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Close up of a young woman applying moisturizer to her skin.

Skin care has its own language, and if you're unfamiliar with the terminology, you may end up using the wrong product for your skin type. Take "hydrating" and "moisturizing." These words are frequently used interchangeably, but they have different meanings.

To add to the confusion, there's no industry standard to clearly differentiate these terms. But understanding hydrating vs. moisturizing is vital to addressing dryness and dehydration—two widespread skin concerns.

So, how can you decipher the difference between moisturizing and hydrating products, and which one do you need? From the pros at PCA SKIN to you, here's everything you need to know.


The Difference between Moisturizing and Hydrating


Before and after skin moisturization is seen in detail.



Moisturizing ingredients create an occlusive barrier to keep water from escaping your skin. Sealing in vital moisture protects your skin barrier, which prevents transepidermal water loss, resulting in soft, smooth, supple skin.



Hydrating ingredients draw water to the epidermis—your skin's outermost layer—to keep it looking plump and resilient. When your skin cells become dehydrated, it can make your skin appear shriveled, and fine lines become more prominent. A topical hydrator that addresses the epidermis can boost skin cell hydration, helping your skin receive moisture and vital nutrients.


Hydrating vs. Moisturizing Ingredients

Hydrators and moisturizers share a common goal: to ensure your skin gets enough water to maintain a healthy balance. This prevents dry, dehydrated, tight, itchy skin while warding off environmental assault, which can lead to signs of premature aging.

Hydrating ingredients such as Hyaluronic Acid help draw water into your skin, whereas moisturizing ingredients help seal in that vital moisture. Both work together to ensure your skin remains plump, supple, and smooth while improving its moisture content.

Hydrating and moisturizing ingredients play an integral role in nourishing your skin. You can't go wrong with using both in most cases, but you may need to mix things up based on the season, your lifestyle, and your age. Here are some examples of each.


Hydrating Ingredients

  • Hyaluronic Acid
  • Sorbitol
  • Glycerin
  • Aloe
  • Water Lily Extract
  • Niacinamide
  • Panthenol
  • Bisabolol
  • Lactic Acid
  • Peptides


Moisturizing Ingredients

  • Shea Butter
  • Mango Seed Butter
  • Plant Oils (e.g., Jojoba, Rosehip, Avocado, Olive, Coconut)
  • Nut Oils (e.g., Argan, Almond, Brazil Nut, Macadamia, Kukui, Apricot Kernel)
  • Ceramides
  • Squalane
  • Esters
  • Olive Oil Fruit
  • Sweet Almond Extract


Which Does Your Skin Need?

It can be challenging to decipher between dehydrated and dry skin because it typically looks and feels the same—tight and parched. However, there's a distinct difference between the two.


Hydrating: Dehydrated Skin

Dehydrated skin lacks water. This is caused by environmental factors like sun exposure, climate, diet, inadequate water consumption, harsh skin care products (or incorrect use), and cosmetics. In many cases, these are factors you can control.

Dehydrated skin can make fine lines, wrinkles, and loss of elasticity appear more prominent. Your skin may also produce more oil (sebum) to compensate for the lack of H2O, resulting in breakouts, clogged pores, and skin that feels oily and dehydrated at the same time.

Hydrating ingredients (including humectants like Hyaluronic Acid and Glycerin) help boost your skin's water content to provide hydration while balancing oil production to prevent pesky breakouts.


Moisturizing: Dry Skin

Dry skin lacks oil. This causes dry, rough, dull, and flaky skin, and it can exacerbate skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis. If you have dry skin, you'll likely notice it all over your face, body, and scalp. Perhaps you've always had this skin type, or maybe you developed it over time with age.


Choosing the Best Products for Your Skin's Needs

Now that you understand the difference between hydrating vs. moisturizing, the next step is to identify your skin type and specific concerns so you can choose the products that will work the hardest for your skin. PCA SKIN takes the guesswork out of this process by categorizing their products accordingly.


Skin Type


Skin Concern


Quench Your Skin's Thirst

Hydrating and moisturizing products are necessary for plump, healthy skin, and many products contain both properties. If a product isn't formulated with both ingredient types, always start with a hydrating product, such as PCA SKIN Hydrating Serum, before applying a richer formula, such as PCA SKIN Collagen Hydrator. Going thin to thick infuses your skin with hydration before sealing it in with a protective barrier.

If you have any lingering questions about your skin's needs, find a PCA SKIN professional near you. Rest assured you'll get the pro advice you need to put your best face forward.



Rebecca Taras
A Chicagoland native, Rebecca began her career catering to celebrity clientele as a licensed esthetician at the Peninsula Chicago Hotel. Her passion for skin care ingredients, formulations, and skin histology led her to create custom in-room skin, bath, and body amenities for the Sofitel Hotel Chicago. The Chicago Fashion Foundation recognized her efforts with the Style Maker, Rule Breaker award in the Beauty category. She later went on to co-found Terminal Getaway airport spas. Rebecca’s experience also includes serving as an editor for digital outlets such as Refinery29, PopSugar, Forbes Travel Guides, and Bustle. She continues to refine her skin care knowledge while spending time traveling the world with her husband.