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Moisturizers and Hydrators: What's the Difference?

If you’ve browsed enough skincare, you’ll definitely have seen the words “moisturizing” and “hydrating” used interchangeably. But are they really the same?

It may come as a surprise to you that even though both deal with water content in the skin, they’re not exactly identical functions. Here’s a nifty venn diagram to explain their similarities and differences!

Do I Have Dry or Dehydrated Skin?

Both have similar appearances, but the fundamental difference is that dry skin is a skin type, whereas dehydrated skin is a skin condition. In simpler terms, that means dry skin is something you’re born with and can’t do much to change, while dehydrated skin is more often than not a product of your environment and diet. Any skin type can also have the skin condition of dehydration—oily and dehydrated skin, for example, is quite common!

Dry skin produces few lipid cells, so it lacks the oil needed to seal moisture into the skin. If you have dry skin, you may notice flaky skin with a tight feeling.

Here’s where it gets tricky: dehydrated skin also appears flaky and feels tight. Keep an eye out for congestion, inflammation, fine lines, and wrinkles; these could be signs that your skin is suffering from dehydration!

Should I Be Using Moisturizers or Hydrators? (Where It Can Get Confusing!)

Once you’ve identified whether you have one or both, it’s time to consider your options! Moisturizers is used as a catch-all term in the skincare industry, but we recommend looking closely at the ingredients list rather than the description alone to determine whether a product will fit your needs.

Hydrators use humectant ingredients to pull moisture into the skin, and humectants are also a category of moisturizers, as ChristinaHello explains in this article. Some may see hydrators, then, as a category of moisturizer as well. However, we find it helpful to delineate the two, as understanding the differences can lead to understanding what your skin specifically needs.

For instance, if your skin is dehydrated, but you mistake the skin condition of dehydration as a dry skin type, you may reach for an emollient or occlusive moisturizer that attempts to seal nonexistent water content in your skin. In this scenario, you should look for a hydrator (or a moisturizer with humectants) to first inject moisture into the skin. Then, a traditional emollient- or occlusive-based moisturizer could reinforce the skin’s protective barrier to prevent water loss.

Our Product Recommendations

Here at Glowie Co, we have so many amazing hydrating and moisturizing products that it’s difficult to choose favorites! (We’ll do it anyway though, because we can’t disappoint as The Best Destination for Asian Skincare Based in the US!)

Best Moisturizers for Dry Skin

CosRX Balancium Comfort Ceramide Cream

CosRX Balancium Comfort Ceramide Cream

We simply can’t sing enough praises about CosRX’s Balancium Ceramide Cream. It’s got three types of ceramides to strengthen skin barrier and retain moisture, as well as repair already damaged skin.

Despite the heavy-hitting qualities of this moisturizer, the Balancium Ceramide Cream is lightweight and suited for sensitive skin. Centella asiatica leaf water, in particular, soothes irritated skin and balances the oil and water content of skin.

Naruko Supreme Rejuvenating Elixir Oil

Naruko Supreme Rejuvenating Elixir Oil

The premium price point on this is a little bit daunting; we totally understand! But we’ll be darned if this isn’t one of the best facial oils we’ve ever tried. Naruko’s Supreme Rejuvenating Elixir Oil is a lightweight blend of 80% oil-based and 20% water-based ingredients for hydration retention.

The water-based ingredients here are their proprietary blend named Actuat E60, which contains 60 Western and Eastern botanical ingredients to bring a plethora of skin benefits. Actuat E60 soothes, moisturizes, and brightens, while other ingredients like CoQ10 further provide antiaging effects.

Best Hydrators for Dehydrated Skin

23.5°N Bamboo Ultra Hydrating Gel Mask

23.5°N Bamboo Ultra Hydrating Gel Mask

23.5°N’s Bamboo Ultra Hydrating Gel Mask, first of all, only has FOUR ingredients: Phyllostachis Bambusoides Extract, Cucumis Sativus Extract, Royal Jelly Extract, and Sodium Hyaluronate. What’s so impressive is that all of these four ingredients are hydrating and moisturizing powerhouses.

Sodium hyaluronate, or the more stable form of hyaluronic acid, is a humectant that helps moisture penetrate even deeper into the skin. Bamboo shoot extract refreshes skin while balancing hydration from sodium hyaluronate. Then, the gel mask uses royal jelly extract to nourish and plumps skin cells for a healthy, dewy glow, and also uses cucumber extract for that truly spa-like soothing experience.

KEEP COOL Ocean Hydrating Gel Cream

KEEP COOL Ocean Hydrating Gel Cream

We love KEEP COOL as a brand because their products are formulated with so much care in terms of innovative technology and natural ingredients! Their Ocean Hydrating Gel Cream is one of our absolute favorites for dry and dehydrated skin because of their so-called “Hydrating Ocean’s 5,” a special mix of Seawater, Spirulina, Chlorella, Glasswort, and Green Confertii that infuses skin with water, promotes collagen production, and soothes skin!

In addition to its amazing hydrating effects, KEEP COOL also forms a moisture barrier for hydration that lasts, and uses a bi-gel method to seal moisture without any greasiness or oiliness

Best Products for Dry AND Dehydrated Skin

Holy Snails First Snow Essence

Holy Snails First Snow Essence

This is the kind of essence that will make you exclaim, “Holy Snails! This is some good stuff!!”

Holy Snails’s First Snow Essence is packed to the brim with both moisturizing and hydrating ingredients! First Snow Essence’s 5% Ceramides Complex strengthens a compromised moisture barrier and aids in sealing hydration from ingredients like ginseng extract.

If you’re worried about overwhelming your skin, it also contains soothing and calming Asian herbal extracts like centella asiatica, as well as hydrolyzed oats! Another huge bonus is that First Snow Essence’s ginseng extract and licorice root extract are great for brightening dull skin, which is one of the ways in which dehydration manifests in skin.

Hada Labo Gokujyun Premium Hyaluronic Milky Lotion

Hada Labo Gokujyun Premium Hyaluronic Milky Lotion

J-Beauty cult favorite brand Hada Labo is known for their intensely hydrating products, all centered around, arguably, the most popular humectant ingredient ever, hyaluronic acid. Hada Labo’s Gokujyun Premium Hyaluronic Milky Lotion includes a blend of five different types of hyaluronic acid to deeply replenish dehydrated skin.

On top of their super effective 5-blend, they also use a special moisture-sealing technology to keep hydration from escaping the skin! Ingredients like squalene make up for the lack of lipid cells produced by dry skin, helping create a protective barrier that contains the injected moisture from hyaluronic acid.

Final Thoughts

One major thing to note is that most moisturizers (again, a catch-all term!) on the market today do include some sort of humectant! You’ll find that even in our product recommendations, there are overlaps in the moisturizing/hydrating functions.

Our suggestion is to study the ingredients list for benefits that your skin needs. Get familiar with emollients, occlusives, humectants, and even ceramides so that the next time you’re looking for a new product, you can better select something that suits your skin type or skin condition.