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Difference Between Moisturizing and Hydrating the Skin

Hydrating Vs Moisturizing: Understanding the Difference

Scientifically speaking, a moisturizer is used as an umbrella term that brings together several moisturizer types. These include:

  • Occlusive
  • Squalene (oil)
  • Emollients (fats and oils)
  • Humectants

However, when it comes to markets and shopping for skincare products, the term moisturizer has definitely undergone a makeover in recent years.

Today hydrating and moisturizing are both marketing terms that are being used interchangeably and are defined by the big cosmetic brands according to what they want them to mean.

However, there is no gold standard for correctly differentiating hydrating and moisturizing, and for the most part, cosmetic brands are using these two terms to differentiate how the skin is getting the moisture that it needs.

The technical terms remain occlusives, which you will observe on products labeled as humectants, moisturizers, or hydrators.

Moisturizers can be defined as oil-based ingredients, which also includes occlusive agents such as mineral oil or petrolatum, as well as emollients such as plant oils and esters. Moisturizers function by creating a type of seal on the surface of the skin. This prevents the water from escaping from your skin and also makes the skin feel less dry and smoother.(1)

On the other hand, hydrators are ingredients that are known as humectants, including hyaluronic acid or glycerin. These products absorb the water from the atmosphere or your skin and retain it in place on your skin.(2)

It is essential that you recognize that moisturizers and hydration work in very different ways. This is essential because this will help you make a decision that will make or break the health of your skin. The end goal, however, might be the same – this will include better-hydrated skin. The overall decision on which product you should be using depends on the type of skin you have.

Which Is Best For Your Skin, Moisturization or Hydration?

There is no shortage of products in the market – from oils to creams to balms, gels, and ointments and even hydrators. While people think that all these have a different role to play on your skin, the truth is that most of these products all do the same thing only.

Most skin products contain both emollient and occlusive ingredients as well as humectant ingredients. Due to this, these products are able to hydrate and moisturize at the same time. The fact is that any form that a product takes, be it in the form of a gel, balm, oil, cream, or any other form, it does not really have an effect on the performance of the product. Ultimately it is the ingredients that matter, and the formation simply affects the experience you have while applying these ingredients.

This is why it is essential to read the ingredients and then choose the product. You may notice that sometimes your skin will do better when you only use a hydrator or a moisturizer, not both the products together. It is necessary to learn how your skin likes to moisturize or hydrate, and by knowing this, you will be able to maximize your method of hydrating your skin.

For Dry Skin Use a Thicker Moisturizer

If you have a skin type that remains naturally dry throughout the year and also tends to peel or flake, then the chances are that your dryness is not related to the weather. Instead, your skin is just having a difficult time retaining any moisture.

In order to keep your skin moisturized, you will need to use a moisturizer that creates a protective barrier on the surface of your skin to lock in the moisture. For this purpose, using a thick, emollient moisturizer will help prevent any water from leaving your skin and causing it to become dehydrated. Furthermore, using the correct formula will provide your skin with the required nourishment and nutrients that your skin and complexion requires for thriving throughout the year, not just during the winter months.

What To Use For Very Dry Skin to Dehydrated Skin?

In case you have really dry skin, then using good old-fashioned petroleum jelly is the ideal solution. Petroleum jelly is also known as petrolatum. For such type of really dry skin using occlusive agents that contain petrolatum works best. But many people want to avoid petrolatum due to the stickiness of the product. If this is the case, then you can opt for using canola oil, soybean oil, or shea butter. Nevertheless, petrolatum is still the best option here.

For dry to very dry skin here are some of the ingredients that you may think of using:

  • Oils such as plant oils like jojoba oil and nut oils like coconut oil
  • Petrolatum

For skin that is dehydrated, you will need to work hard to add water back into your skin. For such skin, you should search for a hydrating serum that includes hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is capable of retaining nearly 1000 times its weight in water. This will definitely add a much-needed dose of hydration back to your skin.(3)

Some of the ingredients you might want to try out include aloe vera, honey and hyaluronic acid.

What to Use For Oily Skin?

Just because you have an oily type of skin, it does not mean that your skin is not dehydrated. In fact, if you have oily skin and if your skin is dehydrated, then this is actually going to aggravate your oily skin issues.

People who have oily skin tend to have a compromised skin barrier function. This makes it difficult for their skin to absorb and retain moisture. As moisture starts leaving the skin rapidly, it becomes dehydrated fast, causing the skin to keep producing more and more oil, creating a vicious cycle.

The only way to break free from this cycle is to provide your skin the proper moisture and hydration it requires.

For such skin types, you should ideally opt for choosing water-based and non-comedogenic moisturizers and hydrators. Water-based products for oily skin will feel lighter on your skin and will also prevent clogging of your pores.


So how do you ultimately decide that when it comes to hydrating your skin, which is better – a hydrator or a moisturizer? The correct answer is that both products will be good for your skin – it all depends on the type of skin you have.

It will also not cause any harm to your skin if you use both a moisturizer as well as a hydrator. You should follow the simple rule of hydrating by applying humectants such as hyaluronic acid as the first step and then following it up by using an occlusive such as plant oils that will lock in the moisture.

You can also use a product that moisturizes and also hydrates. Face masks are one such option that hydrates and moisturizes your skin with just one single product.

So be aware of what type of skin you have, and it will help you decide what type of product will be best for your skin type.


  1. Lynde, C.W., 2001. Moisturizers: what they are and how they work. Skin Therapy Lett, 6(13), pp.3-5.
  2. Auriol, F., Vaillant, L., Machet, L., Diridollou, S. and Lorette, G., 1993. Effects of short-time hydration on skin extensibility. Acta dermato-venereologica, 73(5), pp.344-347.
  3. Andre, P., 2008. New trends in face rejuvenation by hyaluronic acid injections. Journal of cosmetic dermatology, 7(4), pp.251-258.
Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 1, 2022

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