ingredients are:
- Shea Butter
- Cocoa Butter
- Jojoba oil
- Grapeseed oil
How to find out if you need a hydrator, moisturizer, or both?
To know this, first and foremost, you need to find whether your skin is dry or dehydrated. You should understand that dry skin is a skin type, whereas dehydrated skin is a skin condition.
Dry skin lacks natural oils, whereas, in dehydrated skin, water content is very low or missing.
If your skin tends to be on the dry side and lacks water content, then people usually assume that it needs to be moisturized. But in reality, the skin is not dry, but it’s actually just dehydrated and requires a hydrator.
Therefore, to know whether your skin is dry or dehydrated, you need to carefully examine your skin condition.
The skin naturally has a protective lipid barrier on it, which locks in the moisture and protects it from the external damage. If you tend to have dry, itchy, flaky skin (especially around the areas of your mouth, eyebrows, and nose) which often gets irritated and hydrators or moisturizers tend to soak up really quickly; then it is a warning sign that your skin is dry and it lacks the sebaceous activity that produces oil in your skin, and therefore your lipid barrier is damaged making it unable to lock in moisture. In this condition, you need to treat your skin with a suitable moisturizer.
On the other hand, if your skin looks dull, rippled, lackluster, and the fine lines & wrinkles are more noticeable, and it is congested and often gets acne flare-ups, then it is a warning sign that your skin is dehydrated and lacks the water content within it. This is the condition where the role of hydrators comes in.
However, it is also possible to have dry skin, which lacks hydration at the same time because people with dry skin may also experience dehydration. In this condition, you need to apply both a hydrator and moisturizer on your skin to make it look healthy and youthful again. But keep this thing in mind that a hydrator is always applied before a moisturizer when you’re using both in your skincare routine.
Did you know oily skin also needs hydration & moisturization?
Surprised? Oily skin can never show it is dehydrated as skin balances it with producing excess oil. So if your skin is becoming oily than usual, you should include a hydrator and a lightweight non-comedogenic moisturizer in your routine.
How to hydrate your skin?
People with dehydrated skin need to hydrate their skin in order to provide it with nourishment, so it looks healthier again. Some ways in which that can be done is:
- Drinking enough water throughout the day
- Eating fruits and vegetables that are high in water content
- Using a non-foaming and gentle cleanser
- Using products that contain humectant ingredients
- Avoid over-exfoliation
- Apply moisturizers while your skin is damp
How to moisturize your skin?
People who tend to have dry skin need to moisturize their skin in order to restore the natural lipid barrier in their skin and make it soft and healthier again. Some of the ways in which they can do that are by:
- Minimizing the use of soap
- Use mild and gentle products
- Use a moisturizer that is rich in emollients and occlusive contents
- Skip hot steam showers that can strip away the natural oils in your skin
- Adding face oils and balms in your skincare routine
How to pick the right hydrator or moisturizer?
Now that you have the idea of your skin condition and know what ingredients you need to keep-an-eye-for to treat them, you need to choose the right products according to your skin types.
To treat dehydrated skin, look out for products containing humectants such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, or AHAs. Hydrating products usually have a thin, watery texture that absorbs deeper into the skin.
We recommend using Minimalist’s Hyaluronic Acid 2%+B5 Face serum that gives an extra boost of hydration, water-soluble, and quickly sinks into the skin without clogging pores and is devoid of any harmful chemicals or alcohol.
Due to this, it does not irritate the skin surface. All their products contain high-quality ingredients made with organic formulas and can be used on all skin types.
Meanwhile, for treating dry skin, you need to look out for moisturizers with suitable formulas according to your skin type.
For acne-prone oily skin, it is best to go for formulas that contain lighter, oil-free consistencies, usually in the form of serums and lotions. For people with combination skin, anything between a lotion or a cream is good to use.
While for the ones with dry skin, a thicker cream that has more emollient content is required.
There’s no denying that using moisturizers or hydrators regularly is a vital step towards maintaining healthy and youthful skin. Any skin care regimen is not complete without incorporating a moisturizing or hydrating ingredient in it. People who desire to achieve their brightest and healthiest skin must consider using these ingredients without fail.