Moisturizing vs Hydrating – wait, there’s a difference?

How old were you when you found out that moisturizing and hydrating were two different things? I just learned this a few months ago. I’ve been going deep into the skincare world and realized I was using some products that I shouldn’t have been. In my search for better products for my skin (products that would actually work) I kept hearing about moisturizing or hydrating. I thought they were the same thing… you find a cream or moisturizer and that’s it. Turns out you might be using a moisturizer when you really need a hydrator or vice versa.

So, what’s the difference?

Moisturizers and hydrators are two very different types of products that do two very different things. A moisturizer is an occlusive and a hydrator is a humectant. The definitions can get a little technical, so I’ve broken them down in a couple points.


  • physically prevent water loss
  • forms a physical barrier over the skin and keeps moisture locked in
  • Examples: petroleum, silicone, mineral oil


  • attract water molecules
  • pulls moisture from the air to hydrate the upper layer of your skin
  • can also pull water from the 2nd layer of the skin to the upper layer
  • Examples: glycerin, hyaluronic acid
OK, but how you know which one to use?

First you need to determine if your skin is dry or simply dehydrated. WHAT? I know, but it actually isn’t too hard to determine if you have dry or dehydrated skin.

Dry skin is a type of skin, the same way oily or combination skin is a type of skin. If you have dry skin your skin is probably flaky and even irritated.

Dehydrated skin, on the other hand, is skin that is lacking water… there are a lot of factors that can contribute to dehydrated skin: not drinking enough water throughout the day, drinking too much coffee and/or alcohol, environmental factors such as the hot summer sun or a freezing winter wind. I know personally my house it super dry and that is contributing to my dehydrated skin, despite me getting in a good 2.5L of water a day.

I used to think my skin was dry and I would look for products that targeted dry skin, but it turns out my skin is actually dehydrated. Since discovering that I’ve switched to products with more humectants in them to help my skin stay hydrated. Dehydrated skin can cause dullness, uneven skin tone and even make fine lines more visible… no thanks!

So next time you reach for your face cream, think about what your skin actually needs. Maybe you should be switching to an occlusive or to a humectant. And don’t forget to read the ingredients in your products. With so much confusion between the two, I’m sure there are product labels that promote dry skin but might have more humectants in them than they do occlusives.

I wanted to keep this post short and sweet but I also wanted to point out that there is an actual difference between moisturizing and hydrating. There’s so much more to the skincare world than I thought. I’ll be sharing my updated skin care routines shortly, so keep an eye out for those upcoming posts.

xoxo Kells

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