Emulsions vs. Moisturizers

Kaleigh Fasanella

Beauty Expert

4 min read

Skincare Education

Discover the differences and how to use both in your skincare routine.

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Emulsions vs. Moisturizers: What is the Difference?

You don’t have to be a skincare buff to know that hydrated skin is the ticket to healthy skin. But how can you ensure your skin is—and, more importantly, stays—adequately hydrated? By maintaining its balance of oil and water, that’s how. Because both essentials are needed for the skin to thrive and function properly.

Here at fresh Beauty HQ, we attain said balance by using both emulsions and moisturizers in our routines for enhanced and sustained hydration. Ahead, we’re diving into the key differences between the two powerhouse hydrators—plus the main benefits of both. 

What are emulsions?

Emulsions are thin, fluid elixirs that boast many of the same benefits as moisturizers but with a weightless milky consistency that is absorbed quickly into the skin. One defining characteristic of emulsions is that they contain two liquid substances that don’t dissolve when combined. (This is why you’re typically told to shake them well before use.)

The fast-growing moisturizer subcategory is already very well-established in the Eastern part of the world—and has been for years—but we’re now starting to see emulsions become increasingly popular here in the West, too, as more consumers seek out lightweight moisturizers.

“When used in skincare, emulsions are considered lighter than moisturizing creams and are generally comprised of oil in water, which we know don’t mix,” explains Dr. Marisa Garshick, a board-certified dermatologist based in New York City. This, however, creates a unique solution that ultimately helps to balance the oil and water levels in the skin, which is essential for it to function well.

Much like serums, emulsions are made for a variety of different skin concerns—from dryness and dehydration to fine lines and wrinkles. But unlike serums, emulsions are composed of highly emollient ingredients that create a protective shield to seal in hydration and boost barrier health. Additionally, they can also be used in lieu of a moisturizer as the final step in one’s skincare routine.

So, to quickly recap: Emulsions are fast-absorbing oil-in-water solutions that deliver intense hydration—sans the heavier weight and richness of a moisturizer.

What are the benefits of emulsions in skincare?

As we briefly touched on above, emulsions provide many of the same benefits as moisturizers (making them ideal for anyone adverse to having anything even remotely heavy on their skin). The new Rose Deep Hydration Balancing Emulsion is a prime example. The innovative milky formula—infused with damask rose extract, hyaluronic acid, and yarrow extract—is deeply hydrating and helps to balance the skin’s oil-water ratio so it stays comfortable, soft, and silky smooth.

And that’s not all. Emulsions also offer a visible plumping and smoothing effect, which in turn helps to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, as well as enlarged pores and rough texture. With continuous use, the skin is left well-balanced, properly hydrated, and behaving predictably. What more could you want?

What are moisturizers?

Also commonly known as creams, moisturizers are more viscous in consistency and are typically used as the last step in one’s skincare routine to lock in hydration so the skin stays healthy and strong. Like emulsions, face moisturizers create a protective barrier between the skin and the external world, keeping the good stuff in and the harmful stuff out. However, they’re much thicker and aren’t milky or fluid in the way emulsions are.

The Rose & Hyaluronic Acid Deep Hydration Moisturizer is a great option for anyone who favors richer formulas—and those with severely dry skin, because it’s packed with skin-soothing ingredients that condition and plump skin to keep it looking its best.

It’s also worth noting that there are moisturizers for all different skin types and concerns, so it all comes down to your skin’s unique needs. The bottom line? Moisturizers are similar to emulsions in that they lock in hydration and keep contaminants out. However, they’re thicker in texture and don’t sink into the skin as quickly.

What are the benefits of moisturizers in skincare?

The main benefit of using a moisturizer is to seal in hydration, as well as all of the good stuff you applied first in your routine (i.e. an essence, serum, etc.). By locking everything in with a moisturizer, it allows the aforementioned products to work even better as they aren’t able to evaporate before being absorbed. Moreover, many moisturizers contain ingredients that help to smooth fine lines and wrinkles and any unwanted texture. With a moisturizer, you can expect skin to look plump, hydrated, and dewy with a noticeably radiant finish that many people love.

Do you need both in your routine?

It depends. If you struggle with severely dehydrated or dry skin, then using both an emulsion and a moisturizer in your routine can be a beneficial move because it’s essentially piling hydration on top of hydration, which double ensures that water won’t escape.

On the flip side, those with very oily skin may benefit from using an emulsion in place of a moisturizer because it’s lighter in weight and works to level out the oil and water in the skin so it stays balanced (neither dry nor too greasy).

With that being said, if your skin is pretty normal and unfussy, you can get away with just using one or the other depending on which consistency you prefer.

Choose your ally with fresh

The good news? All skin types—sensitive, mature, acne-prone, you name it—benefit from the use of both emulsions and moisturizers, giving you even more tools to nourish and brighten your skin tone while enjoying smooth, comfortable skin.

Shop fresh’s new Rose Deep Hydration Balancing Emulsion and its Rose & Hyaluronic Acid Deep Hydration Moisturizer to see for yourself.

Author Profile
blog author Kaleigh Fasanella

Kaleigh Fasanella

Beauty Expert

Kaleigh is a New Jersey-based beauty and wellness writer and editor with a decade of experience contributing to both digital media outlets and brands. Before going freelance, she held positions at Allure, Teen Vogue, and Bustle Digital Group. Having a rare genetic skin condition, she's particularly passionate about normalizing all types of skin and spreading the notion of skin acceptance.