What's the Difference Between Hydration and Moisturization

If you can have oily and dehydrated skin, how do you moisturize it or hydrate it without making matters worse? 

Let’s talk about the differences between hydration and moisturization. If you don’t have hydration, your skin isn’t going to be as supple or glowy, and if you don’t have moisturization, you can’t lock that hydration in. Hydrating is the act of putting water into the skin while moisturizing is preventing the hydration from leaving and escaping the skin. More simply, moisturizing means sealing in that moisture. So, what ingredients do we look for to differentiate a hydrator from a moisturizer, and how do we use them in a routine

Normally, hyrdators have water bases. And like many serums, they are suggested to go on a bit earlier, Then, moisturizers go on top of the hydrator. However, some products hydrate and moisturize at the same time. Here are some ingredients that give insight on which is which.

For hydrators, you can look for things like water, aloe vera leaf juice, lotus flower water, lotus flower extract, or even green tea juice. You can also look for ingredients that are humectants. Now, what’s the nuance between a humectant and a hydrator? Humectants draw water into the skin from the air while hydrator gives water directly to the skin. Humectants are things like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, different sugar molecules, amino acids, or peptides with a cream. Humectants can help products penetrate deeper, but they can also grab onto water and hold it close to the skin.

Moreover, certain acids like glycolic acid, lactic acid, and malic acids are humectants. Therefore, while these AHAs are exfoliants, they can also grab onto water and pull it deeper into the skin. 

Polyhydroxy acids are also amazing humectants. They resemble sugar molecules, and therefore, they can hold onto and bind water molecules into the skin. They can also sit on top of the skin and act as a  gentle chemical exfoliant. 

Here are some hydrating products to consider.

Niod Multi-molecular Hyaluronic Acid -$35

This formula is hyaluronic acid mixed with lactic acid. It’s a really good exfoliating serum that also imparts some hydration into the skin.

Lactic Acid 10% the Ordinary - $6.80


Glossier Exfoliating Skin Perfector Tone - $24




If you’re looking for a good toner and don’t mind fragrance, this is a really good multi-humectant blend of different acids and polyhydroxy acids.

The Inkey List Polyhydroxy Acid Toner - $10.99

Pacifica Vegan Collagen Overnight Recovery Cream -$24

If you’re looking for vegan collagen, Pacifica has vegan collagen peptides that are small enough to get into the skin. It’s not going to stimulate collagen, but it’s a really good humectant that can pull that moisture into the skin. 

Bubble Level Up Balancing moisturizer -$15

The main ingredients in this moisturizer are water and glycerin which are great for hydration.

Boots Hyaluronic Acid Moisturizer - $6.99

Rovectin’s Lotus Water cream -$20

This is an excellent humectant inside of a moisturizer. It has lotus water, aloe vera extract, and a lot of different juices.

Holika Holika Aloe Vera Soothing Gel - $7.53

This aloe vera without aloe vera latex.

Now, that we understand what defines hydration, let’s talk moisturizing. While water-based hydrators and humectants hold onto and pull water into the skin, we have to keep that moisture there. That’s where moisturizers come in. There are thinner and thicker moisturizers. The thicker ones are made with occlusive materials. They’re more difficult to permeate and keep stuff sealed in. Petrolatum jelly is an example of this. Silicones, dimethicone, and some heavier oils are also an example of occlusives. 

Emollients are thinner moisturizers. Emollients are often silky formulas that aren’t as hard to permeate like occlusives. Occlusives stay on the outside of the skin whereas emollients sink in.

For oily and acne-prone skin, emollients might be a good choice. Using occlusives during the day may cause greasiness. Emollients can still lock in hydration, smooth over skin cells, and deliver different actives to the skin without being so heavy. Even fatty alcohols like phenoxy alcohol can be emollients. Further examples of emollients are safflower oil (lightweight oils), oleic acid, and myristic acid. 

Below are a few emollients that can lock in hydration without causing greasiness. 

The Ordinary Rosehip Oil - $9.80

This is a lightweight oil that acts as an emollient.

Versed Daily Antioxidant Oil  -$19.99

Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Cream - $21.90

This emollient has fatty alcohols and cyclopentasiloxane which is a silicon-based ingredient that is more of an emollient and less of an occlusive.

Good Molecules Silicone-Free Primer moisturizer -$12

Anti-aging Juice Beauty Night Cream -$75

All in all, the best moisturizing routine for you is going to depend on your skin type. People with drier skin should look at hydrating first and then using occlusives at night to lock that in. People with oily skin should consider hydrators with a lightweight gel consistency and topping it off with an emollient that locks in moisture. You could also apply one product after washing that hydrates and moisturizes.