Moisturising vs hydrating: is there a difference?

It’s true. Moisturising and hydrating is not the same thing. A confusing conundrum, as skincare brands can use these terms interchangeably.

Is there a really a difference?

A rose is a rose is a rose, right? Well, in this case moisturising and hydrating is not quite the same thing. Sure, they share a common goal – to make skin smoother and more supple – but there is an important technical difference in how moisturising ingredients and hydrating ingredients work. If you are using one when your skin actually needs the other, you’re left scratching your head as to why it’s not making a difference.

Please explain!

So here’s the difference in a nutshell: hydrating products increase the water content in your skin cells, while moisturising products lock water into your skin, preventing it from evaporating.

How do I know which one my skin needs?

So glad you asked this! Knowing which one your skin needs is crucial to getting that radiant glow. To nail this, you need to know whether your skin is dehydrated or dry. 

Is my skin dehydrated or dry?

Skin is dehydrated when it lacks water. Dehydration is often cause by environmental factors, like when you have enthusiastically sipped on Spritzers and lattes but neglected to replenish with regular H2O. Or when you dash between snug heating and plunging mercury levels outside in winter.  Essentially, anything that can cause water to evaporate from your skin will leave it dehydrated, so you’ll notice that your complexion feels tighter and drier. If you don’t replenish that lost water, dehydration can get severe, potentially pushing you into the rough-and-red sensitive skin sphere. 

Skin is dry, on the other hand, when it naturally doesn’t produce much oil. That’s usually a genetic thing and, as you can’t change your genetic skin type, you need to work with this issue long-term. 

How do I know if I am buying a hydrating or moisturising product?

This is where it helps to be a skincare label super sleuth so that you know exactly what you’re getting (or just see our list below!).

Hydrating ingredients

Dehydrated skin needs ingredients that deliver water straight to the skin cells, so look for hydrators like lactic acid (an AHA that locks water into the skin), glycerine and hyaluronic acid (which can hold 1000 times its own weight in water). 

Your skin naturally contains hyaluronic acid, but levels tend to drop the older we get, so most of us need a boost. While it makes sense to just replenish it by applying it directly to your skin, it’s not that simple. 

Hyaluronic acid naturally has a large molecular size, which means it can’t easily penetrate the skin’s surface. You can’t, let’s face it, know what size the hyaluronic acid molecule in your skincare is, so you are much better off applying a natural ingredient that helps your skin make its own hyaluronic acid.  Our favourite is Hyanify, which is extracted from a marine plant off the coast of France and is your ticket to ditching dehydration.

Can you recommend a good hydrating product?

You need a high quality serum that can penetrate deep into the skin’s lower layers and replenish lost water. 

Moisturising ingredients

These are the gatekeepers – their job is to lock in hydration. Oils are wonderful for moisturising, but it’s best to use one that is not occlusive (particularly important for dry skin because this can lead to breakout otherwise). You need a light oil, such as rose canina fruit oil or grape seed that doesn’t just sit on the skin’s outer surface but sinks in quick smart. Both of these are rich in natural fatty acids, which is key to balancing the skin’s moisture levels and keeping the skin barrier in good health.

Should I just use a face oil then?

Oils are lovely but they can’t penetrate dry skin without help. Best to choose an oil-rich moisturiser that contains lightweight, non-comedogenic oils, such as rose canina and grape seed, mixed with humectants. That way it can actually deliver the much-need oil deep down into dry skin. 

Is it possible my skin needs moisturising and hydrating?

Yes! Your skin can be both dry (your genetic skin type) and dehydrated (because of external factors such as the weather or your water intake). There is an easy solution: use a hydrating serum first to replenish cells with water, then stop the water from escaping again with a moisturising lotion.

Quite honestly, everybody needs a hydrating serum. Period. Modern life zaps moisture from our skin all day long, so it need daily replenishment. Skin also tends to get drier with every passing decade so, the more birthdays you celebrate, the more important moisturising becomes.

Nail this delicate balance of hydrating and moisturising and your skin will glow with good health.

Claire Hill Duo with SNAP-8, Hyanfiy and Kakadu Plum

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