8 ways to moisturize without moisturizer

These clever non-creams are key to staying happily hydrated.

Not long ago, moisturizing was merely a matter of applying a face cream. Now, there's a whole array of product types to complicate the process: assorted mists, next-generation serums and "boosters," treatment waters/essences, and all manner of face masks. How do they work? Here's the nitty-gritty on these skincare extras.

Moisturizers typically do their job by tapping several types of ingredients – particularly humectants, which draw water into the skin cells, and occlusives, which form a "topcoat" on skin to seal in that water, hindering evaporation.

To stay happily hydrated, you need both types of ingredients, but products that are heavy on occlusives also often feel heavy in texture (think: a rich cream in a jar). They tend to sit on your skin surface, instead of absorbing deeply.

So, many clever non-creams, like the ones below, focus on delivering humectants (or other hydrating ingredients) within very thin formulas, allowing them to sink in much more quickly. For best results, apply your favourite face cream as step two to seal in the skincare benefits.

Facial mists

Canisters of thermal water are nothing new: for centuries in Europe, bathing in or spritzing on the mineral-rich H20 has been considered a cure for skin conditions as wide-ranging as rosacea, eczema or plain-old dehydration. Entire beauty brands have sprung up based on thermal water, each touting the unique composition of their particular source.

Uriage Thermal Water, a familiar name in French pharmacies but now rolling out across Canada, claims to have a higher amount of key minerals than rival mists, helping to moisturize and soothe even sensitive skin types.

$14 at Shoppers Drug Mart

Omorovicza Queen of Hungary Mist is admittedly a splurge (the Omorovicza family is bona fide nobility in Hungary), but it's more than just thermal water. The spray also packs glycerin (a humectant), apple pectin, and rose and orange blossom flower waters – and smells like a garden party.

$110 on

Treatment waters/essences

Originally popularized in Asia, treatment waters or essences can be mistaken for toners at first because of their lookalike appearance and feel, but they work completely differently. Whereas toners are a cleansing step to erase the last traces of makeup, treatment waters or essences are a hydration step. They typically soften the skin and prep it to better absorb the serums and lotions that follow.

SkinFood Premium Lettuce & Cucumber Watery Essence, suitable for oily or combo skin types wary of pore-clogging heaviness, delivers refreshing hydration with 10 percent lettuce extract, 10 percent cucumber extract and 30 percent cucumber water.

$35 on

Missha Time Revolution First Treatment Essence has garnered much online buzz as a money-saving dupe for SK-II's highly coveted, luxe skin potion.

$49 on

Next-gen serums and boosters

Usually super-fluid or downright runny in texture, all serums are formulated with a high concentration of active ingredients that the skin can drink up fast. What makes the newest ones innovative is their ability to boost the skin's own hydrating power.

SkinCeuticals H.A. Intensifier uses hyaluronic acid, a sugar molecule considered a superstar humectant because it can attract and hold 1,000 times its weight in water. Your skin already makes HA – but less and less of it as you age. This serum-gel not only gives a surface dose of hyaluronic acid, but also promises to spike your skin's level of it by 30 percent.

$120 at medi-spas and dermatologists' offices   

Vichy Minéral 89 Fortifying and Plumping Daily Booster feels like a cooling gel and helps strengthen the skin's barrier function, so you're better able to keep moisture in. It features hyaluronic acid, alongside 89 percent mineral water (hence the name).

$40 on, available mid-June

Sheet masks

Born as a Korean beauty (K-beauty) trend, sheet masks have now become Instagram bait (see: celebrities like Drew Barrymore snapping selfies of their pre-red-carpet ritual). Often made of fabric-like material, these one-use masks are drenched with a hefty concentration of serum – much more than you'd normally apply at once – and meant to be worn for 10 to 15 minutes. Consider this your express route to dewiness.

NeoStrata Hydrating & Plumping Sheet Mask packs lots of hyaluronic acid (yup, that classic humectant again) alongside botanicals like aloe vera juice.

$8.50 at drugstores

Origins Flower Fusion Rose Hydrating Sheet Mask is made of 100% bamboo, soaked with moisturizing ingredients like rose flower oil and rose flower wax.

$9 on

Wing Sze Tang is a beauty and health writer in Toronto. Find her at