Moisture vs Hydration: What's the Difference?

Moisture vs Hydration: What's the Difference?

Author: AJ Addae Date:

2022 is definitely the year of the stratum corneum - or what we all commonly know it as: the skin barrier. At the time of writing this, the #barrierrepair hashtag on TikTok has 565.1 million views. To put that into perspective, #slugging, another massively popular SkinTok trend (which ultimately feeds into the skin barrier buzz), has about 282.6 million views. 

This mainstream interest in the skin barrier reflects the largely minimalist shift in our culture back to the thing that feels familiar to all of us - the basics. Every derm, chemist, and esthetician advises that the best skin care routine needs a good moisturizer. Coincidentally, “moisture” and “hydration” are both must-have benchmarks of a products’ functionality right now. But what do these words actually mean? What does it really mean to be…moisturized? And what really is a serum? These are consumer questions that can make or break a personal skin care routine depending on the skin’s needs. So here’s my expert knowledge on the difference between these two seemingly buzzy words, and how that matters in choosing what products work:


While these two words colloquially sound like the same term, they actually address different things. Hydration directly refers to the amount of water that’s being imparted to the skin, and moisture directly refers to the amount of water that’s retained and occluded by the skin. Some examples of hydrators are water based serums (typically oil free), thinner toners, essences, and facial mists. Some examples of moisturizers are lotions, creams, oil serums, balms, and butters.  The difference is that a lotion or a cream usually has an oil component and a water component, which can deliver hydration to the skin, as well as an occlusive layer that can retain the moisture in the skin for an extended period of time. In comparison, serums and essences typically tend to hydrate the skin and revive its water content, while typically delivering active ingredients that can help the skin hang onto more moisture in the long run. 


A general rule of thumb to keep in mind is that drier skin tends to favor moisturizers with more oils and butters, while more oily and break out prone skin tends to favor moisturizers with more water content and less of the occlusive ingredients such as oils and butters. If you don’t suffer from a chronic skin condition but your skin is dehydrated, flaky, itchy, and inflamed, chances are that your skin barrier needs some love. Opt for a moisturizer that can deliver hydration, retains that water with an oil component (and therefore moisturizes), and if you’re feeling fancy, delivers some active ingredients. You can also opt for a serum, gel, or oil-free moisturizer that delivers hydration that penetrates through the skin, while delivering active ingredients that help your skin hang onto more moisture. It’s your call - but either way you spin it, it’s what your skin needs the most.

And that’s all! Have more questions about moisture versus hydration or need clarification or more sources on the content above? Check out our Multidex for more science backed info, or apply to join our Dotcom for more recommendations, information, or expert knowledge!

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