Hydrator vs. Moisturizer: Know the Difference

The billion-dollar global skincare market is flooded with products suitable for people of all skin types and with a myriad of skin conditions. Whether acne-prone, oily or dry – there is something for everyone. Being aware of what your skin needs and reading labels is important to ensure your skin gets what it needs. For example, if you have dry skin, what would you choose between a hydrator and a moisturizer? Read on to find out what the hydrator vs. moisturizer debate is about, and what your skin really needs.

What are hydrators?

Hydrator is often used interchangeably with wetting agents, which are hygroscopic compounds that attract and bind water. Dr. Soumya Jagadeesan, dermatologist at Amrita Hospital, says they can hydrate the skin when the humidity is above 70 percent by extracting water from the atmosphere. However, using some humectants without an occlusive moisturizer can increase transepidermal water loss, potentially worsening skin dryness. Alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and glycerin are some examples of humectants.

Should you moisturize or moisturize your skin? Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

What are moisturizers?

Moisturizer is the go-to product for anyone who doesn’t want dry skin. It’s actually a broad term that includes all topical products that increase the water content of the skin. These products contain a variety of ingredients with actions ranging from exfoliation to preventing water loss from the skin’s surface. Humectants are therefore also included.

Types of moisturizers include:

1. Occlusive

These are moisturizers designed to create a barrier on the skin’s surface, helping to retain moisture and prevent water loss. They are usually thicker and heavier in structure, the expert tells Health Shots. Common ingredients in occlusive moisturizers include petroleum jelly and beeswax. They are especially useful in very dry or cold climates where the skin needs extra protection, love and care.

2. Exfoliants

Exfoliating moisturizers contain ingredients that help remove dead skin cells, leaving the skin smoother and more radiant. Alpha hydroxy acids and beta hydroxy acids are two common examples. These ingredients promote cell turnover and can be especially beneficial for those dealing with dry, flaky skin.

3. Emollients

Emollients are moisturizers that focus on softening and smoothing the skin’s surface. They fill the gaps between the skin cells, create a protective barrier and give the skin a smoother and softer feeling. Common emollients include shea butter, cocoa butter and certain oils such as jojoba oil. Emollients are often used to soothe and moisturize rough or irritated skin, says Dr. Jagadeesan.

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Use a skin care product that suits your skin type. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What is the difference between moisturizer and hydrator?

There are not that many differences, but you have to know what your skin needs.

  • A moisturizer is used when you need to retain moisture in the skin so that the skin’s protective barrier can be built up. Hydrators are used to literally make the skin hydrated and supple by increasing the water content of the skin.
  • Women with dry and flaky skin should opt for a moisturizer. If your skin is dehydrated and lacks shine, you need a moisturizer.

How do you choose between hydrators and moisturizers?

We all have different skin types and therefore we must be careful when choosing products for skin health.

1. Dry skin

Both hydrators and moisturizers are helpful if you only have dry skin. A combination of humectants (hydrators) and occlusive agents (moisturizers) can help retain moisture and prevent dryness, says Dr. Jagadeesan.

2. Oily skin

Hydrators, especially those with lightweight humectants, can be a better option because they hydrate without adding excess oils to the skin.

3. Sensitive skin

Moisturizers with gentle humectants such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid may be preferable as they are less likely to cause skin irritation.

4. Normal skin

Women with normal skin do not have to worry about many skin problems. In the case of hydrators and moisturizers, both can work well depending on personal preference.

Remembering the long list of ingredients can be a challenge, so look for products made for your skin type.

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