How to get the “Glow”: Moisturisation and hydration

How to get the “Glow”: Moisturisation and hydration

The current trend in beauty and skincare is the glazed donut look. Yup that’s what I said. Now many of you are probably wondering why you’d want to look like a Krsipy Kreme treat. Firstly, we are already a treat so… Secondly, its actually a pretty cool trend because the goal is to have such great, fully hydrated skin to the point where you get a natural “glow”. It for sure beats the over-powdered matt look that was in fashion for a very long time. This was either unattainable for us oily, combo folk (we get a natural noon glow aka oil sheen) or it would make people look old with all the powder sitting in creases and wrinkles and unnaturally matt. I’m glad that’s over. So to achieve healthy glowy skin, the key is moisturisation and hydration. Is there even a difference between the two? Let’s dive in.

(Side note and disclaimer: I live in South Africa, our spelling is different to the American “moisturization”, please just cool your spelling issues kay).

Moisturisation versus Hydration

There are a lot of sites sharing the difference between the two but I’m leaning to LabMuffin’s side on this and saying the difference is nonsensical. Because in scientific terms both involve water. In every other sector of science, moisture and hydration refers to water.

Saying that, in skincare it is useful to distinguish between the two, here’s why:

Moisture refers to oil content of the skin
Hydration refers to water content of the skin

Dry skin lacks oil (the general skincare community will say it needs moisturisation). Dehydrated skin needs water (this is what the community will say needs hydration). So when something says its moisturising, it usually has ingredients like emollients and occlusive agents while products containing humectants are usually marketed as hydrating.

Funny thing is, your skin can be dry but not dehydrated and it can be oily but dehydrated and that is why there are these distinctions between the two, even though they feel nonsensicle. To understand where water and oil actually fit in with the epidermis, let’s talk about the skin barrier and the NMF (natural moisurising factor).

The natural moisturising factor and the acid mantle

Our skin is amazing and it has these incredible mechanisms to protect and repair itself. Granted we take care of it.

As our cells degrade they join the ranks of other degraded cells in a “hygroscopic aminoacid pool” which acts as a resevoire of water. (hygroscopic – means it attracts water). It also maintain flexibility of the upper cell layer. We call this the natural moisturising factor (NMF).

Oil and sweat secretions form a protective film on the skin called the “acid mantle”. It usually has a low pH (acidic) which helps keep the chemical balance and can act as a bouncer for outside harmful microbes.

Together with the lipids in the skin, these natural mechanisms prevent “trans epidermal water loss” (TEWL) which leads to dehydrated skin. The problem is we rub our faces, we wash them often because we wear sunscreen and makeup and we end up disrupting this balance. To right the balance we need to use non-stripping products and put back what we took out. Hence hydration and moisturisation is key.

What are humectants, emollients and occlusive agents?

Humectants: They grab onto water (hygroscopic) and hold it to the skin. This supplements the NMF.
Found in “hydrating” products. Usually in some form in most skin care products as they aid other active ingredients or prevent dehydration from ingredients like retinol or face washes.
Examples: Glycerine (glycerol), hyaluronic acid, lactic acid, propylene glycol

Emollients: These are the lipid rich ingredients that soften skin by supplementing the matrix between the corneocytes (upper most skin cells), this sticks them down and creates a smooth surface. They can also provide a occlusive protective layer to prevent water loss from skin layers or “trans epidermal water loss” (TEWL).
Examples: oils such as olive oil, almond oil and argan oil, stearic acid, squalene

Occlusive agents: They can also be emollients but usually only provide a protective layer on the skin to prevent TEWL. Mostly thicker, waxy type ingredients.
Examples: petroleum, stearic acid, squalane, mineral oil

Who needs hydration? Who needs moisturisation?

EVERYONE!! I’ll say it again. EVERYONE!!

It may feel like having oily or acne-prone skin means you need to “dry out” your skin. Please don’t. I have tried it, it makes things worse. Your skin overcompensates and prodcues even MORE oil… Focus on hydration first if you have oily skin, the light moisturisers. At the moment, and this may change in a few months if I find something else, I am loving Isntree Hyaluronic acid Aqua Gel Cream. Its a nice pairing with hydrating suncreens. That doesn’t mean don’t use oils. You just have to try and see what works for you. Cleansing oils are also becoming popular because you can achieve removal of makeup without stripping your skin of its natural oils. There are even hydrating toners/essences now, which I love because you can achieve hydration without worrying about a greasy feel of some creams. This one was a fun one to use: Klairs Supple Preparation Facial Toner. Not a staple, but a fun addition especially if you’re into the multi-step Korean skincare vibes.

I’m also going to go against the grain a little and say that a basic no-nonsense night cream is fine. I actually always go back to Nivea Moisturising Night Cream. Its just so darn affordable. I tend to focus on hydration in the day and moisturisation at night. Waking up with slightly glazed skin that is soft and smooth and ready for the day is a dream!

I will end off with some donut puns. What I say to people if they skeef me after seeing me all glazed up before bed: Donut kill my vibe.

Ok cool cats and kittens, let’s go glazy. Get your hydration and moisturisation on!

That was lame. Donut judge me.


  1. COSCHEM 1st year notes
  2. Labmuffin post
  3. Handbook of Cosmetic Science and Technology, 4th Ed. (Barel et. al)

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