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by Dr.Ying-Chin Wu

Are you hydrating properly?

Hydration is the most important step in skincare, and the crucial foundation to healthy and beautiful skin. If you ask a dermatologist what the most important part about skincare is, most of them would say "hydration" as the answer.

Why is hydration so important?

The skin comprises three main layers: epidermis, dermis, hypodermis. On the outer most layer of the epidermis lies the stratum corneum, which protects the skin from external irritation and prevents evaporation of body moisture, and the most essential purpose of hydration is to maintain normal moisture content in the stratum corneum! 

Moisture content of the stratum corneum in healthy skin should be 20%-35%. Internal and external stimulants such as change of season, air pollution, change of routines, emotion etc. may all compromise the skin's defenses and reduce moisture content of the stratum corneum. Once moisture content falls below 10%, the skin may show roughness, darkening, tightness, or itchiness and become unable to renew dead skin cells properly, causing the stratum corneum to thicken, flake, or even develop dry wrinkles. Proper hydration will solve most skin problems and promote renewal of dead skin cells to restore suppleness to the skin.

The dominant hydration trend 

As people begin respecting the importance of hydration in recent years, new hydration products with reinvented formulas have flooded the market, and among the most popular ingredients used are hyaluronic acid and ceramide. While they both claim to achieve hydration, what are the differences between the two?


Hyaluronic acid and ceramide are compounds naturally found in the epidermis. Although they both help to moisturize the skin, they achieve using very different mechanisms. Hyaluronic acid works like a huge sponge that helps the skin absorb moisture from our body and the skin surface. Hyaluronic acid achieves 16 times the hydration effect of collagen, and holds water up to 1000cc/g to keep the stratum corneum moisturized for extended periods of time. Ceramide, on the other hand, is a form of lipid that makes up 40%-50% of intercellular lipids in the stratum corneum; the substance is unique in the way that it is both hydrophilic and lipophilic, which enables it to absorb moisture while at the same time keeping the hydrolipidic film at a slightly acidic state to enhance the skin's defenses, prevent bacteria infection, promote proper renewal of dead skin cells, and lock moisture into the stratum corneum. Simply put, hyaluronic acid absorbs moisture while ceramide strengthens the skin barrier to lock in moisture.

However, our reserve of ceramide and hyaluronic acid dwindles due to age and environmental changes. Given that hyaluronic acid is an important hydration factor in the epidermis, loss of which would put the skin in dehydration. As for ceramide, loss of which would cause misalignment of the stratum corneum and compromise the skin barrier, making it ineffective at retaining moisture and protecting against threats, causing dryness, itchiness, and flaking.


Hyaluronic acid: the first choice for hydrating dry skin

I would recommend products containing hyaluronic acid to people with dry but otherwise healthy skin. Out of all hydrophilic hydration factors, hyaluronic acid is the easiest to absorb and the least irritative. It holds large volume of water and quickly replenishes moisture to the skin, but for the optimal effect, we should supply moisture in addition to what the body provides. For example, we can apply products containing hyaluronic acid immediately after a face wash, so that the acid may absorb the extra moisture on skin surface; we may then follow up with lotion and cream to form an oil-based barrier that prevents hyaluronic acid from direct contact with air and vaporization, and lock in moisture for the best hydration effect. Hyaluronic acid comes in macro, medium, and small molecular sizes. Large molecules have stronger water absorbency and are able to hold on to large volume of moisture at the skin surface, whereas small molecules can penetrate and work at deeper levels of the skin. Choosing a product that contains both macro and small molecule hyaluronic acids will help replenish moisture at the surface and within to compound the hydration effect!  

Hyaluronic acid + ceramide: a powerful duo to rid itchiness and flaking

However, if the skin is in a state where it is not only dry but develops itchiness or flaking, then it is very likely that defense of the stratum corneum has been compromised. In this situation, using hyaluronic acid alone for hydration is simply not enough; what you should do is to add ceramide to boost defense of the stratum corneum. This way, the hyaluronic acid provides hydration while ceramide prevents vaporization to lock in moisture and disrupt the dry-itch cycle, thereby ridding irritation for good. When choosing ceramide, opt for those that have smaller molecules and higher stability as they are absorbed quicker, penetrate deeper, and have less contact with air to achieve the optimal effect.

DR.WU Intensive Hydrating Serum With Hyaluronic Acid
Long-lasting hydration and activation of the basal layer

Hydration should be the key focus of skincare all year round, and DR.WU's classic Intensive Hydrating Serum With Hyaluronic Acid is ideal for dehydrated skin, as it combines macromolecular and small molecule hyaluronic acids and a new ingredient called OptimHyal to allow hydration factors to work deep into the skin's basal layer, thereby keeping the skin moisturized outside and within for extended period of time. The product is gentle to the skin and does not cause irritation, making it suitable even for people with sensitive/irritable skin! 

DR.WU Bionanoceramide 2% NMF 15%
Enhancing skin's natural moisture barrier from within

In recent years, the clinic has seen many patients who suffered itchiness and flaking from dryness. They may appear to be lacking hydration at first sight, when in fact the problem is caused by compromised defense in the stratum corneum. To address skin problems of the modern population, DR.WU has developed a new "dermLab" lineup based on "skin immunology," and among which is a product called "Bionanoceramide 2% NMF 15%" that simulates physicians' prescriptions, using Japan-made ceramide of extremely small molecular sizes to achieve twice the penetration strength. The solution works deep into the skin's basal layer to replenish intercellular lipids, and the addition of natural hydration factors and plant-based synthetic glycogen helps restore suppleness and firmness to the skin. The product also incorporates DR.WU's proprietary hydration network technology that locks in active ingredients to strengthen the skin's moisture barrier from within.