Hydrating vs Moisturizing Skin Care

Difference between Hydrating and Moisturizing Skin

Many see “hydration” and “moisture” as interchangeable words that describe the same thing, believing a skin hydrator is the same as a moisturizer. This is a common misconception and an easy mistake to make. In reality, these are two very different types of products specifically formulated to serve a different specific purpose for your skin. Believe it or not, hydrator and moisturizer are not just synonyms written on product labels as part of a clever marketing scheme to make you buy more than you really need.

Skin Moisturizers

A moisturizer’s main responsibility is to reduce trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL) by forming a barrier over the skin’s surface.  These types of products work to retain any moisture remaining present on your skin at the time of application. By forming a protective seal on the skin’s surface, moisturizers reduce the risk of evaporation of your existing skin moisture throughout the day.

queen bee facial nectar

Queen Bee Facial Nectar

Healthy, normal skin is able to produce lipid cells. These cells trigger the skin’s natural ability to protect itself from moisture loss, communicating to our sebaceous (oil producing) glands to produce more oil (or sebum).


Evaporation of water from the skin

People having a deficient lipid barrier will often suffer from dry skin conditions. Unable to coat the skin’s surface with the appropriate amount of sebum, this causes a loss of hydration.  A moisturizer is formulated to aid in correcting the lipid barrier so that the skin is able to regain its healthy moisture balance.  The key word here is “aid,” as these products are only a part of a solution. They are not a fix-all to every skin condition on their own.

Skin Hydrators

While moisturizers are formulated to seal moisture into the skin, hydrating products are designed to increase the water content of the skin.  This is typically achieved by utilizing the powers of various hygroscopic (Hygroscopic substances have the ability to attract water from its surroundings through absorption or adsorption) ingredients, like humectants (Humectants absorb water from the air and bind it to the skin, facilitating hydration). Glycerinhoney and hyaluronic acid are great examples of humectants.

queen bee facial freshener (alcohol-free)

Queen Bee Facial Freshener (alcohol-free)

Some moisturizers are infused with hydrating ingredients, like those mentioned above, but are not always able to penetrate skin as deeply. As previously stated, moisturizers function to prevent water loss by forming a barrier over the skin, primarily through a mixture of occlusive (barrier forming substances) and emollient (aid skin smoothness, and sometimes enhance barrier strength) ingredients. Humectants can function within a moisturizer’s formula, but depending on your skin’s need, may not supply your skin with a sufficient amount of hydration.

Long Story Short…Remember to apply hydrating products first and a moisturizer second.

This way, you are adding moisture to your skin, and then ensuring it remains throughout your day. If you have dry skin and are only using a moisturizer, chances are you are feeling the need to apply it multiple times throughout the day. While the moisturizing ingredients may appear to have helped smooth those dry flaky spots, they are not fixing the root of your skin’s condition. Moisturizers are only masking the issue at hand.

You can increase the water content of your skin by incorporating a hydrator into your daily routine!  Not only will this practice help your skin regain its proper moisture balance, it will also increase the effectiveness of your moisturizer.  Hydrating ingredients make your skin more receptive to absorbing all the beneficial ingredients offered by your moisturizer.  A little will go a long way when your moisturizer becomes more powerful by applying the products in the right order. This gives you the added bonus of saving money in addition to having healthy, moist skin!


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The Dynamics of Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL) From Hydrated Skin

6 replies
  1. Diane Wright
    Diane Wright says:

    Normally I don’t read article on blogs, but I would like to say that this write-up very pressured me to try and do so! Your writing style has been amazed me. Thank you, very nice post.

  2. Anne
    Anne says:

    SO helpful This explains why my skin that used to b very oily for years, which now is quite dry in my 50’s, never seems to change and why moisturizers aren’t helping that much. Thank you!

  3. John Mahoney
    John Mahoney says:

    I had no idea that moisturizers worked by creating a protective layer over your skin to prevent evaporation of existing moisture. My wife has been looking for a new type of moisturizer for her skin so I decided to look into it. It makes sense that taking the time to look for several types to keep your skin from getting dry can allow you to keep it looking the best it can.

  4. doretta
    doretta says:

    I actually have a question. Are you saying that a quality hydrating product doesn’t only provide hydration independently, but it actually PULLS moisture from the AIR? Can it target spots on your skin that are particularly dry and pull more moisture to those spots? All day or for a few hours? And, if this is accurate, and moisturizers provide a block between your skin and outside elements, specifically to keep moisture in your skin, how would the humectants do their magic if you cover them with blocking moisturizer? I know this sounds like I’m trying to argue, but I’m genuinely curious about this concept. I just heard another skincare company bragging about their new hydrating product and the fact that the doctors who created this product invented a new molecule that absorbs moisture from the air and targets the dry spots on your skin. I’m trying to vet that information by asking an expert, and I found you. It sounds as though they may be exaggerating or overselling their new “invention”.

  5. deborah baldasarre
    deborah baldasarre says:

    Hi, thanks so much for helpful article. I’m translatin some cosmetic labels from italian to english and it’s a caos :D about translation of “idratante” word.
    So “idratante” can be translated by “hydrating” or “moisturising”, depending on cosmetic function, isn’t it?


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