The endless array of skincare options can be confusing. We’ve been there, and we get it. Today, we’ll break down moisturizers vs. hydrators: the similarities, the differences and how to figure out which is right for you.
Our skin needs a lot of moisture to look its best. We know better than anyone that skin heals faster in a moist environment. (If you’re wondering why, check out What are Hydrocolloid Acne Patches and How Do They Work?)
Skin care products and makeup are often formulated with moisturizers and/or hydrators to help you achieve that goal. And while they both nourish our skin with much-needed moisture, how they do it and the type of moisture they provide is different.
Dry skin? Reach for moisturizers.
If you have dry, flaky, rough skin, that means your body isn’t creating enough lipids to lock in moisture. Moisturizers contain occlusive emollients, ingredients that can make up for the lipid deficit by trapping the oils that naturally occur on the surface of your skin. They also prevent water on your skin from evaporating. You will typically find moisturizers as cream-, lotion-, balm- or oil-based products.
We’ve all heard the myth that people who are prone to acne should not use moisturizers. However, everyone needs some level of moisturization. The idea that moisturizing causes acne is simply not true. However, over-moisturizing can cause breakouts if you’re trapping more oil than your skin needs to stay moist.
Dehydrated skin? Reach for hydrators.
Ever look at your skin in the mirror the morning after a big night out and think, “yikes, I look rough”? It’s not just because you are likely sleep deprived, or because you may have slept in your makeup. Your skin also looks dull because you’re dehydrated. And over-moisturizing is not going to do the trick. Anytime you notice your skin looking dull, drink plenty of water and try a hydrator. Formulated with ingredients called humectants, hydrators absorb environmental moisture and allow your skin to soak it up. Look for serums, facial oils, water creams, gels, or moisturizers that contain AHAs, glycerin, or hyaluronic acid.
So which do I need?
It depends. Take a look at your skin. If you are moisturizing 24/7, but it still feels tight and looks dull, you need a hydrator. And if you suffer from dry, flaky skin, you may need a moisturizer too. Be sure to apply the hydrator first so you can capture the moisture on your skin. Then follow with a moisturizer.
Whatever you do, don’t over-moisturize. Your skincare should never feel heavy! If you have acne-prone skin, choose a moisturizer that’s labeled as non-comedogenic to avoid clogging pores. And when in doubt, consult your dermatologist to find the right skincare routine.
RELATED READ: 4 Reasons Your Skin is So Dry (and What to Do About It)