All About Moisturisers: Hydration vs. Moisture
Ever touched or brushed against your face and heard your skin make a sound? We're gonna need some lotion over here!
Hydration and moisturising are two very important, yet often confused, aspects of skincare. There's a misconception that only dry skin needs them, or that it makes oily skin oilier—this is a myth. Any skin needs to be hydrated and balanced. Dehydrated dry skin becomes prone to flaking and premature aging; dehydrated oily skin, on the other hand, overcompensates by producing too much oil and sebum, which leads to more trouble.
In this article, you'll learn the basics of what's in your moisturiser.
If you're looking for a moisturiser, click here to read our guide to choosing one that's right for you.
What's the difference between hydration and moisture?
Hydration and moisture are often used interchangeably, but they're actually two separate aspects of skincare to keep your skin plump, healthy, and balanced.
The purpose of hydration is to bind water molecules to the skin, while the purpose of moisturising is to prevent that water from escaping. Because of this, your skincare routine needs to be hydrating in the earlier steps, capped by a good moisturiser to keep it that way.
Hydrators work to increase the water content of the skin. This is especially beneficial for when your skin is dehydrated. Dehydration is when your skin lacks water, leading to a dull appearance.
Moisturisers are formulated to help seal that moisture into the skin and prevent it from drying out, leaving it tight and flaky. This is why moisturising is the last step of the skincare routine, after the hydrating steps of toners, serums, and ampoules.
What's in a moisturiser?
There are three key ingredients to note when looking at moisturisers, which work to make your skin soft, plump, and protected. The best, most well-rounded moisturisers contain all three of ingredients, and different products will have a varying concentration for each, depending on specific concerns or needs.
Understanding these three ingredients will guide you to look for the right moisturiser with the right concentrations of each, depending on your skin type or goals, or any skin concerns you're looking to address.
Humectants are water-binders that increase the water content of the skin. Humectants are substances that draw and attract water molecules from the surrounding environment into themselves, and helps draw moisture out of the deeper layers of the skin and into the surface.
If your moisturiser is a humectant, it will rehydrate yand increase the water levels in your skin.
- Glycerin/Glycerol – the most common and inexpensive ingredient.
- Hyaluronic acid – has a luxurious feel than glycerin, non-sticky and thinner texture. This is present in our bodies as connective tissue and holds 1,000 times its weight in water. (Note: If a product is formulated with a very high amount of hyaluronic acid, it might cause irritation on your skin and oftentimes can draw moisture out of your skin.)
- Tremella Mushroom (a.k.a. snow fungus) – a natural alternative to hyaluronic acid and has the ability to hold 500 times its weight in water.
- Sugars, such as glucose and fructose
- Honey – apart from its hydrating properties, honey also has healing, soothing properties.
- Amino acids and peptides
- Aloe Vera
Product recommendation: COSRX Hydrium Green Tea Aqua Soothing Gel Cream is a lightweight, gel-type moisturiser that contains humectant ingredients such as Glycerin, Propanediol, Panthenol, Aloe Vera, and Allantoin. Perfect for oily/acne prone skin types.
Emollients give moisturisers a nice creamy texture. The more emollients, the thicker the moisturiser is. The purpose of emollients is to smoothen and even out the surface of your skin, and fill in all the cracks produced by skin flaking, dryness, and scaling. Emollients prevent the skin from drying out to a rough, scaly texture, which is a particular concern especially during the winter time. This category of ingredients include lipids and oils like glycerides, sterols, and phospholipids.
The emollient concentration of a product is attributed to the lipid-to-liquid ratio. Gel-like lotions and emulsions have a higher liquid-to-lipid ratio, and those that are thick on the skin and leave a sheen on the skin would have more lipids in the formula.
- Vegetable oils like squalene, grape seeds, and jojoba oils
- Butters such as coco butter and shea butter
- Ceramidin/Ceramides - These emollient lipids are the most similar to those found naturally in our skin, aiding in quick and effective repair of the skin barrier. Ceramides help our skin cells form a really healthy barrier on the outermost layer of our skin (called the epidermis), which prevents loss of moisture and prevents bacteria and pollutes from getting in.
- Fatty acids such as caprylic acid, oleic acid, myristic acid, palmitic acid, lauric acid (Note: A number of saturated Fatty Acids could be comedogenic on the skin, meaning they can block pores and cause blackheads.)
- Fatty alcohols – These serve as thickening agents that improve the viscosity (thickness) of creams and lotions. These are fatty acids that have been exposed to hydrogen, creating a slightly waxy texture. Fatty alcohols include cetyl alcohol, lauryl alcohol, stearyl alcohol, cetearyl alcohol (a mixture of cetyl and stearyl alcohols), oleyl alcohol (comes from oleic acid, and is fattier and greasier than other alcohols).
- Esters - These are modified fatty substances, formed when an organic acid combines with an alcohol, that are often used as emollients and conditioning agents. They replace natural fatty esters within our skin, helping smoothen the skin’s texture and acting as protection. The great thing about esters is that they don’t feel as oily on the skin as other types of emollients and fatty ingredients. A tip to spot esters in your skincare products: see if they have the suffix ‘ate’ at the end of it, such as Isopropyl myristate, Isopropyl palmitate, and Glyceryl stearate.
- COSRX Oil-Free Ultra Moisturising Lotion has humectant ingredients such as Birch juice, Glycerin, Butylene Glycol, Sodium Hyaluronate, Allantoin, and Panthenol, and emollient ingredients such as Dimethicone, Cetearyl alcohol and plant oils. This is a lightweight moisturiser has the ideal balance of humectants and emollients, is perfect for dehydrated, combination, and oily skin types.
- d’Alba Peptide No Sebum Repair Cream is a skin-softening emollient moisturizer that includes both Dimethicone and Squalene.
Occlusives form a film over the skin and traps water in to seal it in. They can be heavier than the first two ingredient categories, and can in some cases cause breakouts for acne-prone skin types. Occlusives are best for dry skin and for night time use.
- Petroleum jelly - The most common is petroleum jelly, which blocks 98% water loss from your skin. Cosmetic and pharmaceutical-grade petroleum is completely refined and purified. Petroleum jellies are non-comedogenic, meaning they don't block or clog the pores as the molecules are too large to get into the pore lining of the skin. (Note: If you have active acne or acne-prone skin, you may want to be cautious with this ingredient and do further research on the specific product and its formulation.)
- Mineral oils
- Olive oil
- Zinc oxide
- COSRX Hydrium Power Enriched Cream has glycerin, propolis and panthenol (humectants), Dimethicone, Ceramide and coconut oil (emollients) and Lecithin (occlusive).
- Pyunkang Yul Intensive Repair Cream has glycerin and Aloe Vera (humectants), Shea Butter, Ceramides, Macadamia Seed Oil (emollients) and beeswax and Lecithin (occlusives). Perfect for dry skin.
- Benton Snail Bee High Content Steam Cream has humectants such as Butylene Gylcol, Glycerin, Sodium Hyaluronate and Urea, various plant oils, fatty acids and alcohols (emollients), and lecithin (occlusive).
As we've said time and time again, different products have different formulations and ways of obtaining their ingredients. The ingredients list is a guide, but the best judgement is still to see how the actual product works for you. Read more about our guide to the ingredients list here.
Now, are you ready to find the best moisturiser for your skin type or skin goals? Hop on to our guide here!