There are a lot of myth, misunderstandings and false statements circulating in the beauty industry about products and ingredients. One such often misunderstood or simply misused definition is hydrating vs. moisturizing.


What is the difference between hydrating and moisturizing?

Your skin needs water in order to look fresh, bright and healthy. With age or by environmental factors, this level of water (often called “level of moisture” which then causes the misunderstandings) decreases and your skin looks tired, flaky, dull and feel often tight. These symptoms are all due to the lack of water.

However, there are two main problems why your skin can lack water:

  1. You did not add enough water aka your skin couldn’t retain enough water (mostly, because you don’t drink enough, or you don’t sleep enough) –> you need to hydrate your skin
  2. Your skin is compromised and it loses the retained water, aka epidermal water loss –> you need to moisturize your skin

When you hydrate your skin, you help adding water. When you moisturize your skin, you add mostly oil.

Dry skin vs. dehydrated skin

As a consequence of the lack of water in your skin, you can have either dry skin – which is a skin type that often defined by genetics and hormones – or dehydrated skin, which is a skin concern and regardless your skin type (dry, oily, sensitive) your skin can become dehydrated.

Dry skin is often flaky, itchy and can become irritated easily. This means your lipid barrier is weak and your skin dries out easily no matter how much water you add. In this case you need to help strengthen your barrier and add a level of “sealant” on the top of your skin (e.g. oils) to be able to minimize epidermal water loss.

Dehydrated skin is often dull, lackluster and prone to fine lines and shagginess. In this case your skin cells are simply “thirsty” and you need to hydrate your skin. Also, overproduction of sebum aka oily skin can be caused by dehydration!


Best ingredients to hydrate and moisturize your skin

A well-known hydrating ingredient is hyaluronic acid that can retain 1000 times its weight in water while pulling it from the air. Similarly, Aloe Vera, honey, marine pant extract are great natural hydrating ingredients.

There are also a range of synthetic ingredients that do the job well and are included in almost every skin care product: glycerin, propylene glycol, butylene glycol, sodium PCA, sorbitol, allantoin. These ingredients are often called humectants in the skincare ingredient lists.

Hydrating Products

More hydrating products you can find here

When your skin is dry and you want to moisturize it, the best ingredients that will do the job for you are shea butter, cocoa butter, beeswax, squalene, plant oils such as jojoba, sesame, olive, almond, etc. as well as cetyl alcohol, dimethicone and most fatty acids e.g. omega-3 or omega-6. These ingredients are often called emollients when you look at skin care analyzing websites.

Side note: Here we need to mention also occlusives that are moisturizing skin care agents forming a protective layer over your skin. All types of oils, lanolin as well as mineral oils belong to this category. While mineral oils are shown by studies to be the most efficient moisturizing agent, they are byproducts of the petroleum industry and their production exploits and harms our environment in many ways. Hence, we don’t recommend using products with mineral oils. Plant-based oils are a better alternative in this case.

Moisturizing Products

More moisturizing products you can find here.


Founder of The SKIN Stories and the indie-beauty shop, The Curated SKIN.

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