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Hydrator vs moisturiser: What does your dry skin need?

It is important to know your skincare products well! Let us tell you what is a hydrator vs moisturiser and when you must use what.
Hydrator vs moisturiser
Know the difference between a hydrator and moisturiser. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Natalia Ningthoujam Published: 8 Nov 2023, 02:30 pm IST
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The multi-billion global skincare market is flooded with products catering to people of all skin types and with myriad skin conditions. Be it acne-prone, oily or dry – there’s something for everyone. Awareness about what your skin needs and reading labels is important to make sure your skin gets what it requires. For example, if you have dry skin, what would you choose between a hydrator and moisturiser? Read on to know what the hydrator vs moisturiser debate is all about, and what your skin may truly need.

What are hydrators?

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

Woman using a moisturiser
Do you need to moisturise or hydrate your skin? Image courtesy: Adobe stock

What are moisturisers?

Moisturiser is the go-to product for anyone who doesn’t want dry skin. It is actually a broad term that encompasses 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. So, humectants also come under it.

Types of moisturisers are:

1. Occlusive

These are moisturisers that are designed to create a barrier on the skin’s surface, locking in moisture and preventing water loss. They are typically thicker and heavier in texture, the expert tells Health Shots. Common ingredients in occlusive moisturisers include petroleum jelly and beeswax. They are particularly beneficial in very dry or cold climates where the skin needs extra protection, love and care.

2. Exfoliants

Exfoliating moisturisers contain ingredients that help to 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 skin cell turnover and can be particularly beneficial for those dealing with dry, flaky skin.

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3. Emollients

Emollients are moisturisers that focus on softening and smoothing the skin’s surface. They work by filling in the gaps between skin cells, creating a protective barrier and giving the skin a smoother, softer feel. Common emollients include shea butter, cocoa butter, and certain oils like jojoba oil. Emollients are often used to soothe and hydrate rough or irritated skin, says Dr Jagadeesan.

Use skin care product according to your skin type. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

What is the difference between moisturiser and hydrator?

There aren’t too many differences, but you should know what your skin needs.

  • A moisturiser is used when you need to lock in moisture in the skin so that the skin’s protective barrier can be built. Hydrators are used to literally make the skin hydrated and supple by increasing the water content of the skin.
  • Women with dry and also flaky skin need to go for a moisturiser. If you skin is dehydrated and lacks luster, you need a hydrator.

How to choose between hydrators and moisturisers?

We all have different skin types, and that’s why we need to be careful while choosing products for skin health.

1. Dry skin

Both hydrators and moisturisers are beneficial if you just have dry skin. A combination of humectants (hydrators) and occlusive agents (moisturisers) can help to lock in moisture and prevent dryness, says Dr Jagadeesan.

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2. Oily skin

Hydrators, particularly those with light-weight humectants, can be a better option, as they hydrate without adding excess oils to the skin.

3. Sensitive skin

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

4. Normal skin

Women with normal skin don’t have to worry about a lot of skin issues. In the case of hydrators and moisturisers, both can work well, depending on personal preference.

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

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About the Author

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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