About Skin Hydration


You might think hydration is something that only people with dry or dehydrated skin need to worry about. But hydrating your skin is just like hydrating your body. Your body needs hydration to look and feel its best.  And no matter what skin type you have, so does your skin.

With so many different products claiming to give you the hydrated skin you desire, including oils, serums, creams and gels, how do you choose one that actually gives your skin the right dose of moisture it needs?

Hydrator vs. Moisturizer: What’s the difference?

“Moisturizer” is an umbrella term for various types of moisturizing ingredients such as Emollients (includes fats and oils), Squalene (an olive oil extract), Humectants, and Occlusives.

But in the world of marketing, the terminology is not the same. “Hydrator” and “Moisturizer” are marketing terms which can be defined by the branding companies in almost any way that they want.  Even though there is no standard for what defines a hydrator and a moisturizer, for the most part, the industry uses these terms to differentiate how your skin gets the moisture it needs.

How About Water?

Water alone will not keep your skin moisturized from the outside. It is likely that, once applied, it has evaporated away by the time you leave the bathroom.  And it has taken along with it, much of your skin’s natural oil (sebum). 

In fact, the more you wash your skin without applying a moisturizer or hydrator, the more likely your skin will dry out, as the acid mantle and sebum are washed away, leaving your skin with no protection against dryness.  

What are Some Other Moisturizers?

Occlusive agents, (such as petrolatum or mineral oil—both of which I can not recommend that you put on your skin!) are substances that create a water and air tight barrier.  This does a good job of keeping the moisture in your skin.  The most common occlusive agents that you will find in skin products include petrolatum, petroleum jelly, and mineral oil.  They are inexpensive and do the job intended.  But the large size of their molecules means that they are difficult to penetrate the skin, and tend to build up in the skin’s outer layer.

Over many months or even years, this build-up will inhibit the skin’s natural respiration.  I have seen evidence of this myself when working with people who, for chronic health issues, are doing intense herbal cleanses.  At a certain point in the cleansing process, people who have applied mineral products over a long period of time, will have a few days of greasy yellowish discharge coming out of their skin, as the body releases this build-up.  If you have ever seen it, you will avoid these ingredients like the plague in all of your skin and cosmetic products!  

Some of the natural occlusive ingredients that are plant based and do not build up in the skin, are cocoa butter, jojoba (a plant wax), and shea butter.  

Emollients (such as plant oils) also work by creating a lighter seal on the surface of skin which prevents water from escaping. They make the skin feel smoother and less dry. Generally they do not inhibit the respiration of the skin.  And since their molecules are smaller than occlusives, they do not build up in the outer layer of the skin, but are absorbed and removed over time. 

These are primarily carrier oils, vegetable based oils with a fatty content.  There are many choices of emollient oils available, with different textures and levels of moisturizing capability.  Some great examples are Kalahari melon seed oil, argan oil, raspberry seed oil, coconut oil, sea buckthorn oil, rose hip seed oil, and almond oil.  

Hydrators are  also called humectants.  These ingredients absorb water from the atmosphere or from deeper layers of your skin, and hold it on the surface of your skin.  They make your skin feel smooth and moist—but beware!  They are also pulling water out of the deeper layers of your skin,  sort of robbing Peter to pay Paul.  They can easily contribute to further dehydration of the skin.  They do insure that you will need to apply more and more skin lotion, as the dehydration leads to the need for more moisturizer.  Sounds like product security to me!

These ingredients include glycerine, lactic acid, citric acid, and hyaluronic acid.  A very small amount of these ingredients in some products may be okay for certain skin types, especially in the case of hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is naturally found in the eyes, skin, joints, and connective tissue of the human body.  

Natural hydrators that are less likely to draw out moisture, include raw honey and aloe vera.  These hydrators have a more gentle action, and don’t tend to create the same level of dehydration of the deeper skin layers.

It’s important to recognize that these ingredients work very differently from each other. The success you have in getting to your goal of better skin hydration depends on your selection of ingredients based on your skin type.

What is Best for Your Skin Type?

There are a lot of different products on the market, including balms,  oils, creams, gels, ointments, salves, and hydrators.  Most skin lotions and other moisturizing products will contain occlusive and emollient ingredients, as well as  humectant ingredients.  

The best way to find out what works for you is to read the ingredients of your skin products and experiment. Your skin might do better with only a moisturizer or hydrator, not both. By learning exactly how your skin likes to drink, you maximize your way to hydrated skin.

Dry Skin Types Respond to a Thick Emollient or Occlusive

If your skin is naturally dry year-round and tends to flake or peel, it is likely not weather-related dehydration that’s causing your dryness.  Your skin just has a hard time retaining moisture.

You will need to moisturize to create a protective seal on the surface to lock in moisture. A thick, emollient moisturizer will help prevent water from leaving your skin.  Natural choices include shea butter and cocoa butter.  Nut oils like coconut oil, and jojoba are other ingredients to try.

Dehydrated Skin Types Respond to a Hydrating Serum

If your skin is dehydrated, you need to actively add water back into the skin.  Look for a hydrating serum with ingredients such as honey,  aloe vera, or hyaluronic acid, (which retains 1,000 times its weight in water).  Your goal is to add a healthy dose of hydration back into the skin.

Hydrate From the Inside Out

The state of the skin is an indicator for the rest of the body.  If your skin is dehydrated, one of the most important pieces of the solution is to regularly drink plenty of water. A good goal is at least half of your body weight in ounces of water every day. So, if you weigh 150 pounds, shoot for 75 ounces of water per day. 

But water is often not enough.  In my own experience, I was drinking substantially more than that of pure water every day, yet I still had dehydrated skin, and other symptoms of mild dehydration.  I felt like my body was simply not absorbing water as it should, and water was going through me but not making its way into my cells and tissues.  After trying different types and brands of water with no substantial improvement, I began to drink fresh fruit & vegetable juices daily.  The nutrients, minerals, and enzymes in the fresh juices regenerated the tissues and cells of my body.  In just a few weeks of regular juicing, my skin was beginning to look smoother, younger, and more hydrated.  

Adding water rich foods such as watermelon, strawberries, and cucumber, makes a difference.  These can help give the skin and body the hydration they need to look and feel their best.  Also eliminating carbonated drinks, drinks containing alcohol, artificial sweeteners, or sugar, which all contribute to dehydration; and replacing them with water and fresh juices, will begin to change the health of your body on a cellular level, and improve hydration very quickly.  This will all benefit the hydration of your skin.

Oily Skin Types Respond to Hydrators and Moisturizers

If you have an oily skin type, it type doesn’t mean your skin isn’t dehydrated.  If your skin is dehydrated, it can actually exacerbate excess oil issues.

People with oily skin often have compromised barrier function, which makes it hard for their skin to retain moisture. As moisture leaves the skin, it becomes dehydrated, causing the skin to produce more oil.

This becomes a vicious cycle, and the only way to break it is to give skin the proper hydration and moisture it needs.  Look for water-based, non-comedogenic hydrators and moisturizers. Water-based products will feel lighter on the skin and won’t clog your pores.

Comedogenic ingredients—those that block pores and contribute to acne—include a long list of ingredients.  You can check them here at https://skinutritious.com/blogs/articles/comedogenic-ingredients-official-skinutritious-list

Many natural ingredients are on this list, including Almond oil, Avocado oil, Beeswax, Coconut oil, Flaxseed oil, Grape seed oil, Olive oil, Sesame oil, Wheat germ oil, to name a few.  And just one comedogenic ingredient in a blend can cause more break-outs, so it is important to check your formulas against this list.  

Sunflower, safflower, jojoba, and all essential oils are acne-safe. While most oils are comedogenic, these were all found to be non-comedogenic.

Formulating Your Own Natural Skin Products

It is helpful to use both a moisturizer and hydrator in many formulas. If you are using a multi-step process, use hydrating products containing aloe vera, honey, or  hyaluronic acid first, then follow up with an occlusive like shea butter or plant oils to lock it in.

Or, if you want to keep things simple, look for a product that contains  both types of ingredients.

If you want a healthy , hydrated complexion all year round, you may need to change your formulas with changing conditions and seasons.  For some conditions, like the winter season, you are likely to need to hydrate and moisturize.  If you move from a dry climate to an area of high humidity, you may find that your skin does better with oil based products containing only moisturizers rather than hydrators.

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