What is the difference between a hydrator and a moisturiser?

Water plays a central role in making sure your skin stays healthy, smooth and radiant, so it only makes sense that every skin care aisle is lined with products that promise to hydrate and moisturize skin. But what many of us may not realize is that although they are often used interchangeably, moisturising and hydration are not exactly the same thing. While both are key in providing skin with much-needed nourishment, knowing the difference will help you make the best choice when targeting your skin’s specific needs.

Difference between hydrating and moisturizing

Moisturizers and hydrators both address the importance of making sure the skin is getting all the water it needs to fight dryness and dehydration, premature signs of aging and environmental damage. The difference, however, lies mostly in how they go about achieving these results.

Hydration refers to the water content within the cells that leads them to swell and be plump and bouncy, thus reflecting light well. If water flows out of the cells and the cells are dehydrated, they become shrivelled and the skin gets a lacklustre look.  When you use a hydrator, you’re infusing your cells with water and improving your skin’s ability to absorb moisture and nutrients.

On the other hand, moisturising is about trapping and sealing in moisture to build the skin’s protective barrier, prevent water loss and keep the skin soft and smooth.

How do you know if you need a hydrator, moisturiser or both?

If your skin tends to be on the dry side, it’s easy to assume that a healthy dose of moisturizer is all it takes to restore its plump appearance and youthful glow. While this may be true at times, it’s also possible that your skin may not, in fact, be dry but dehydrated. And if the latter is true, then a hydrator is what you need to get the job done.

To know if your skin is dry or dehydrated, it’s important to take note of your skin’s condition. The skin has a natural lipid barrier that protects itself from damage and water loss. If you’re prone to having dry, flaky skin, it’s a tell-tale sign that it’s not producing enough lipid cells to form a protective barrier, making it unable to lock in moisture. And that’s where moisturizers come in.

A moisturiser’s job is to reduce the amount of water that evaporates off of the skin to minimise water loss. They lock in and seal in moisture.  Moisturising is particularly helpful for skin that is dry and peeling or flaking after undergoing a chemical peel.

Meanwhile, if you’re dealing with a dull and lacklustre complexion with fine lines and wrinkles becoming more noticeable, your skin may be battling dehydration. Dehydrated skin means the cells are parched and starved of water. When this happens, they are not plump and volumised and are shrivelled collectively. People can have hydrated but dry skin or dehydrated but moisturized skin. Ideally, we want hydrated, bouncy, swollen cells that have topical moisture locked into them,

When dehydrated, the skin will feel dry even if you have used a good moisturiser. In today’s life, environmental damage (which includes UVA, blue light, electro-magnetic radiation and air pollution) most people have dehydrated skins.

Do you have to choose between a hydrator and a moisturiser?

Drinking plenty of water is a good way to hydrate your skin, but those with dehydrated skin must supplement with a topical hydrator that binds and draws water into the cells.

In today’s environment it is necessary to both hydrate and moisturise the skin. Luckily for us there are modern dermoceutial products available that contain active ingredients that protect the skin’s lipid barrier to lock in moisture, and increase the moisture between cells and within cells.

Also make sure that the product you select is easily absorbed and applied, is hypoallergenic and have nourishing ingredients to counter the signs of aging and fight free radical damage. For best results product should be applied mornings (before sunscreen) and at night. “