The Balance Between - Understanding Moisturization and Hydration

Dehydrated skin and dry skin - the difference between the two

Dry and dehydrated skin share some of the same symptoms but they’re actually two different skin issues. To put it simply, dehydrated skin lacks water while dry skin lacks oil, it doesn’t produce enough of the skin’s natural sebum.

Dry skin is a skin type whereas dehydration is a skin condition that can affect all skin types; oily, combination, dry and sensitive skin. Dry skin is lacking oil, dry skin shows signs of roughness, is itchy, looks dull and may have slight to severe signs of flakiness.

Fine lines are more pronounced, skin feels tight and easily irritated and is particularly sensitive to weather conditions. There will often be no improvement in symptoms despite using creams and moisturizers if you are not using the right type of products.

Dehydrated skin is lacking water similar to dry skin, dehydrated skin presents with symptoms including itching, flakiness, and irritation. Tightness, pronounced lines, and dullness are signs too. Dehydration can occur from a range of factors.

The weather, especially dry air and cold winds, and air conditioning also pulls moisture out of the skin, so does overly hot showers. Harsh skincare is also a culprit as it can strip your complexion of natural oils, in turn allowing water to escape off the surface of the skin.

Your diet also plays a role in your skin’s hydration level. Alcohol, coffee, processed foods and foods high in sodium all expel moisture and leave your skin prone to dehydration. Our skin needs moisture and hydration.

When it comes to skincare, the words “moisture” and “hydration” are not interchangeable. They both have the same goal; to fight dryness and dehydration, premature signs of aging and environmental damage but they work in different ways on the skin. Hydration refers to the amount of water held in your skin cells and plump, hydrated skin has a sufficient amount.

Moisture, on the other hand, is about the protective layer that sits on the surface of the skin, the lipid barrier, that seals in moisture and prevents Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL) - more on that shortly.

Our skin needs both moisturization and hydration to stay healthy and vibrant. Hydrating action delivers water deep to the cells and moisturizing action prevents that water from evaporating off the skin.

What are ceramides and their role in water retention

The top of the epidermis is called the stratum corneum (SC) and this is the skin’s protective barrier. It prevents foreign matter from getting into the body while keeping water inside the skin cells from leaching out.

The stratum corneum contains ceramides, which are lipids (fats) that occur naturally in skin and keratin. Ceramides play a key role in skin health and make up more than half of the skin’s composition.

The way ceramides work with skin cells is often compared to bricks and mortar - think of your skin cells as the bricks and ceramides as the mortar.

Essentially the ceramides hold the cells of the SC together, forming a protective layer to prevent damage from environmental stressors and moisture loss. If the SC becomes weakened, through the use of harsh skincare, environmental, or lifestyle factors, ‘cracks’ begin to appear in the ceramides (the mortar) which weakens the SC. This means water can evaporate more easily from the skin in a process called transepidermal water loss.

Lactic acid

Humectants are substances that attract moisture from the surrounding environment and bind it to the skin. They also have the ability to draw water from the deeper layers of skin to the outer layer to maintain hydration levels.

Your skin naturally contains these important humectants:

Amino acids are the building blocks of healthy skin. If cells don’t have enough amino acids when producing collagen, elastin, and other proteins and fibers it can result in rough, thin skin. Some amino acids also act as humectants, drawing water from the atmosphere to the skin.

Hyaluronic acid is an exceptional humectant holding 1000x its weight in water. It’s a sugar molecule that occurs naturally in your body and can be found in your skin and joints helping maintain strength and elasticity.

The content of hyaluronic acid in our bodies declines with age, one of the reasons more mature skin can become easily dehydrated.

Other humectants include:

Aloe vera

Aloe vera is an excellent natural humectant, increasing hydration which softens the skin and helps improve the appearance of fine lines.


Glycerin can be derived from plant oils, fermented sugar, or created synthetically. A powerful humectant, it can hold several times its weight in water it helps skin maintain a healthy moisture barrier.

Lactic acid

Lactic acid is one of the popular alpha-hydroxy acids that acts as both a humectant and an exfoliator. Lactic acid is derived from milk and as well as its moisturizing properties, it’s also known to accelerate cell turnover.

The moisturizing role of oils with occlusive properties

Many natural oils and waxes have occlusive properties - this means they create a thin film over the skin to help prevent water loss.

Natural ingredients with occlusive properties include:

Shea Butter

Squalene oil

Jojoba oil

Cocoa Seed Butter 

Cranberry Seed oil

They help the skin retain moisture, assisting with inflammation and skin conditions which are triggered when the skin barrier is disrupted.

Dry skin lacks natural oil (sebum) so it is important to provide extra support by including the right oil-based products in your routine to supplement the lack of sebum.

Choosing skincare with humectant ingredients (drawing moisture to the cells) and occlusive ingredients (sealing the moisture in) will work together to restore dry, dehydrated skin to health.

What role do vitamins play in water retention?

Vitamins play an important role in maintaining your skin’s moisture level too.

Vitamin A

Rough, dry skin is a common sign of vitamin A deficiency. This vitamin assists in maintaining a healthy function of the dermis and epidermis which in turn minimizes trans-epidermal water loss.

Vitamin B5

VitaminB5 helps keep skin soft and boasts an anti-inflammatory effect that can help stimulate skin healing while its hydrating properties absorb moisture from the air.

Vitamin B3

Also known as niacinamide, this water-soluble vitamin works to strengthen a weakened barrier (stratum corneum) by increasing the natural lipids on the skin’s surface - reducing inflammation and water loss.

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is naturally occurring in the dermis and epidermis layers of the skin. A lack of Vitamin C can lead to dehydrated skin and supplementing vitamin C, either orally or topically can help restore moisture levels and decrease trans-epidermal water loss.

What does all this mean for your skincare choice?

If you are dealing with dry or dehydrated skin, as mentioned earlier, opting for ingredients with occlusive and humectant properties is key.

You’ll also want to include a mix of vitamins that assist in water retention.

Immersion Serum Concentrate is an ultra-hydrating fluid assimilates to the skin on contact, offering immediate moisture balance and long-lasting hydration. Formulated to help prevent skin dehydration, each droplet binds to cells, delivering beta-glucan and essential vitamins C, B5, and E. These nutrients work in synergy to help support barrier strength, balance and plump skin, while improving moisture retention–without the risk of congestion.

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