Dry Vs. Dehydrated Skin: You Need To Know The Difference

10 Facts About Dehydration & Dryness

FACT #1: Everyone needs a balance in the skin of BOTH moisture (oil) and hydration (water).

Not too much of one and not too much of the other is best. This balance is truly the foundation of smooth, glowing, and beautiful-looking skin. This applies to all skin types, regardless of whether you’re a teenager with acne, or in your 80s with the driest of dry skins.

FACT #2: The epidermis, or the top layers of skin, is responsible for keeping skin hydrated.

It’s where underlying processes that control levels of hydration occur. These processes maintain a proper balance between water retention and water loss. Researchers still don’t fully understand these very complex processes. We can, however, use what knowledge we do have to our benefit.

FACT #3: You can’t have both oily and dry skin.

Oily skin means your skin produces oil. Dry skin means it doesn’t produce oil. These simply contradict each other. You can be oily and dehydrated, but not oily and dry. If you take away only one thing from this post, this should be it.

FACT #4: This may come as a surprise, but you can’t drink your way to hydrated skin.

Drinking water is actually the least efficient way to hydrate the skin.

FACT #5: When the skin is dry or dehydrated, it’s usually more sensitive.

Want to make your skin less sensitive? Topically hydrate and/or moisturise for your specific skin type.

FACT #6: To properly retain water to keep the skin looking and acting healthy, you need lipids (oils).

These can either be your own built-in lipids or topical ones, in the form of emollient moisturisers.

FACT #7: Dry skin (that produces little to no oil), does not retain water easily.

Think of leather, which can dry out and harden over time. As stated in the previous fact, dryness needs oil. Similarly, leather requires frequent oil conditioning to keep it moist and pliable. If you apply water to leather, it only gets drier and more cracked. Without oil, the applied water quickly evaporates, taking all other existing water in the leather with it!

FACT #8: For dehydrated skin (those who DO produce oil but just need water), avoid using aggressively harsh products.

These can contribute to tightness in the skin, leaving you with what seems like “dry skin” but really isn’t.

FACT #9: For excessively oily skin types prone to acne and breakouts, the goal is to lessen oil activity (since oil significantly contributes to breakouts).

You don’t want to deplete so much oil, though, that the skin is left vulnerable. This subjects it to water loss, which can result in tightness or even flakiness.

FACT #10: Choose your moisturiser wisely.

Moisturisers are comprised of emollients and hydrators, or humectants. Emollients keep moisture in the skin, and hydrators attract water to the skin. All moisturisers contain a mixture of both but the percentage of each can vary. If you have oily or combination skin, you probably make enough of your own oil, a natural emollient. This means you should opt for a lighter lotion or cream that contains more humectants and fewer emollients. On the contrary, if you don’t produce oil, then you need a richer cream with more emollients. These will act as a seal and protect the skin from water loss.

But wait…before you read on for more details, remember to apply this information based on how your skin is TODAY. The skin changes with age, and it’s important to focus on the here and now, not what your skin used to be like years ago. Got it?

What Exactly is Dry Skin?

Dry skin as a skin type, is known as alipidic skin. This means the skin does not produce much oil (sebum). Skin relies on oil to retain moisture; without it, dryness ensues.

What are the characteristics of dry skin?

  • Pores are medium to small and often even invisible-looking. This usually results in a smoother texture. Follicles don’t have a chance to dilate and stretch pores because there isn’t as much oil production (compared to oilier skin types). This is a major plus for those with lifelong dry skin, so consider yourself lucky in this regard. Oily skin types, can choose to use retinol based products or products containing Niacinamide to achieve smaller-looking pores.
  • There is minimal to no acne. This is another benefit! Oil is one of the underlying causes of blemishes. If you’re not getting many breakouts, then this is an indication of very little oil production. Even if you got acne in your younger years, it’s important to deal with what your skin is doing today. Do note, though, that even dry skin types can get an occasional hormonal cystic blemish. This is a unique type of blemish that can occur at any age.
  • Skin consistently feels tight and dry and may appear rough and flaky. Of course, if you’re exfoliating regularly, flakiness is less likely to occur.
  • For medium to deeper skin tones, the skin can take on a dull or ashy look.
  • Fine lines and wrinkles are pronounced. This is, of course, related to how much or little sun damage your skin has had.
  • Dryness means the barrier function is compromised, which usually results in increased sensitivity. Inflammation causes a chain of biochemical reactions that lead to collagen and elastin breakdown. Keeping skin irritation to a minimum is essential.
  • Increased exfoliation is required to prevent dry skin cell build (lessening the look of dryness).

What causes dry skin?

  • Genetics: Dryness, unlike dehydration, is something you’re born with.
  • Age: The skin has a harder time retaining moisture as you get older.
  • Lifestyle: Airplane travel, alcohol consumption, and antihistamines taken for allergies are big contributors.
  • Environment: This can include climate, heaters, and air conditioning units.
  • Prolonged exposure to the sun and heat
  • Overly drying skincare products such as bar soaps, high-foaming cleansers, and prescription retinoids
  • Hormones: Estrogen, which normally retains water in the dermis for a plump, moist look, naturally diminishes with age. The skin deflates and wrinkles become more pronounced.

How can you treat dry skin?

  • The simplest way is to use a skincare routine formulated exclusively for dry skin. This should include gentle but effective exfoliants to smooth away the dry cells that can contribute to a rough texture..
  • Choose the right type of moisturiser or skin oil. It should contain the right combination of protectants and emollients to create a barrier that prevents moisture loss.
  • Use gentle leave-on acid exfoliants to remove surface flakiness and promote cell renewal. Lactic acid, in particular, helps improve natural production of intercellular lipids for a healthy barrier function.
  • Wash with mild cleansing lotions formulated for your skin type. Avoid using bar soap or harsh foaming cleansers. Cleansing lotions contain emollients that are very soothing and comforting for dry skin.
  • After cleansing, never leave the skin bare for more than 60 seconds. This helps prevent moisture evaporation. You should always immediately apply your next product immediately to lock on the moisture already present on your skin.
  • Use a humidifier during winter to keep moisture in the air—and in your skin. You can also keep a bowl of water in your bedroom at night if you don’t want to get a humidifier.
  • Use a hydrating skin serum underneath moisturiser to provide an additional layer of protection and nourishment to the skin.
  • For the final step in your nighttime routine, layer a skin oil on top of your moisturiser.
  • Use prescription retinoids or retinol carefully.

What Exactly is Dehydrated Skin?

Dehydrated skin, as a skin condition, lacks water content. The technical name for this is transepidermal water loss (TEWL). The skin can still have normal or even overactive sebaceous oil activity. If you still produce oil and get breakouts but your skin seems dry, it’s simply dehydrated.

What are the characteristics of dehydrated skin?

  • Skin feels tight and can easily form fine lines due to lack of water in surface cells. Note: Unlike dry skin that’s a consistent condition, dehydrated skin isn’t always prolonged. It can feel tight one day and normal the next based on various factors. Unless of course, you’re regularly using overly-drying products or regularly over-exfoliating (then it will feel tight consistently!).  Skin can appear tight and shiny even if no visible oil is present.

What causes dehydrated skin?

  • Lifestyle: Airplanes and alcohol consumption are big contributors.
  • Age: As skin cells get older, the epidermal cell cycle slows down significantly. This leads to the slowed production of intercellular lipids, creating an impaired barrier function that results in dehydration.
  • Overly drying skin care products such as bar soaps, high-foaming cleansers, and prescription retinoids

How can you treat dehydrated skin?

  • The simplest way is to use a skincare routine formulated for keeping water levels up in skin. This should include gentle but effective exfoliants to smooth away the surface dehydrated cells that can contribute to skin tightness.
  • Use a moisturiser containing humectants to keep skin looking plump and dewy. Look for ingredients like Hyaluronic Acid.  These help draw water from the environment into the skin to keep it soft and supple. Chemically speaking, humectants form hydrogen bonds with water molecules. Humectants also draw water from the dermis (the second layer of skin) into the epidermis (the outer layer). If the humidity is above 70 percent, they can even draw in moisture from the air.
  • Use alcohol-free toners containing humectants, or floral waters that add moisture to the skin.
  • After cleansing, never leave the skin bare for more than 60 seconds to prevent moisture evaporation. You must immediately apply your next products (moisturising toner, serum, and moisturiser).
  • Add a skin serum underneath a moisturiser for a boost of hydration.
  • Use a humidifier during the winter months to keep moisture in the air—and in your skin. You can also use a bowl of water in your bedroom at night.
  • Go easy on exfoliants. Using too many acids and scrubs too often and too aggressively can cause surface dehydration and inflammation.
  • Use only sulfate-free cleansing gels as this, too, prevents unnecessary dehydration.