Hydration vs. Moisturization: What’s the difference and what does your skin need?

As an English language enthusiast, Thesaurus.com is one of my most-visited sites. There was a time when I used the words hydrate and moisturize interchangeably because Thesaurus.com told me to! Little did I know that when it comes to skincare terminology, these two words are entirely different!

Hydration is about delivering water down into the skin layers and increasing the water content. Whenever I come across this word, I’d visualize water flowing into my skin via channels and pathways.

Moisturization is about locking in that water with an occlusive and preventing it from evaporation. I’d visualize a protective film on my skin that prevents water from escaping.

To put it simply, hydration = water, moisturization = oil.


Hydration is key to maintaining a smooth and plump complexion. When the skin is hydrated, every skin cell is at its prime. To achieve this state of skin nirvana, humectants are needed. Hyaluronic acid (or sodium hyaluronate) is the gold standard in this category and is able to hold up to a thousand times its own weight in water. Other ingredients to look out for are glycerin, alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), and honey. They have smaller molecules and can draw moisture into the skin and retain it there.

Biobelle’s #UnicornGlow is the perfect example. It contains glycerin, honey, and hyaluronic acid. Products like toners and gels are also good options.


Moisturization is important to protect skin from harsh environmental stressors and transepidermal water loss (TEWL). After all that hard work of packing your skin with water, we don’t want it to disappear. Hence, we seal all that water in with an occlusive. Ingredients like fatty acids in facial oils and shea butter in creams have larger molecules. They sit on the epidermis and blocks water from escaping while stopping bacteria from getting into the skin. As such, occlusives are usually applied at the very last step of the skincare routine.

What your skin needs?

The next logical question would be, so which one to I need? Before answering that question, we must first identify our skin type.

Dry skin produces less sebum and is usually rough and flakey. Sebum functions to protect and nourish our skin. Without it, the skin becomes dry and prone to TEWL. Moisturization is needed.

Dehydrated skin feels tight and can often be sensitive and prone to redness. This skin type lacks water hence hydration is needed. Be careful not to mistake dehydrated skin for dry skin. This bungle is fairly common. Applying oils and creams won’t help because hydration needs to happen first.

Oily skin over produces sebum and is often the cause of acne. Interestingly, this could could be a sign of dehydration. When the skin senses a lack of water, it will overcompensate by producing more sebum. Hydration is key to maintaining skin balance.

What’s the bottom line?

Regardless of your skin type, you do not have to choose one over the other. Both are required to maintain a healthy skin barrier. Hydrate from deep within and moisturize the surface to prevent evaporation from sucking the life out of it.

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