A near infrared (NIR) multispectral imaging method for measuring skin hydration has been applied in a clinical study for estimating skin hydration effects of skin moisturizers and cleansers. The method has been compared to the commercially available, standard electrical methods for evaluating changes in skin hydration based on conductance and capacitance measurements. All of the instrumental methods have been compared to the visual assessment of skin dryness. It has been shown that the NIR imaging method is capable of detecting changes in skin hydration induced by skin moisturizers and cleansers. A large positive hydration change upon treatment by a moisturizing cream was easily detected by all three instrumental methods and by the expert visual assessment of dryness. The imaging technique is rapid, noncontact and noninvasive, and has the additional important advantage of showing the degree of hydration as a function of location, for rapid assessment of change in hydration. There was a clear difference between the instrumental methods when the induced changes were not as great as that from the moisturizing cream. The imaging technique showed more sensitive discrimination between treatments and control, and strong correlation to visual appearance of dryness. © 2005 Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers.