Hydration vs. moisturizer

Hydration vs. moisturizer

In the summer you hear a lot about staying hydrated. It’s hot, you sweat, you know need to drink more water. Your skin might feel dry but applying more moisturizer might not be top of mind.

In the winter, we talk more about moisture and avoiding dry skin, dry hair, and the zing of static electricity. Then we’re all about a nice thick moisturizer.

But wait…aren’t hydration and moisturizing the same thing? Not exactly.

It’s a little confusing

And a bit of a fine line.

Hydration adds moisture to your skin. Moisturizer helps your skin keep the moisture it has, but it doesn’t add moisture to your skin.

Hydration is the water in your skin cells and extracellular matrix (the “mortar” that hold your skin cells together. It’s a gel-like mixture of carbohydrates like hyaluronic acid, water, collagen, and elastin.

Your skin cells and their extracellular matrix are protected by the natural fats and oils in your outer layer of skin.  

The combination of water in your skin cells and matrix plus the natural oils in the outer layer are what keep your skin soft and elastic.

When the water content in your skin is below where it should be or your skin isn’t producing enough natural oils, your skin will feel dry.

When your skin’s water level is low, your skin is dehydrated. You need to attract more water into your skin cells. Ingredients called humectants can help. More on humectants below.

When your skin isn’t producing enough natural oils or your skin barrier is damaged (which happens as you get older), the water in your skin is more prone to evaporating through your skin.  It’s called trans epidermal water loss (TEWL). Your skin will become dehydrated and dry when there’s too much TEWL happening.

In this case, moisturizer is your savior. Moisturizer seals in the water/moisture in your skin and supports your skin’s natural oils. It keeps your skin from flaking and becoming rough, but it doesn’t actually add moisture to it.

Most of the time, you’ll do best with a combination of humectant/hydration and moisturizer.

Remember, your skin is one of the first places that too little water will show up

To keep your skin from becoming dehydrated, your first line of defense is to drink plenty of water.

The second is to use a moisturizer to help keep that water from evaporating out of your skin.

If your skin is already dehydrated or to keep from getting that way, keep drinking that water but add a humectant to your skincare routine.

A humectant is an ingredient that attracts water. Once your skin is dehydrated, using a humectant is your fastest route to repairing it.

Hyaluronic acid, propylene glycol, alpha hydroxy acids, urea, or glycerin (also labeled as glycerol), and aloe are all humectants.

For skin care, hyaluronic acid is the gold standard.

What’s hyaluronic acid?

It’s actually a type of sugar that naturally occurs in your body.  The “acid” in its name can be a little scary. But, don’t worry, it’s not harsh on your skin at all. It’s actually very soothing and gentle.

It’s often called the “goo” molecule because of its sticky, gooey feel. There’s a high concentration of it in your skin, connective tissue, eyes, and joints. It provides lubrication for your joints, keeps your eyes moist so you can see, and keeps your skin soft and elastic.

About 50% of the hyaluronic acid in your body is in your skin.

It’s made in the fibroblasts along with your best skin friends collagen and elastin. And unfortunately, just as with collagen and elastin, hyaluronic acid production starts to decline as you get into your thirties.

In fact, it drops dramatically. People between the ages of 19 and 47 have twice as much hyaluronic acid in their skin as those in their 50s and 60s. As we age into our 70s, that amount drops even further.

Less hyaluronic acid in your skin means your skin is less able to attract and retain water. Combined with lowered oil production as we age means skin is more prone to both dehydration and dryness.

Using products with hyaluronic acid can help to add moisture directly to your skin. And, lucky for us, it’s available from outside sources. And, it’s really well tolerated even by people with sensitive skin.

Hyaluronic acid can come from plant or animal sources, or a lab

Hyaluronic acid takes well to lab processing. It can be cross-linked with proteins to make it even more gel-like and is used to lubricate joints and shape faces.  You may have had this form of hyaluronic acid injected into a painful knee joint or as a dermal filler to your face.

The size of the molecules in lab-produced hyaluronic acid are too big to be absorbed through the skin. Which is good because if you’ve paid all that money for a knee or facial injection, you’d like the stuff to stick around for as long as possible.

If you have dehydrated skin, you want hyaluronic acid with a low molecular size that is easily absorbed. It turns out that hyaluronic acid sourced from a plant (Cassia Angustifolia, the seed of very pretty yellow flowered plant), has very small molecules that your skin likes.

 It draws water to your skin (1000x its weight in water!) and holds it there. Your skin immediately becomes more hydrated, dewy, and bouncy. Fine lines and wrinkles become softer. And because it’s better hydrated, your skin functions better.

Here’s how to up the hyaluronic acid in your skin

  • Wear sunscreen. UV rays from the sun breakdown hyaluronic acid in your skin along with collagen and elastin and  they damage your skin cells. This is the best thing you can do for your skin.


  • Use antioxidants on your face (vitamin C, E, CoQ10, certain herbs and berry extracts). They can be in serum form or in a moisturizer. Or, better yet, both.


  • Eat more antioxidants in your diet with veggies and fruits like carrots, leafy greens, starchy root veggies, citrus fruits


  • Bone broth is an excellent food to increase hyaluronic acid in the body


  • Vigorous exercise increases hyaluronic acid production. And helps with firmer and tighter skin.


  • Skin care products with hyaluronic acid, often serums or an ingredient in serums


  • Using a retinol product boosts hyaluronic acid production. Conversely, using hyaluronic acid with a retinol product can help with any redness or irritation that beginning retinol users may experience.


  • You can also take hyaluronic acid supplements and the evidence is that they actually do increase hyaluronic acid levels in your skin


How to Use Topical Hyaluronic Acid

To get the best results from hyaluronic acid-containing serums, apply them to your face when you skin is slightly damp. Allow it to be absorbed (it’s quick). Follow with a moisturizer to seal in your hydration and support your natural oils.

You’ll see the best results by using it or a serum containing it twice a day. You’ll see an immediate improvement in the moisture levels of your skin and the full results after about a month.

To help keep that moisture in your skin, top your serum with moisturizer. Just a moment or two to let the serum absorb then pat it on. The moisturizer helps to hold that lovely moisture in your skin where you want it.

I realize that if you live in a high humidity area, you may not need as much water in the summer. I would still recommend using a vitamin C and/or retinol serum to help with UV damage control and a moisturizer to help protect your skin barrier. 


Staying healthy and active are the keys to radiant skin and glowing health. But, gravity, aging and Sun Wind and Snow can take a toll. That's why we offer skin care to support your best skin at every age.


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