Moisture and hydration are among some of the most used words in beauty. If you look at the description or claims for any beauty product you own, one of those words is highly likely to be on the box or the bottle. Foundations, cleansers, serums, moisturizers, and even things like powders nowadays claim to be hydrating and moisturizing. And it’s easy to understand why: A ton of us are on the quest for glowy, healthy-looking skin, and words like “moisture” and “hydration” present themselves as the opposite or even “cure” for dull skin that looks tired and flat.
The thing is, as much as the terms moisture and hydration are used interchangeably, I strongly feel that they refer to two completely different things.
The Fundamental Balance
One of the most fundamental aspects of skin care is the understanding that your skin contains a balance of water content and oil content. The ratios of each component can vary across different skin types, or even different environments and lifestyles, and the balance is ever-changing on a daily or even hourly basis. Your skin goes through a lot during the day from being exposed to the outside elements, the various amounts of heating and air conditioning in all the buildings you go in and out of, the gym, your car, and everything in between.
Your skin contains a balance of water content and oil content. That’s why “moisture” and “hydration” are two completely different things.
While it’s true your skin tries very hard to regulate itself, that’s a lot of different environments and conditions that it has to deal with on any given day. That’s where our skin care products come in to help maintain balance and promote changes we would like to encourage in our skin. So I feel it’s important to understand which way your skin might be skewing in terms of this oil and water balance in order to know what type of change you want to encourage.
So What’s the Difference?
Hydration, to me, is referring directly to water content. We know that we’re probably not drinking enough water, and when you’re way under your water consumption for the day, one of the terms we often use is “dehydration.” In that same vein of thought, when I talk to people about their skin hydration, we are having a conversation about the water content in the skin and the potential need to help supplement that water content with topical products.
On the flipside, moisture refers to oil content in my mind. I’m one of the people who absolutely hates using the word “moist,” but when we think of a moist (*internal shudder*) cake or muffin, we’re thinking something with a high fat content, likely in the form of butter or oil, that gives desserts their texture. When speaking about moisture in the context of skin, we’re looking at the oil content of skin and how to keep that balanced.
This clear separation is why I’m not a big fan of using the two terms interchangeably, and why I feel it really is important to zero in on the lack or abundance of these two key components in your skin when looking at products to help keep it healthy, bright, and comfortable.
Get Your Basics Covered
There are so many great new ingredients and a lot of appealing marketing campaigns in the skin care industry, especially with the heightened focus on skin care in the U.S. and European markets over the last few years. Everyone seems to be looking wide-eyed at retinoids, acid exfoliants, and vitamin C to make visible changes in their skin. But establishing a baseline of skin health that is balanced in its oil and water content is still something that the Western market hasn’t fully embraced from the Korean skin care industry.
A lot of the most common skin issues people come to me with, like flakiness, dullness, congestion, and tightness, are things they assume they need intensive treatments, high-powered active ingredients, and elaborate routines to address. The truth of the matter is that a lot of these issues are greatly improved and are even resolved by properly addressing and balancing the moisture and hydration in the skin so it can function the best that it can.
I’ll go over some effective ways to address the water + oil equilibrium of your skin and to keep it in good shape in the next edition of this two-part mini series (I love pairs of things, can y’all tell yet), but until then, I’m wishing all of you a week of healthy skin. 🙂