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dehydrated skin: young woman scratching arm

How To Tell If Your Skin Is Dehydrated (And What To Do About It) 

If you’ve been experiencing dry and flaky skin lately, you know how uncomfortable—and hard to remedy—it can be. Maybe you slathered on some extra moisturizer, only to be disappointed when the flakes persisted; maybe you exfoliated to no avail. What gives? Well, it turns out there’s a difference between dry skin and dehydrated skin, even though the terms are often used interchangeably. Knowing what you’re dealing with is important because it determines exactly what your skin needs to come back to plump, juicy life. 

So, how can you tell if you have dehydrated skin—and what can you do to reclaim your smooth glowing complexion? Ahead, we break down the differences between dehydrated skin and dry skin, and offer tips for boosting skin health and hydration. 

  • ABOUT OUR EXPERTS: Nicole Pozniak is a cosmetic chemist and lab technician at KKT Labs. Anar Mikailov, M.D., is a board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Skintensive. Page Buldini is a licensed esthetician and the founder of Page Aesthetics Skincare.

Dehydrated Skin vs. Dry Skin: What’s the Difference? 

First things first, let’s explain what dry skin is. Nicole Pozniak, cosmetic chemist and lab technician at KKT Labs, explains that there are different skin types, including dry skin, oily skin, and combination skin. When you have a dry skin type, that means your skin lacks oil, which can cause your skin to appear flakier, she says. 

Dry skin is partially due to genetic predisposition, partially due to external factors like your environment or the products you use, and partially due to your hormone status, adds Anar Mikailov, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and co-founder of Skintensive. “Women experiencing pregnancy, perimenopause, or menopause notice decreases in oil content, leading to dry skin,” he notes. 

Now, what about dehydrated skin? Rather than lacking oil, dehydrated skin lacks water, notes licensed esthetician Page Buldini, founder of Page Aesthetics Skincare.

One of the culprits here is transepidermal water loss (TEWL), which occurs when water passively evaporates from your skin, explains Pozniak. According to a study published in the journal Skin Health and Disease, environmental factors like climate and pollution can cause TEWL. Two big ones: changes in ambient temperature and humidity, notes Mikailov. Using certain harsh skin-care products can also have this effect.

Same goes for (no surprise here) changes in fluid consumption, he says. You didn’t think your skin was exempt from the impacts of dehydration, did you?

Any skin type (yep, even oily skin) can experience dehydration, Mikailov says. So, if you’ve been cranking up the heater in your home to keep warm during the winter, skimping on H2O throughout the day, or recently added an intense product to your routine, you could wind up with dehydrated skin.

What Does Dehydrated Skin Look And Feel Like? 

Though dry and dehydrated skin have different causes, it can still be difficult to determine which one you’re dealing with. What, exactly, should you look out for, then?

Dehydrated skin can be rough and dull,” says Buldini. She says fine lines may appear more visible and you may even see slight redness. “Skin can feel tight and appear delicate or reactive,” she adds. 

Read More: 7 Signs You’re Dehydrated

If you’re still not sure, there’s one surefire way to confirm—and it involves giving your skin a little pinch. “One of the most common signs of skin dehydration is wrinkling,” says board-certified nurse practitioner Michelle Doran, N.P., founder of RN Esthetics. “When pinching the skin to check the skin turgor [elasticity], it will be slow to return to normal.” Gently pinch your skin on the back of your hands or somewhere on your chest. If it takes a second for your skin to bounce back into place, chances are it’s dehydrated.

How Do You Nurture Dehydrated Skin?

If your skin is thirsty, use these tips from the beauty pros to help restore balance.

1. Use The Right Moisturizer

“For both dehydrated and dry skin, use a moisturizer formulated with a good balance of humectants, emollients (think ceramides), and occlusives,” says Mikailov. “Ideal moisturizers will have a plant oil base and water so both oil and water content are repaired.” 

He specifically suggests looking for emollients that increase skin hydration, repair the skin barrier (the upper layer of skin that keeps irritants out), and reduce TEWL. (ICYMI, an emollient is an ingredient whose job is to soften, soothe, and increase moisture in the skin.)  

“I prefer plant-based oils and butters like coconut oil and jojoba oil over mineral oil, as they mimic the skin’s natural oils,” says Mikailov. Some of the ingredients he recommends those with dehydrated skin look for in a moisturizer include:

  • Coconut oil: “This natural plant-based oil has what I call ‘miracle’ properties, including excellent moisture restoration [emollient properties] and moisture loss prevention [occlusive properties], says Mikailov. That said, it can be challenging to find a coconut oil product that isn’t too oily or greasy, he notes. He recommends using products containing coconut oil immediately after showering for optimal absorption. (Try Nubian Heritage Coconut & Papaya Body Lotion with Vanilla Extract.)
  • Ceramides: “Ceramides are fatty acids found in high quantities in all layers of our skin,” explains Mikailov. “Ceramides act as glue between skin cells and create a barrier to prevent allergens or toxic substances from penetrating the skin.” Using ceramides can be helpful in combating dehydrated skin as well as preventing flares of irritation, he says.
  • Squalane: This popular skin-care ingredient was created to replicate our own naturally produced squalene, which is secreted by our sebaceous glands to hydrate and protect our skin, Mikailov says. (Try Winged Squalane + Vitamin C Serum.)
  • Sea buckthorn: Mikailov is also a fan of sea buckthorn, a plant-derived oil with potent antioxidant properties that helps soothe irritation.

2. Use A Water-Based Serum

Water-based serums are also your friend if you have dehydrated skin. “These serums have high water content, which absorbs quickly into the skin, thus boosting hydration,” Pozniak says.

Read More: The Surprising Supplement Regimen For Healthy Skin

Look for a serum that also contains humectants such as hyaluronic acid and polyglutamic acid, which draw water into the skin. Cool fact: Hyaluronic acid can bind to 1,000 times its weight in water, while polyglutamic acid can bind to about 4,000 to 5,000 times its weight in water, Pozniak says. These two ingredients can help “improve the look of skin, making it plump and supple,” she says. Try Derma E Hydrating Serum with Hyaluronic Acid for a boost of this hydrating goodness in your daily routine.

3. Layer Skin-care Products Correctly

Just as important as the products you use is how you use them. Budini offers this pro tip for layering skin-care products: “At night, or when you’re feeling a little dry or dehydrated, apply a water-based serum first after cleansing, then add an oil-based product to lock in moisture.” 

Buldini explains that applying a water-based product first and then following up with an oil-based product can help keep your products close to the skin so they can work their hydration magic. 

4. Be Gentle With Cleansing

Do not, we repeat, do not over-cleanse your skin, as doing so can strip it of much-needed water and moisture. “Creamy and gentle cleansers that remove makeup and SPF without disrupting the skin’s barrier are helpful,” says Buldini. If you’re looking for a gentle cleanser, try the Derma E Hydrating Cleanser with Hyaluronic Acid or Mad Hippie Cream Cleanser for Normal to Dry Skin

5. Make Lifestyle Modifications

Beyond making a few simple changes to your skincare routine, you’ll also want to consider a few lifestyle modifications if you have dehydrated skin. For example, “Using a humidifier during the winter when you have heaters on can really help keep the skin hydrated,” says Mikailov. And, “If you live in an area with hard water, consider adding a water filter to your shower head,” he adds. Research suggests hard water may worsen eczema and skin barrier function. 

Limiting your alcohol consumption can also help ease dehydrated skin, Doran adds. Not only is alcohol dehydrating, but studies find heavy drinking can also increase wrinkles, under-eye puffiness, and facial volume loss. Increasing your water intake can help with dehydrated skin, so guzzle up, suggests Doran. How much water you should drink per day really varies from person to personbut, in general, half your body weight in ounces of water is a good place to start. If you struggle with getting enough H2O into your system, consider adding a hydration supplement to your usual sips for additional flavor and electrolytes that’ll support optimal fluid balance.

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