Why is it important to hydrate and moisturize skin?

By Holly Singletary, MD January 25, 2019 No Comments

why moistruize

Healthy skin is smooth, soft and luminous. It is important to keep skin healthy, hydrated and moisturized to ensure it functions properly. Among its many roles, one of the most vital functions of the skin is to protect us from environmental stressors, pathogens and toxins. When the protective barrier is impaired, this important role is compromised which leaves us susceptible to untoward effects.

What is the difference between hydration and moisturization?

Hydration and moisturization of the skin are often used synonymously, but they are actually different mechanisms to replenish your skins natural balance. Hydrators use ingredients that attract water to the skin. Moisturizers form a protective layer over the skin to lock in moisture and prevent further loss of water from our skin to the atmosphere. Think of it this way…hydrators quench the thirst and moisturizers essentially trap it into the skin.

What does our skin need in order to stay both hydrated and moisturized?

Our skin is made of a lipid barrier that helps prevent what scientists and dermatologists call transepidermal water loss, or the movement of water from our skin to the atmosphere.  Interestingly, we can measure how well certain products prevent transepidermal water loss. This lipid barrier needs to be intact to keep the skin hydrated and moisturized.

How is dry skin different from dehydrated skin?

Dry skin has diminished oils or lipid content which decreases its ability to retain moisture.  This can be related to your genes or develop later in life as part of the natural aging process. Dry skin appears rough in texture, flaky, scaly and in severe cases can be cracked and even painful.

Dehydrated skin has diminished water content which leaves the skin feeling tight, the complexion dull and aged with exaggeration of fine lines, wrinkles, and creepiness.  Both dehydrated and dry skin can be itchy, inflamed and sensitive.

What skin care ingredients do we need to look for and avoid?

Moisturizers contain ingredients that add a protective layer to the skin to prevent water loss such as petrolatum, mineral oil, dimethicone and cyclomethicone.

Hydrators contain humectants which attract water to the skin. Classic ingredients to look for include glycerine, sorbitol, hyaluronic acid, urea, sodium PCA proteins among others.

Avoid products packed with fragrances as this can exaggerate dry skin. Harsh laundry or dish detergents, skin cleansers and even fabric softeners can strip the skin of its natural oils, enhancing dryness. Look for the words gentle, free and clear and fragrance free on your product labels. Certain anti-aging and acne treatments have ingredients that can perpetuate dehydrated and dry skin. When the skin becomes dry cut back on the chemical exfoliants such as retinol, glycolic acid, salicylic acid and benzoyl peroxide. You may notice when the temperature and humidity drop during cooler months, you may need to use less acne medications, hydrate and moisturize more and decrease the number of times per week you are using an exfoliant.

Does skin type matter when choosing your skin care products?

Many skincare products have added botanical and cosmeceutical ingredients that have different intended functions. It is quite complex and confusing sorting through the massive inventory on the internet and in your local drug store. If you are oily or acne prone you may do better with a moisturizer containing ingredients such as dimethicone. This offers a less greasy texture, is noncomedogenic and has a lighter feel. Severe dry skin, where the barrier has been compromised, may do better with a rich petrolatum base product. Oddly enough you can have oily skin type and still be dehydrated. An elegant and light weight hydrator can benefit even the oiliest of skin types.

What everyday actions should we avoid to help prevent dry and dehydrated skin?

If you have dry or dehydrated skin try to avoid long, hot showers, saunas and soaking in hot tubs. Excessive water exposure paradoxically worsens the problem. Harsh soaps and detergents are formulated to remove oil, therefore carefully choose a gentle cleanser to offer less skin protein and lipid disruption.  Consider changing up your skin care routine with the change in seasons. Winter time tends to exacerbate dehydrated skin as central heating, space heaters and fireplaces reduce humidity in the air, increasing water loss from our skin to the atmosphere. You may consider using a humidifier during this time of year.

How and when do we use both for best results?

For best results, use a gentle cleanser to cleanse the skin of impurities and rinse with lukewarm water, pat the skin with a soft towel or cloth and apply your hydrator to attract moisture to the skin. If the skin is dry follow with a moisturizer to lock in the moisture.

How do you find the right skin care regimen for your skin type?

There are many things to consider when choosing a skin care regimen. Is your concern redness, pigmentation, wrinkles or a combination of these? Is your skin naturally dry or oily? What environmental factors play a role in your skin’s health? What other skin care products do you use on a daily basis? Do you have a skin condition that causes you to be sensitive to certain ingredients or are you prone to acne breakouts or pigmentation? Your dermatologist or advanced medical aesthetician can help you determine the perfect combination of products customized for your specific needs and skin care goals.


Holly Singletary, MD

Holly Singletary, MD, FAAD is a board-certified dermatologist with specialized training in cutaneous laser and dermatologic surgery. Dr. Singletary is Board Certified by the American Board of Dermatology, and is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology, Texas Medical Association, American Society of Dermatologic Surgery (ASDS) and American Society of Laser Medicine (ASLMS). She practices medical, surgical and cosmetic dermatology and enjoys the artistic nature of aesthetic injectables and enhancing one’s natural beauty.


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