Hydration Handled: Hydration vs. Moisturisation

What is the first thing you visualise when you hear the words hydrate and moisturise?

Water! Water of course plays a central role in making sure your skin stays healthy, smooth, and functioning at its prime on a cellular level, so it only makes sense that every skincare aisle is lined with skincare products promising to hydrate and moisturise your skin.

The words “hydration” and “moisturisation” in today’s skincare industry are grossly overused, thrown around in product claims so often that their meanings have become confused. Though it is essential to both hydrate and moisturise your skin, the delivery method for each is very different. Both concepts address the importance of ensuring your skin gets the water it needs to fight dryness, dehydration, premature signs of ageing, and environmental damage. But though their goal may be the same, the contrast lies in how they go about achieving these results.

So let me break down their differences, benefits, and tips on how to use them.


Hydration refers to the water content within skin cells which leads them to swell, be plump and bouncy, and reflect light. If water flows out of the cells, the cells then become dehydrated and shrivelled, causing your skin to appear lacklustre. So, when you use a topical hydrator, you’re actually infusing your cells with water, and improving your skin’s ability to absorb moisture and nutrients.

On the other hand, moisturising products help to prevent trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL) on the outside of the skin’s surface. Moisturising is about sealing in moisture to build the skin’s protective barrier, prevent water loss and keep the skin soft and smooth. A well-functioning skin barrier is important for keeping bacteria and chemicals from entering the body, and to keep the good stuff (including moisture) from leaving the skin.

To put it simply;

HYDRATION: infuses water into the deeper cellular layers of the skin – it’s the water needed for the inside.

MOISTURISATION: prevents water loss from the outer layers of the skin – this is the oil needed for the outside.


The answer is both! Ideally, if you hydrate a little, and moisturise a little, you should be good to go. But everyone’s skin is unique, so finding the correct balance between both is important.

If your skin still feels like it’s missing something, here’s how to tell if you need to boost your hydration, moisturisation, or the two together.

Is your skin dehydrated?

If your skin tends to look thin and dull, wrinkles are pronounced around the eyes, and expression lines around the forehead and mouth are more noticeable than usual, the chances are your skin is dehydrated and requires more attention to the deeper layers.

Does your skin need moisture?

If your skin feels rough, flaky and tight on the surface, you might need to be a little more liberal with the moisturiser. If your skin is naturally dry year-round and tends to flake or peel, it’s most likely not weather-related dehydration, but rather that your skin just has a hard time retaining moisture.

Are you dehydrated and lacking moisture?

If all of the above mentioned symptoms sound a little too familiar, your skin is trying to send you a message – specifically, “I'm parched!

To rediscover your natural, healthy glow, step up both your hydration and moisturisation efforts. 



Every skin type benefits from hydration, as we all need water to ensure the cellular layers of our skin are functioning properly. Products that aid in hydration are typically serums – due to their deeper penetrating low molecular weight. Look for ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, propylene glycol, urea, or glycerine (also labelled as glycerol). All of these ingredients are humectants, meaning they work like magnets to pull moisture from the deepest layers of the skin, as well as from the environment, binding them to the outermost layer of the skin.

Some hydrating products combine hyaluronic acid with other ingredients to fight additional skin concerns. For example, if antioxidant protection and brighter skin is important to you, try a vitamin C serum which also contains hyaluronic acid. So, after cleansing, the first step should always be to apply a serum as an additional hydration blanket.


Moisturisers, lotions, oils, and creams lock in moisture topically to prevent your skin from losing water. Again, everyone requires moisture. However, you may look to adjust the texture and weight of the moisturiser you use, depending on your skin type. The differing oils have varying-sized molecules that will support the level of moisture your skin needs to rebuild its lipid barrier. If your skin is oilier, look for lighter weight, oil-free lotion. For drier skin, rich creams are best. During the day, most people prefer a lightweight lotion, and then revert to a heavier cream at night. Look for occlusive moisturising ingredients like ceramides, natural plant oils, and butters, including coconut, almond, shea and argan.

Water-based serums go under your cream and are also very important. They nourish the inner layer of the skin because the molecule is super small, meaning it can penetrate deeper. This type of moisturiser is best if you’re looking to target a specific skin condition, for example ageing, pigmentation or blemishes.

In comparison, oil-based serums go on top of the moisturiser because they have a bigger molecule. They’re deisgned to keep the cream, and whatever else you put underneath it, moist throughout the entire day. This is perfect for anyone whose skincare concerns include dehydration, dullness, and first signs of ageing.

The form that a product takes, whether that be a gel, balm, oil, or cream, doesn’t really affect the performance of the moisturiser. It’s the ingredients that matter. The physical experience of applying a moisturiser is a matter of personal preference.


Water alone isn’t a strong enough ingredient to keep your skin moisturised. It’s also likely that by the time you leave the bathroom, it will have evaporated away – along with your skin’s natural oils. In fact, the more you wash your skin without applying a moisturiser or hydrator, the more likely your skin will be to dry out.


  1. Drink plenty of water.

Aim to drink plenty of water. Even though hydrated skin is achieved differently at a cellular level than drinking water, your intake of water still helps to keep your body performing at its optimum state. Caffeine and alcohol do not count towards your fluid intake, in fact they are considered dehydrators! If you have trouble keeping track, try installing a water tracking app, or set an hourly reminder on your phone.

  1. Eat a water-rich diet.

Incorporate water-rich foods such as watermelon, strawberries, and cucumber into your diet. These can help give your skin and body the hydration it needs to look and feel its best.

  1. Mist your face and your room.

If you spend a lot of time indoors surrounded by moisture-sucking central heating, then use a humidifier which works to increase the level of moisture in your indoor atmosphere. Keeping a face mist handy to top up topical moisture during the day is also a good idea.

  1. Apply serums both in the AM and PM.

Ensure that you start and end your day with a hydrating serum that contains hyaluronic acid as a base. For the AM, look for a hyaluronic acid serum formulated with vitamin C and antioxidants. In the PM, look for a HA serum with hard-working ingredients like growth factors, stem cells and marine extracts to help fortify and replenish your skin overnight.

Here's my breakdown of what to look for once you’ve identified your skin type / concern;


The goal here is really to prevent breakouts before they form. Look for vitamin C-rich serums that boost collagen production and can enhance the skin’s repair function.

Serums rich in vitamin C should also be stabilised with other supporting ingredients such as antioxidants, vitamin E, and ferulic acid.

ZO SKINHEALTH Self Activating Vitamin C Serum is a versatile serum that can be layered under a cream, blended with a hydrating serum, or used as a spot treatment cure.


To increase moisture in thirsty skin, look for moisture-sealing ingredients such as argan oil, glycerine, hyaluronic acid, aloe vera, rosehip oil, ceramides, rosewater, sea kelp, jojoba, vitamin E, niacinamide and glycolic acid. 

DR BARBARA STURM Hyaluronic Serum Ampoules to boost the skin with intense hydration.


Ingredients good for lightening and brightening are kojic acid, ferulic acid and peptides, all of which are light reflectors or optical diffusers that will instantly give you an impeccable glow. Look for antioxidants like green tea extract, resveratrol and ferulic acid as well.

DR BARBARA STURM Glow Drops and Brightening Serum to revitalize a dull and tired complexion.


Anti-ageing serums focus on promoting increased cell turnover, and aiding cell repair and renewal. Retinol, a derivative of vitamin A, is a commonly used and a notable ingredient for its powerful anti-ageing effects. Other common anti-ageing ingredients include fruit stem cells, evening primrose, grape seed extract, vitamin C, peptides, growth factors, and Alpha Hydroxy Acids (AHAs).

DR BARBARA STURM Super Anti-Aging Serum is a potent, high-performance cocktail of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients.



 Keyword: Best celebrity facialist

Be skin smart. 

Words by Adeela Crown.

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