Moisturising Vs Hydration

1. What is a moisturiser?

In skincare marketing, a moisturiser is commonly referred to as the last step in a basic skincare routine – cleanser, serum, moisturiser or cream. Moisturising is an unmissable step in skincare, regardless of the skin type you have. A good moisturiser contains several elements including emollients, humectants and occlusives. We cover these elements below.

But technically, skin moisturising is different to skin hydration.

2. What is skin hydration?

Skin hydration takes place inside the cells, in the epidermis layer (the outer layer of the skin). The best way to hydrate the skin is to drink plenty of water. Another way is to apply a hydrator (a humectant) on the skin.

3. What's dehydrated skin?

A skin that looks dewy or ‘plump and bouncy’ is considered well-hydrated. Dehydration makes the skin look lacklustre and older (lacks elasticity) .

4. Why drinking water is the No.1 hydrator

Nothing beats drinking water for skin hydration. Its effect is long lasting and aids in the well functioning of the whole body. Drinking plenty of water can prevent kidney stones, boosts the metabolism and makes us more alert and awake. There are studies that show that drinking 2 glasses of water in quick successions is more stimulant than drinking a cup of coffee! Water is also important for the brain as dehydration can put pressure on the brain, causing headaches, migraines and fogginess.

Hydration makes the body look and feel at its best, including the skin. 


5. What are hydrators?

In skincare, the ingredients that hydrate the skin are called humectants. They pull water up from the deeper layers of the skin. On very humid regions, the humectants can also draw water from the air, but you would need 80-90% air humidity (like parts of SE Asia in the summer). The best-known humectants are hyaluronic acid (HA) and glycerin, both of which are well absorbed by the skin. The absorption of HA depends on the size of the HA molecules. Only the smaller molecular weight get through the skin.  

6. What is skin moisturising?

Skin moisturising refers to the quality of the skin barrier. The skin barrier is the ‘mortar’ that cements the skin cells and together they form a physical barrier. We profiled briefly the skin’s bricks and mortar system here. The main function of the barrier is to prevent water loss from the inside and prevent external allergens, pollutants, bacteria, etc from getting in.

In our previous post on Cleansing, we explained the 2-headed nature of surfactants, one end being water-loving and the other being lipid-loving. The skin ‘mortar’, or the lipid bilayer as it is known scientifically, has 2 molecules with each having a water-loving head and a lipid-loving tail. The tails attract each other and the polarity of this lipid bilayer effectively becomes a barrier for the water and prevents water loss. 

7. How does the skin look when the barrier is damaged?

The skin looks and feels dry, flaky, cracked and rough, it can be itchy and irritated. But oily skin and acne skin type can also have a damaged barrier. 

A skincare routine that involves harsh cleansing strips the lipids of the barrier and forces the skin to produce more oil to compensate for the loss of the lipids. As you do this day in and day out, the skin becomes oily. At the same time, if the cleansers have a wrong pH, they disturb the microbiome of the skin. These conditions decimate the defence mechanisms of the skin. So, you can end up with a combination of oily skin and damaged skin barrier.  

8. How does the skin barrier get damaged?

Many factors can affect the skin barrier like age, genetics, diet, skincare products, over-exfoliation or over-cleansing, etc. But the barrier can also get damaged from not moisturising the skin properly or enough.

9. What is the best way to maintain skin barrier integrity?

The simple answer is to moisturise. Even if the cleanser and exfoliator remove part of the lipid bilayer, it is important to cleanse the skin gently first and then to moisturise. Always remember that using gentle and non-irritant products make it easier and simpler to layer the steps in a skincare routine.

10. What is the best moisturiser / hydrator to use?

The skin needs moisturising after cleansing. A moisturiser must include a minimum of some water-based and oil-based ingredients, the humectants and emollients (remember the lipid bilayer has water and oil elements). Just because you have acne or oily skin, it doesn’t mean you should stick to oil-free products.

A good moisturiser should also include some 'extras' - active ingredients that help repair, renew and nourish the skin. These ingredients are vitamins, minerals and antioxidants among others. They may come as extracts of whole plants, oils extracted from the seeds, roots, fruits (different to essential oils), synthetic form, peptide form, enzyme form, plant cells grown in labs and others.

11. So how to choose the right moisturiser?

For oily skin type, choose a moisturiser that contains

  • Humectants that are water-based ingredients like glycerin, HA (hyaluronic acid or sodium hyaluronate), aloe vera, urea, AHA or alpha hydroxy acids like lactic acid
  • Some emollients which are oil-based ingredients that nourish the skin and make it look smoother and feel softer. Examples are natural oils like safflower oils, sunflower oils, rosehip oils, squalane, some esters, etc.
  • The extras (the active ingredients) will depend on your budget and need. For young skin, vitamins C and E (or the extract of plants that contain these vitamins) could be good additions.

For acne or acne-prone skin type, choose a moisturiser that contains

  • Humectants
  • Good emollients. Oils heavy in oleic acid or Omega-9 (coconut oil or avocado oil) should be avoided if you have acne.
  • You need extras that include antioxidants and anti-inflammatory ingredients, preferably in the form of plant extracts. Skin Diligent Regulating Cream is an example of a balanced moisturiser that packs a punch. You won't believe the price when we release them! 

For dry skin type, choose a moisturiser that contains

  • Humectants
  • Good emollients
  • Maybe one occlusive
  • The extras depending on your budget

Occlusives are ingredients that stop the water evaporating from the skin by creating a physical barrier on top of the skin. Examples of occlusives are mineral oil (crude oil base like paraffin or Vaseline), lanolin and silicones (like dimethicones). Occlusives are popular in moisturisers for dry skin. However, we are not big fans of occlusives. And if you have acne, it is a good idea to stay away from them.


Skin Diligent says….

  • The use of moisturiser (or the ‘cream’) is an unmissable step in a skincare routine.
  • When you know what to look for in a moisturiser, you will be saving money and time by cutting through the masses of products out there.
  • All skin types can benefit from nourishments, not only dry skins.
  • Damaged skin barrier can be a condition of all skin types.
  • If you have dry skin and you feel your current moisturiser is not rich enough but you are not a fan of occlusives like us, here is what you can do.
    • After cleansing, use a toner
    • Follow the toner with a natural oil or mix of oils, preferably ‘dry oils’ (the ones that don’t leave your skin feeling greasy). Dry oils can be rosehip, borage, sunflower oils among others.
    • Massage the oil well into your skin. Contrary to what some people say, that oils should come at the end of a skincare routine, we find dry oils more effective if massaged right before the moisturising cream.
    • Follow with your moisturiser, massaging well throughout the face.
    • Then, you can follow with a sunscreen, primer, makeup etc. as you wish.


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