“Similar in formula, they are closely related but not necessarily identical,” says board-certified dermatologist Ava Shamban, M.D., founder of SKINFIVE. So while they do often contain moisturizing properties, you wouldn’t want to use a barrier cream the same way as a moisturizer (more on that later). Sure, some brands will name their fatty acid-rich moisturizers “barrier creams,” but just know that the two aren’t so interchangeable. 

“Barrier creams are usually thicker than regular moisturizers and usually form a thin layer on top of the skin instead of melting and disappearing into the skin when applied,” says Rodney. “If you are looking to hydrate dry and itchy skin, you want to use a moisturizer. If you are looking for an added layer of skin protection against wind or harsh weather over already moisturized skin, you can use a barrier cream.” 

Think of it this way: Barrier creams don’t exactly hydrate your skin, but they do keep hydration locked inside. Shamban agrees: “They do more than introduce moisture; they have protectants and actives to work on decreasing inflammation, fighting redness, reducing itch, repairing and strengthening intracellular building blocks of the stratum corneum layers,” she says.

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