The Difference Between Hydration vs. Moisture (and Why It Matters)

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In everyday vernacular, hydration and moisture almost have the same meaning, since both words refer to water content. They’re not used in the same contexts; you would usually use word hydration when talking about the human body and the importance of drinking fluids, while the word moist is more similar to the word damp, and can apply to the weather in a tropical country or a particularly scrumptious piece of cake.

However, in the skincare world, the two terms are not exactly interchangeable, despite what some sources will have you thinking. Hydration is much more specific while moisturization is very broad. By being able to understand the difference between the two words you can also learn how to figure out what your skin needs and what the best products for it would be.

Know the Difference: Hydration vs. Moisture

When it comes to skincare, hydration is the process by which the skin absorbs water. As any doctor or gym teacher will tell you, all of our organs need water to function properly. Well, it just so happens that the skin counts in this equation. Hydration can come from skincare products that infuse the skin with water thanks to unique water-loving ingredients called humectants.

Moisture is a bit more complex since it is sometimes used interchangeably with hydration. If you’re a fan of Ben Stiller comedies, you might remember the hysterical ad from Zoolander, where, dressed as a mermaid, the titular character says, “moisture is the essence of wetness and wetness is the essence of beauty.” This line isn’t technically wrong, but it doesn’t fix the confusion. This is because in many instances, the word moisture actually refers to occlusives, which are oily ingredients that help keep water in the skin by improving its barrier functions. The best occlusive ingredients are botanically-derived lipids that are able to mimic sebum’s protective capabilities while also infusing the skin with phytochemicals that can improve its appearance in the long term. Hydrating ingredients can also be considered moisturizing, but for comprehensive moisturization, the skin requires protective, moisture-locking ingredients that reinforce the skin’s barrier capabilities. 

The question is, how will you know which it is that your skin needs?

Are You Dealing with Dehydration vs. Dryness?

Being dry and being dehydrated are two very different situations for the skin. Skin dehydration is a very common issue that can impact any person, while dryness refers to a very specific skin type.

Dehydration is a state where the skin doesn’t have enough water. People often think that their skin is dehydrated because they don’t drink enough, but the truth is that most of the water we drink doesn’t make it to our skin so drinking more water is not enough to combat skin dehydration.[1] There are many people who drink a lot of water and still experience skin dehydration since it usually has more to do with environmental factors. Arid climates, harsh products, hot water, or anything else that can compromise the skin’s barrier functions will lead to dehydration.[2] Those with oily skin often end up dehydrated because of the stripping cleansers they use to try and eliminate sebum from their skin. Dehydrated skin feels tight or irritated, and yet it looks dull and a little saggy. When those with oily skin get dehydrated they’ll often experience an increase in breakouts, or they may notice that their skin looks shiny and flaky at the same time. Well-hydrated skin, on the other hand, looks plump, smooth, and glowing with a more even tone.

Then we have skin dryness, which refers to a lack of oil in the skin. One of your skin’s natural functions is to produce a type of oily substance called “sebum.” If your skin produces a lot of sebum then you have oily skin, and if it produces very little then you have dry skin. Sebum is a very important part of our skin’s natural barrier functions, which help keep bad pollutants and bacteria outside the skin and good water and antioxidants inside the skin. Dry skin types are more prone to dehydration since their skin has less protective oil over it. You’ll know you have dry skin if you never have to blot away shine or if your pores are on the smaller side.

Best Skincare for Hydration

The best hydrating skincare ingredients are a class of moisturizers known as “humectants.” Humectants are these unique molecules that are “hygroscopic” which means that they can attract and absorb water from their surroundings.[3] They are a key ingredient in every moisturizer because they have such an important role in skin hydration. Since fine lines and dullness are often exaggerated when the skin is dehydrated, humectants are able to very quickly make the skin look firmer, brighter, and less wrinkled.

However, not all humectants were created equal, as some can penetrate the skin more deeply than others depending on their molecular structure. The best moisturizers for dehydrated skin would include a few different types of humectants to soften and moisturize the skin as thoroughly as possible on every level. Humectants work best in humid environments where the air is heavily saturated with water.

VITAL C Hydrating Water Burst is a weightless gel that utilizes a trio of powerful humectants: hyaluronic acid, pro-vitamin B5 and glycerin. The gel is formulated with a water burst technology to give the skin intense hydration and keeps it looking plump and youthful. Hyaluronic acid, in particular, is known for its ability to hold up to 1,000 times its own weight in water, so it has a significant beautifying effect. Beyond that, it also contains essential ingredients that protect the skin from visible markers of photoaging, like vitamins C and E, as well as acetyl hexapeptide 8 which can firm the appearance of skin. Those with dry and oily skin alike will benefit from this formulation since hydration is important no matter the amount of oil in the skin.

Best Skincare for Moisturization

As amazing as humectants are, they are not enough for moisturization. Those ingredients alone cannot prevent moisture from evaporating from the skin. That’s where occlusives come in. Occlusives are hydrophobic, which means that they repel water. When applied to the skin, they create a protective barrier that stops moisture from entering the skin. However, if occlusives are applied after the skin has already been hydrated, they lock that moisture into place. Our sebum has the natural ability to lock moisture in, but those with dry skin don’t produce enough of it so they require skincare that can boost their skin’s barrier functions. The other benefit of occlusives is that they usually have emollient properties. This means that they are able to smooth down the skin in a way that makes it softer to the touch and more supple in appearance.

It’s worth noting that those with oily skin might also find themselves needing the protection of occlusives in their skincare routine. This is because natural facial oils can have a composition that increases the chances of breakouts.[4] If you use cleansers to remove excess sebum from your skin, it’s very important to follow them up with both hydrating and moisturizing products to make up for the clarifying effects of your cleanser.

Our VITAL C hydrating facial oil is the ideal follow up for the Water Burst or any other humectant-based serum, and it’s suitable for all skin types. This is because this velvety smooth oil glides over the skin to create a layer that keeps moisture in place while ensuring that the skin feels silky soft. It is made with a collection of lipids that have an affinity for the skin and the ability to reinforce its barrier functions, like squalane[5], sea buckthorn oil[6], and argan oil.[7]  

It also includes nourishing moringa[8] and grape seed oils, which are rich in antioxidants to prevent signs of photoaging from appearing on the skin. The fatty acids in these oils are prized for their non-comedogenicity as well as their ability to alleviate signs of redness and irritation. 


[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29392767

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14728698

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5849435/#__sec8title

[4] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2835908/

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22361190

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25362595

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5796020/#sec3-ijms-19-00070title

[8] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5187941/#sec6-ijms-17-02141title

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