Is hydrating and moisturising your skin the same?

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While both hydrating and moisturising are key in providing skin with much-needed nourishment, knowing the difference will help you make the best choice when targeting your skin’s specific needs. (Photo: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

Everywhere you turn, brands are pushing endless products promising healthy, smooth, and radiant skin. So how do you decide what skincare products to purchase?

If you're in the market for a new moisturiser and looking at the long aisle of products at Sephora or a drugstore, it can be quite overwhelming. You are likely to see the words 'moisturising' and 'hydrating' interspersed throughout different labels and brands and probably assume they mean the same thing. Well, they actually don't.

While both are key in providing skin with much-needed nourishment, knowing the difference will help you make the best choice when targeting your skin’s specific needs.

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Difference between hydrating and moisturising

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Hydration refers to the water content within the cells that leads them to swell and be plump and bouncy, thus reflecting light well. (Photo: Getty Images/Thinkstock)

Moisturisers and hydrators both address the importance of making sure the skin is getting all the water it needs to fight the dryness and dehydration which leads to premature signs of ageing. The difference, however, lies mostly in how they go about achieving these results.

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 shrivelled, which leads to lacklustre skin. This means that when you’re giving into topical hydration, you are infusing your cells with water and improving your skin’s ability to absorb moisture and nutrients.

On the other hand, moisturising is about trapping and sealing in moisture to build the skin’s protective barrier, preventing water loss and keeping the skin soft and smooth.

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How to know if you need hydration and moisturiser or both?

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To know if your skin is dry or dehydrated, it’s important to take note of your skin’s condition. (Source: File Photo)

If your skin tends to be on the dry side, it is easy to assume that a healthy dose of moisturiser is all it takes to restore its plump appearance and youthful glow. While this may be true at times, it is also possible that your skin may not, in fact, be dry but dehydrated. And if the latter is true, then a hydrator is what you need to get the job done.

To know if your skin is dry or dehydrated, it’s important to take note of your skin’s condition. The skin has a natural lipid barrier that protects itself from damage and water loss. If you are prone to having dry or flaky skin, it is a tell-tale sign that it’s not producing enough lipid cells to form a protective barrier, making it unable to lock in moisture. And that’s where moisturisers come in.

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A moisturiser’s job is to reduce the amount of water that evaporates off of the skin to minimise transepidermal water loss. They lock in moisture.

Meanwhile, if you are dealing with a dull and lacklustre complexion with fine lines and wrinkles becoming more noticeable, your skin may be battling dehydration. Ideally, we want hydrated, bouncy, swollen cells that have topical moisture locked into them.

However, remember while hydration is what makes our skin soft, it won’t stay that way if there is no oil protecting that hydration from evaporating and leaving the skin. Conversely, to put oil on top of already dehydrated skin may smoothen it, but it will still lack the hydration that makes it feel soft and elastic.

Dehydrated skin that is moisturised without receiving the amount of hydration will still look dull and feel uncomfortably tight.  Dry skin that is hydrated but not moisturised will still flake and have a rough texture.