Posted by Vivant Skin Care

Hydrating Vs. Moisturizing: The Difference Matters


Hydrating. Moisturizing. Humectant. Emollient. Aren’t they all essentially the same thing? Definitely not. Though all of these terms tend to get mixed and matched and interchanged, they have very different meanings. Understanding the differences can help ensure you are giving your skin exactly what it needs, when it needs it.


First and foremost: hydrating and moisturizing are not the same thing.


You need hydration when your skin is lacking water. Many factors can be to blame: sweat, smoking, excess caffeine, high altitudes, dry climate, lack of sleep, and not drinking enough water are among the culprits.


You need moisture when you have genetically dry skin. Sebum is nature’s emollient. If your follicles aren’t producing enough sebum and/or your cells aren’t retaining adequate moisture, you have dry skin, a lack of oil.


Both hydration (water) and moisture (oil) are essential to retain elasticity and to keep skin looking smooth and supple. Your skin can be lacking both moisture and hydration, or just one of the two. If your skin is oily, you may not need much in the way of moisturizing, but every skin needs hydration. Here’s where those terms humectant and emollient come in.


Humectants are like water magnets. These hydrophilic heroes attract water from the deeper layers of the dermis and also from the environment (think humidity) to hydrate the dermis. Ingredients like honey, urea, glycols, glycerin, lactic acid, and hyaluronic acid, aloe, and algae extract are all humectants.


However, if not sealed in, or if your natural skin barrier is weak or compromised, you can lose that water from your skin through what’s known as transepidermal water loss (TEWL). Water simply evaporates out of your skin similar to the way the earth begins to dry and crack when it has nothing to protect and insulate it.


Emollients provide the insulation. Mainly lipids, fatty acids, and oils, emollient ingredients have varying degrees of occlusivity—the ability to act as a hydrophobic barrier over the skin to seal in moisture and improve the skin matrix. The most occlusive include silicones, petrolatum, paraffin and mineral oil. Less occlusive emollients are things like botanical oils including grape seed or olive oil. These ingredients strengthen the skin matrix, seal in moisture, and make skin softer and smoother. (Note that occlusive ingredients can be a bit of a double-edged sword. They are extremely important for sealing in moisture, but some can cross the line to sealing pores. Occlusives that are comedogenic include cocoa butter, synthetic lanolin, myristyl myristate, octyl stearate, and sodium lauryl sulfate.)


At this point, you may be recognizing the importance of properly layering your products. Lighter products intended to penetrate the skin go on first, then the hydrators and finally, the emollient moisturizers. If you’re not sure, remember that thicker, creamier products tend to have more lipid content and occlusivity. They go on at the end like putting on your coat to keep all the other layers protected and cozy.


Our favorite hydrators and moisturizers:  

Allantoin Sedating & Hydrating Lotion is a super lightweight formula that both hydrates and moisturizes. Healing and hydrating allantoin and aloe get an emollient boost from grape seed oil. Zinc peptides and oat protein add anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and antioxidant properties making this a good choice for all skin types including acne-prone skin.


Marine Skin Nourishing Cream is the optimum moisturizer—an intensely nourishing blend of antioxidants and bioactive marine minerals, amino acids, sea proteins, and grape seed oil to replenish and restore suppleness and elasticity. We love its luxurious, yet light feel. It’s creamy and moisture-rich without being heavy. And it smells like the sea.



Totaloe Calming and Hydrating Gel is perfect for keeping skin hydrated, supple and smooth without adding oil. In addition to all its healing and soothing properties, aloe is among nature’s most efficient humectants. It’s combined here with niacinamide, sea algae extract and green tea extract in an ultra-hydrating, ultra-healing and ultra-renewing formula. Oil-free, anti-inflammatory and slightly firming, it’s especially good for oily skin.