Difference Between Hydration and Moisture in Skin Care

We tend to use hydrating and moisturizing interchangeably, and a lot of times they do work in tandem, but there are some key differences between hydrated and moisturized skin. The same goes for the difference between dry and dehydrated. Knowing the difference can help you solve and prevent the specific, targeted problems that come with either skin that's lacking moisture or skin that's lacking hydration.

Keep reading to find out what causes dry skin or dehydrated skin, and the ingredients that work best for improving each.

Hydrated skin vs moisturized skin

Hydrated means that your skin has an adequate amount of water to maintain optimal cell function, whereas moisturized means your skin has enough oil to upkeep a strong enough barrier to prevent the loss of this water. 

Basically, hydration makes your skin soft and supple, and moisture keeps it that way.

How to Tell if Your Skin Is Dry

Dry skin is a genetic skin type that is characterized by a lack of oil production. Sebum, the oil your skin produces, contains a combination of triglycerides and fatty acids, wax esters, squalene, and cholesterol which are the building blacks for the skin barrier.

Without enough of these building blocks, the barrier cannot function adequately, leading to trans-epidermal water loss, and the characteristic dry skin. Dry skin will appear scaly, flakey, red and irritated, and may be more prone to skin conditions like eczema or psoriasis.

How to Tell if Your Skin is Dehydrated

Dehydrated skin is not a skin type, but rather a state of the skin that any skin type can fall victim to due to the environment, not drinking enough water, using drying products, etc.

If dehydrated, your skin will appear dull, lifeless, and not as plump, and will be more prone to show premature signs of aging like wrinkles, fine lines, and puffy eyes. One way you can see if your skin is dehydrated is to pinch a bit of your cheek and if the skin wrinkles it’s likely dehydrated.

Your skin can be both oily and dehydrated, so don’t be tricked into believing that because your skin is oily, you do not need a moisturizer. A lack of water in the skin can lead to the adverse effects, and you need hydrating products to reverse and prevent said effects. If your skin lacks water, it will also start to overproduce more oil to make up for the lack fo water which can lead to breakouts. 


How to choose skin care products for dry skin vs dehydrated skin

Different types of moisturizers have different ingredients that aid in either boosting hydration or moisture and barrier protection. The main ingredients in moisturizers, creams, and lotions can be grouped into three main categories: occlusives, humectants, and emollients.

Difference between humectants, occlusives and emollients


Humectants are responsible for boosting your skin's hydration levels. Humectants work by pulling water from the air and the deeper levels of skin into the outer layer of skin, the stratum corneum. This water is crucial for skin cell function. Proper cell function plays into your skin’s collagen production, elasticity, inflammation, and signs of aging.

Humectants will help solve the dehydrated skin problem, so they are well suited for all skin types. On top of that, anti-aging products are often formulated with humectants since wrinkles and fine lines are often a result of dehydrated skin.

Examples of Humectant Ingredients

  • Sodium hyaluronate 
  • Hyaluronic acid
  • Glycerin
  • Sorbitol
  • Urea
  • Panthenol
  • Aloe vera


Occlusives help hold on to the hydration once humectants draw in water. Occlusives have large molecules so they are not absorbed into the skin, but rather sit atop the skin to create a barrier and prevent water loss from the epidermis.

Examples of Occlusive Ingredients

  • Waxes (carnauba, beeswax, candelilla)
  • Silicone (dimethicone, cyclomethicone)
  • Oils (olive, soybean, coconut, jojoba, etc.)
  • Lanolin
  • Mineral oil
  • Shea Butter

Occlusives are best suited for very dry skin, so if you have dry skin look for one of these ingredients towards the top of the ingredient label (find out why the order of ingredients matters).

Those with oily and/or acne prone skin should avoid heavier occlusive concentrations because they can smother the pores and lead to clogged pores. Silicones are an exception because they allow oxygen, nitrogen, and other nutrients to pass through, but still prevent water loss, but things like coconut oil, lanolin, or waxes are all more susceptible to clogging pores.


Emollients are responsible for filling the space between dead skin cells to create a soft, smooth skin feel and an even texture. Many emollients also have occlusive benefits so they are two in one ingredients.

Emollients are great for all skin types especially dry, flakey skin and those with eczema or psoriasis.

Examples of Emollients

  • Lipids
  • Oatmeal
  • Shea butter
  • Isopropyl palmitate
  • Squalene
  • Glyceryl Caprylate
  • Triglycerides (Caprylic triglyceride)
  • Ceramides
  • Fatty alcohols (cetearyl alcohol, cetyl alcohol, stearyl alcohol)

Ingredients that dehydrate the skin

There are also some ingredients that suck moisture out of the skin that should be avoided if you struggle with either dry or dehydrated skin.

  • Alcohol
  • Sulfates
  • Fragrance
  • Witch hazel

Other tips to keep skin hydrated and moist

Whether your skin is dry, dehydrated, or both, there are great options for skin care products to remedy these issues. Now that you have a better understanding of the differences between hydration and moisture and the ingredients that go into moisturizers and facial lotions you can go forth and choose the best moisturizer for your skin concerns.

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