Hydration Handled: Hydration vs. Moisturisation and Why You Need Both

hydrating mask skin moisturization

What is the first thing you visualize when you hear the words hydrate and moisturize? Water! Water plays a central role in making sure your skin stays healthy, smooth, and functioning to its optimum at a cellular level, so it only makes sense that every skincare aisle is lined with skincare products promising to hydrate and moisturize your skin.

Hydration and Moisturisation in today's skincare jargon are overused and thrown around in product claims so often that they are often confused as the same. Though it is essential to both hydrate and moisturize your skin - their delivery method to your skin is very different from each other. Both concepts address the importance of making sure the skin is getting the water it requires to fight dryness and dehydration, premature signs of aging, and environmental damage. So their goal may be the same, the difference lies in how they go about achieving these results. So let me break down their differences, benefits, and tips for you.


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 can become shriveled, which leads to lackluster skin. This means that when you’re using a topical hydrator, you’re infusing your cells with water and improving your skin’s ability to absorb moisture and nutrients.

Moisturizing products, on the other hand, help to prevent trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL) on the outside - i.e moisture that evaporates from your skin—reinforcing your skin's barrier function. 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. 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.

So to put it simply:

HYDRATION: Infusing water to deeper cellular layers of the skin - water needed for the inside.

MOISTURISATION: Preventing water loss from outer layers of the skin - oil needed for the outside.


If you picked the third option, you're correct! Ideally, you hydrate a little, moisturize a little, and 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, moisturization, or the two together.

  • Is your skin dehydrated? If your skin tends to look thin and dull, or wrinkles are pronounced around the eyes and expression lines around the forehead and mouth with sagging skin looking more noticeable than usual, chances are your skin is dehydrated and requires hydration to the deeper layers.

  • Does your skin need moisture? If your skin feels rough and flaky and tight on the surface, you might need to be a little more liberal with the moisturizer. If your skin is naturally dry year-round and tends to flake or peel, chances are, it’s not weather-related dehydration that’s causing your dryness — your skin just has a hard time retaining moisture.

  • Are you dehydrated and lacking moisture? If all of those symptoms sound a little too familiar, your skin is trying to send a message — specifically, "I'm parched!" To rediscover your natural, healthy glow, step up both your hydration and moisturization efforts.


TO HYDRATE: All skin benefits from hydration, as your skin needs water to ensure the cellular layer functions properly. Products that aid in hydration are typically serums - due to their deeper penetrating low molecular weight. Look for ingredients like hyaluronic acid, propylene glycol, urea, or glycerine (also labeled as glycerol). All of these ingredients are humectants, meaning they work like magnets, pulling moisture from the deep layers of the skin (as well as from the environment) and binding them in 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 are important to you, try a Vitamin C serum that also contains hyaluronic acid. So after cleansing, the first step should always be to apply serum as a hydration blanket.

TO MOISTURISE: Moisturisers, lotions, oils, and creams typically lock in moisture topically to prevent your skin from losing water - and again all skins require moisture though you may look to adjust the texture and weight of the moisturizer 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) lotions, and for drier skin, rich creams are best. During the day, most people prefer a lightweight lotion and a heavier cream at night. Look for occlusive moisturizing ingredients like ceramides, natural plant oils, and butter (coconut, almond, shea, argan).

Water-based serums go under the cream and they are so important. They nourish the inner layer of the skin because the molecule is very small so it penetrates deeper. So it's better if you're looking to target a specific skin condition like aging, pigmentation, blemishes.

Oil-based serums go on top of the moisturizer because they have a bigger molecule. They're supposed to keep the cream and whatever you put underneath moist during the entire day. So better for those who have concerns such as dehydration, dullness, and first signs of aging.

The particular form that a product takes, gel, balm, oil, cream, etc., doesn’t really affect the performance of the moisturizer. It’s the ingredients that matter. The form just affects the experience of applying the ingredients.


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


1. Drink Plenty of water

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

2. Eat a water-rich diet

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

3. Mist your face and your room

If you spend a lot of time indoors surrounded by moisture-sucking central heating then use a humidifier indoors which increases 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.

4. Apply serums both AM & PM

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

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

Acne-prone: The goal is really to prevent breakouts before they form. Look for Vitamin C-rich serums that boost collagen production and enhance skin's repair function.

Serums rich in Vitamin C should also be stabilized with other supporting ingredients like 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.

Dry: To increase moisture in thirsty skin, look for moisture-sealing ingredients such as Argan oil, glycerin, hyaluronic acid (retains moisture), aloe vera, rosehip oil, ceramides, rosewater, sea kelp, jojoba, and vitamin E (an antioxidant, protects cells from oxidative damage), niacinamide (improves skin elasticity, increases ceramide levels in the skin), glycolic acid (gently exfoliates and lightens discoloration).

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

Brightening: Ingredients for lightening and brightening are kojic acid, ferulic acid, peptides, and light reflectors or optical diffusers that instantly give you an impeccable glow. Look for antioxidants like green tea extract, resveratrol, ferulic acid (these combat free radicals, increase the effectiveness of sunscreen by day, and promote cellular repair and healing by night).

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

Anti-aging: Anti-aging serums also focus on promoting increased cell turnover, aiding in cell repair, and cell renewal. Retinol (a derivative of Vitamin A), is a commonly used and notable ingredient for powerful anti-aging effects. Other common anti-aging 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 with a potent cocktail of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients.

Be skin smart. Be Skincredible™

written by Adeela Crown