Hydration vs moisturization

Even skin care product junkies can have a difficult time distinguishing between hydrating the skin and moisturizing the skin. It seems simple: dehydrated skin is lacking water (hydration), while dry skin lacks moisture (oil, for lack of a better term).

But the difference between dehydrated skin and dry skin can be a bit more tricky. Dry skin (a deficit in oil) is a skin type, meaning you’re born with a tendency toward your skin being dry. You likely notice that the skin all over your body is dry: face, hands, scalp, legs, etc. If you have dry skin, you’ll notice that your skin will “soak up” lotions and creams pretty quickly.

Dehydrated skin can happen to anyone – including those with dry skin. When your skin lacks sufficient water, it’s dehydrated and needs hydration. But while getting plenty of fluids through your diet (via drinking water, fruits, vegetables, etc) is important, your skin is pretty much the last organ to benefit from the water you ingest – after all, that water is important for all of your bodily functions. That’s why topical hydration and moisturization are so important.

The delicate balance of moisturizing and hydrating

A moisturizer is important for all skin types, whether skin is oily, normal, or dry – these factors may simply influence what type of moisturizer you need. Skin loses moisture for a variety of reasons: as skin ages, it is less efficient at retaining moisture; and environmental factors such as sun exposure and pollution can upset skin’s delicate moisture balance.

To complicate things further, if your skin is dehydrated, it may compensate by producing more oil – which can lead to irritation and breakouts. Plus, that extra oil still won’t solve the underlying problem – lack of proper hydration.

How can you keep moisture and hydration in check?

While drinking water won’t miraculously plump up your skin and solve all of your hydration/moisture problems, it is an important piece of the puzzle. Making sure you’re consuming enough water to keep your skin – and all or your bodily systems – operating efficiently is an important part of your overall health.

And topical treatments are important as well – and a balance of humectants, emollients, and occlusive agents can go a long way to keeping your skin both moisturized and hydrated properly.

Humectants attract water from the inner layers of the skin to the outer layers of the skin. They also work by attracting and retaining moisture from the air.

Emollients reduce evaporation and provide a protective barrier to the skin – helping to keep skin soft and smooth. Emollients commonly used in skin care include: olive oil, shea butter, mineral oil, lanolin, coconut oil, almond oil, argan oil, sesame oils, jojoba, and other plant oils.

Occlusive agents work like emollients to increase skin moisture by creating a barrier against moisture loss. Occlusives are usually “heavier” – but are generally balanced out with other emollients and humectants. Some common occlusive agents found in skin care are: lanolin, zinc oxide, oils, and waxes. Since occlusive agents do tend to be heavier, they can clog pores and/or feel waxy or greasy on the skin.

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