Hydrating ingredients 101

Although technically speaking, hydration and moisture are not the same, they work synergistically to keep your skin plump, healthy and protected. All skin needs hydration from water and moisture from oil – it’s all about finding the right balance.

Oil vs. Water

Skin types are classified by oil production. Dry skin produces less oil, oily skin produces more oil and so on. Since we don’t produce our own water, all skin types can be dehydrated, or lacking water. All skin – dry or oily, acne-prone or not – needs both water and oil. 

Water hydrates the skin, swelling the cells, which keeps your skin plump, bouncy and reflective, as well as enabling many processes within your skin and supporting your skin barrier. Oils moisturize the skin, smoothing and softening the surface and creating an occlusive barrier to prevent water from evaporating. 


Hydrating and Moisturizing Ingredients

The terminology around hydration and moisture is a common area of confusion, as the two words are often used interchangeably. There’s no need to get too nitty-gritty, but understanding the difference can help decipher product claims and determine the right types of products for your skin. 

There are three types of hydrating/moisturizing ingredients:

  • Humectants: attract water from the environment and deeper layers of the skin and retain that water in your epidermis. Examples: glycerin, hyaluronic acid, urea, lactic acid.

  • Emollients: oil-based stuff that fills in cracks in the skin, to smooth, soften and reinforce the skin barrier, helping to prevent water loss. They’re lighter than occlusives. Examples: squalane, jojoba oil, ceramides, many plant oils
  • Occlusives: heavier, waxy or fatty ingredients that create a physical, water-repelling barrier to seal moisture in. Examples: Petrolatum, shea butter, mineral oil, lanolin

Types of Moisturizers

Moisturizers (the product category) are some combination of humectants, emollients and occlusives. Don’t be thrown off by the name moisturizer, as these can be water-based or oil-based. 

  • Gel-creams are lightweight and have the most humectants, some emollients and very few, if any, occlusives. 
  • Lotions are midweight and the most classic “moisturizer” with fewer humectants, more emollients and a few occlusives. Depending on the ratio of ingredients, you can find lotions that suit most skin types. 
  • Creams are thicker and have the most occlusives of the three, but still some humectants and emollients. They are a good choice for dry skin.

Other Types of Hydrating and Moisturizing Products

The good news is that if you’re already using a moisturizer and your skin feels fine, your skin probably has the water-oil balance it needs! If not, first make sure you’re using the right type of moisturizer for your skin type. Next, try adding in one of the products below to boost or supplement your skin’s hydration or moisture needs. 

Toners, Essences, Hydrating Serums are water-based products that are humectant-heavy. These products can help immensely with hydration, but they aren’t enough on their own, as they need water to bind to in the first place and a strong barrier to prevent that water from evaporating. If you’ve ever used a hyaluronic acid serum and felt it made your skin drier, this is why! Try adding a moisturizer on top - especially in dry weather. If using the thickest creams still makes you feel dry, try adding one of these underneath for extra hydration as those oil-heavy creams still need water to trap in.