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Hydrating Serums And Moisturisers

Written by: Becki Murray

Last Updated: 13 February 2024

If you asked most people what skincare product they use most “moisturiser” or “something hydrating” would definitely be top answers. After all, keeping our skin hydrated can make it look younger and healthier, and there are thousands upon thousands of hydrating moisturisers and serums to choose from. Hydrating moisturisers and serums are also popular because they feel really nice on the skin and can have an almost immediate impact on its overall look and feel.

It’s true that there is some debate about whether overusing moisturisers is actually making the skin lazy and in turn making problems with dryness and dehydration worse. But, as with everything, it’s all about balance. You need to find the right product that nourishes your skin in the right way. That might be a moisture-locking cream that works on the skin’s surface, a hydrating serum packed with water-attracting molecules such as hyaluronic acid to draw moisture into your skin, or – especially if you have very dry complexion – a combination of the two. Read on to find out more.

hydrating serum

Why is hydrating our skin important?

Our skin is around 60 per cent water, but it can easily become dry. If the skin barrier (the outer layer of the skin, which shields the inner layers of our skin and our insides from the outside world) becomes damaged or ‘compromised’, then moisture escapes more easily from the skin. That makes skin uncomfortable and less able to do its job as our protective casing. It’s not just the moist inner layers of the dermis that the skin barrier is there to protect. Our bodies are a bit less than 60 per cent water, and the skin, as our biggest organ, has the job of keeping that water on the inside and keeping the rest of the world out.

One way to keep your skin hydrated is to use a hydrating serum, a hydrating moisturising, or both. Let’s start by looking at the differences between serums and moisturisers, and then examine how they work and how to use them effectively.


How do hydrating serums differ from hydrating moisturisers?

Hydrating serums differ from hydrating moisturisers in three main ways:

  • Weight. Hydrating serums are usually lightweight, whereas hydrating moisturisers are usually thicker and creamier.
  • Skin penetration. Hydrating serums are typically designed to penetrate deeply into your skin, delivering a high dose of hydration there, whereas hydrating moisturisers usually aim to lock in moisture and strengthen the skin barrier.
  • Usage. You would normally apply a hydrating serum after cleansing and toning your skin but before moisturising it. At the moisturising stage, you would then apply a hydrating moisturiser.

What ingredients should I look for in a hydrating serum or hydrating moisturiser?

Here are six key ingredients to look for in a hydrating serum or hydrating moisturiser:

  • Humectants. Hyaluronic acid is the headline humectant in many products these days, but you’ll also find sodium hyaluronate (the salt form of hyaluronic acid), pantothenic acid (aka vitamin B5), urea, and glycerine.
  • Lipids. Ceramides and squalane can strengthen your skin’s barrier, helping it keep in moisture.
  • Peptides. These short chains of amino acids can stimulate your skin to produce more collagen, which helps keep it firm.
  • Niacinamide. Also known as vitamin B3, niacinamide can help improve your skin’s barrier function and can even out skin tone.
  • Antioxidants. Vitamin C, vitamin E, and other antioxidants can boost skin repair and rejuvenation as well as protecting your skin from environmental stressors.
  • Natural oils. Oils such as rosehip oil and jojoba oil are great for moisturising your skin.

What makes a hydrating serum or hydrating moisturiser effective?

As alluded to above, the ingredients and formulation are key to the effectiveness of a hydrating serum or hydrating moisturiser.

Hydrating serums and moisturisers typically contains these four types of ingredients:

  • Humectants draw water to the outer layer of your skin, the stratum corneum.
  • Emollients fill in the gaps between skin cells, making the skin softer and smoother and also improving its barrier function against the outside world.
  • Antioxidants help protect the skin from environmental damage.
  • Occlusives form a physical barrier on the skin to minimise water loss. (This is sometimes called transepidermal water loss, TEWL for short.)

What are the benefits of hyaluronic acid in serums and moisturisers?

Hyaluronic acid is a humectant, an ingredient that draws water to itself. Put hyaluronic acid on your skin, and it will draw moisture out of the air and into the skin — unless the air around you is very dry, in which case the hyaluronic acid may pull the moisture it is looking for out of the lower layers of your skin. To stop this happening, you need to put a moisturiser over the top of the serum to seal in the moisture.

Are hydrating serums and hydrating moisturisers suitable for sensitive skin?

Yes, as long as you choose a suitable serum or moisturiser. Look for a product that contains gentle, non-irritating ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, glycerine, and ceramides. Soothing ingredients — such as allantoin, aloe vera, and chamomile — can also be beneficial. Look also for the terms ‘hypoallergenic’ (which means a product is pretty unlikely to cause an allergic reaction) and ‘non-comedogenic’ (which means it won’t clog your pores and create comedones, which are blackheads and whiteheads).

Watch out for ingredients such as alcohol and synthetic fragrances, which may strop up sensitive skin. If you’re having trouble finding a hydrating serum or hydrating moisturiser that suits your skin, consult a dermatologist or book in for a one-to-one skincare consultation with our expert Shenaz.

Why would I use a hydrating serum?

Choosing a hydrating serum can counteract dryness and to stop that tight feeling your skin gets when it needs extra moisture. Also, apart from keeping your skin more comfortable, there are compelling cosmetic reasons for keeping skin well hydrated. First, dry skin wrinkles more quickly than well-hydrated skin, so packing in moisture is a preventative measure; and second, plumping up the skin with a hydrating serum instantly makes fine lines and wrinkles less obvious.

How can serums and moisturisers help reduce fine lines?

Serums and moisturisers can help reduce the visibility of fine lines by hydrating your skin, nourishing it, and protecting it.

Hydration also can make a visible difference surprisingly quickly. When you apply a hydrating serum, it’s absorbed quickly into your skin, adding moisture to the outer layers. This can give an immediate plumping effect. The effect is only fractional, but because your skin is thin, it’s enough to soften the appearance of wrinkles.

Protection also happens quickly. Applying a moisturiser than contains an occlusive agent creates a protective layer on your skin, locking in moisture by preventing water loss through the skin.

Nourishment takes longer, as you might expect. But both serums and moisturisers can deliver ingredients such as retinol, peptides, and antioxidants that stimulate your skin to renew itself gradually.

Can hydrating serums and hydrating moisturisers improve overall skin health?

Yes, hydrating serums and hydrating moisturisers can improve the overall health of your skin. As explained earlier on this page, both serums and moisturisers can improve your skin’s hydration, which is not only essential for its health but which also can reduce problems such as acne, eczema, and dermatitis. Serums and moisturisers can also provide ingredients such as ceramides, fatty acids, and nicotinamide to strengthen your skin barrier against sun, wind, and pollution.

What is the best way to use a hydrating serum or hydrating moisturiser?

Normally, you would apply a hydrating serum after cleansing and toning your skin to add an extra dose of moisture into the top layers of the skin. You would then add a hydrating moisturiser on top of the serum to try to stop moisture escaping from your skin.

How often should hydrating serums and hydrating moisturisers be applied?

Most hydrating serums and hydrating moisturisers are designed for use twice daily, once in the morning and once at night. In a typical routine, you would apply the hydrating serum after cleansing and toning your skin, and then apply the hydrating moisturiser on top of the serum.

As with any product, though, work out what your skin needs rather than applying the product by rote. If your skin is especially dry, you might do better to apply your hydrating serum more frequently than twice a day; but if your skin is oily, less often may suit you better. Similarly, if you have oily skin, you might not need to apply moisturiser at night.

Are there any specific hydrating serums and creams recommended for daily use?

Here are three hydrating serums and creams that are great for daily use:

  • Medik8 Hydr8 B5 Skin Rehydration Serum. The brand calls this ‘liquid rehydration serum’, which is very much what it does, with a lovely blend of hyaluronic molecules along with vitamin B5 to help the skin hold onto moisture that bit better.
  • NeoStrata Skin Active Tri-Therapy Lifting Serum. This is a fantastic de-wrinkling, smoothing, hydrating serum which can bring about dramatic changes in the skin with a month of consistent use. It’s effective at producing a smoother skin texture, reducing fine lines, improving pigmentation and is particularly good for crow’s feet. It also adds volume to sagging skin in the face and neck. It is great for any skin but is particularly good for sensitive and mature skin as it’s really gentle.
  • NeoStrata Triple Firming Neck Cream. The neck is a really tricky area to treat once it starts going crepey and sagging. This cream lifts, firms and plumps up the skin and targets uneven pigmentation. It has won awards for its ability to firm up sagging skin and build volume in the neck. Give it a month to work its magic and you should see firmer, smoother skin with a more even skin tone. The key ingredient is NeoGlucosamine, a patented ingredient which works to build collagen and stimulate your skin to make more of its own hyaluronic acid. It also exfoliates the skin gently.


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Alice answers your question. Want to ask Alice a question? Pop it in here and check back in a few days for the answer.

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