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Dry Skin vs. Dehydrated Skin- What’s the difference and tips for treating both

July 21, 2020

Dry Skin vs. Dehydrated Skin- What’s the difference and tips for treating both

The terms dry and dehydrated get thrown around interchangeably in skincare. But, they’re actually two different conditions. Your best defense against flakey skin is understanding the difference between the two. So, how do you know if your skin is dry or dehydrated?

We’re breaking down the differences between the two skin conditions and setting the record straight on skin hydration. Read on to learn how to distinguish between dry and dehydrated skin, along with top tips for dealing with each.

Dry vs dehydrated skin—is there a difference?

Dry skin refers to a lack of oil in the skin, whiledehydrated describes a lack of water.

Dry skin is a type of skin that doesn’t produce enough oil. Dry skin feels flaky and itchy, and may just be in certain areas of the face.

Dehydration is a condition where the top layer of skin doesn’t retain water or might be internally lacking moisture. Dehydrated skin often looks dull and inflamed. Skin feels tight and may show exaggerated wrinkles and dark circles beneath the eyes. Other common signs of dehydration include redness and inflammation.

How do I know if my skin is dry or dehydrated?

The real difference between dry and dehydrated skin is not in how they make your skin look and feel. The key lies in what causes each and how you treat them. You can perform a mini skin analysis to determine which you’re dealing with as follows. 

  1. Gently slide your hand up the side of your cheek. Does your skin feel flaky, dry, and rough? Does your skin get tight after cleansing? Is your skin sensitive, sometimes inflamed and even sometimes cracks in cold weather? These are signs of dry skin. 
  2. Now look in the mirror, are there definite fine lines present on your forehead and eyes? Does your foundation patch throughout the day? These are signs of dehydrated skin.

What is dry skin?

Dry skin is a skin type that produces less oil than other types of skin. Dry skin is genetic, but it can also occur as a result of the elements and other environmental stressors. Things like harsh temperatures and weather, poor nutrition, artificial heating and cooling, UV exposure and aging all deplete sebum.

The natural oil in our skin helps it to retain moisture and integrity. Without it, skin often feels rough, looks flaky, and fine lines and wrinkles are more pronounced. Dry skin can be uncomfortable and itchy. The worst areas are typically near the eyebrows and around the corners of the nose and mouth.

Dry skin can lead todamaged skin barrier function, increasing long term sensitivity and inflammation. This can then cause chain reactions like the breakdown of collagen in your skin.

Signs of Dry Skin

  • A feeling of skin tightness, especially after showering, bathing or swimming.
  • Skin that feels and looks rough.
  • Seasonally itchy or itchy in general.
  • Exacerbated by exposure to indoor heating or air conditioning. 
  • Slight to severe flaking, scaling or peeling.
  • Fine lines or cracks.
  • Gray, ashy skin.
  • Dry skin tends to be uncomfortable, flaky, and itchy and will often lack the appearance of pores and oil.
  • Deep cracks that may bleed.
  • Other lifestyle factors that increase dryness include chlorine rich swimming pools, steam rooms, or saunas.

Tip for Dry Skin

  • Avoid using hot water as it breaks down the lipid barriers in the skin, further stripping the skin of moisture.
  • Moisturize. Moisturize. Moisturize. After every shower or face wash, use a hydrating face oil to seal moisture in your skin. Hyaluronic acid serums and creams can also help boost moisture retention.
  • Exfoliate. Use a light exfoliating scrub to get rid of the top layer of dead skin cells to expose newer healthier-looking skin underneath. 
  • Use lip balm. Chapped lips can be incredibly painful and annoying. Lather on an emollient lip balm made from hydrating ingredients like glycerin or petroleum jelly to soothe your lips. Or better yet, give yourself a lip facial with a lip scrub and lip mask.
  • Use a humidifier. Put moisture back into the air and run a humidifier in your bedroom while you sleep. This can be particularly important while running heating during cold months.
  • Drink lots of water. The number one thing you can do to hydrate your skin is to up your water intake.

What is dehydrated skin?

Dehydrated skin is a condition that can happen to any skin type and refers to skin that is losing more water than it is taking in. Dehydrated skin is caused by things like extreme temperatures, medications, alcohol, and smoking. These things affect the protective barrier of your skin, depleting its water content. 

Dehydrated skin feels tight, looks dull, and exaggerates the signs of aging like wrinkles and dark circles beneath the eyes. Redness and inflammation are also common signs of dehydration. Dehydrated skin is characterized by a lack of water,not oil. Meaning, even oily skin types can become dehydrated.

Signs of Dehydrated Skin

  •  Your skin is itchy or flaky. Dehydrated skin means no moisture in the skin’s outer layer. This can appear as itchiness and flakiness, regardless of the amount of oil on your skin’s surface.
  • Your skin is extra sensitive. Dehydrated skin can’t protect itself from external stressors. As a result, things like bacteria and pollution can penetrate causing redness and irritation.
  • Your skin is dull. Dehydration affects your skin’s ability to perform skin cell turnover. This means that your skin does not shed dead cells quickly enough from the surface, resulting in clogged pores and a lackluster complexion.
  • Your fine lines and wrinkles are more pronounced. Dehydrated skin typically looks dull and can show premature signs of aging, like surface wrinkles and loss of elasticity.

Tip for Dehydrated Skin

  • Use a gentle cleanser when you wash your face. The best way to cleanse dehydrated skin is with agentle foaming cleanser and lukewarm water. You want to cleanse away impurities, without stripping additional moisture and leaving residue behind. Look for cleansers that are free of harsh chemicals, stripping sulfates and irritating fragrances.
  • Exfoliate. As dead skin builds up, it can make it harder for your serums and moisturizers to penetrate deeply. Exfoliating at least once a week to remove dead skin cells allows your hydrating ingredients to work better. Avoid rough scrubs and use a gentle touch. 
  • Follow every cleanse with a hyaluronic acid serum. Hyaluronic acid is a superstar ingredient when it comes to replenishing lost moisture in dehydrated skin. A hyaluronic acid serum works as a magnet for moisture, helping your cells hold on to as much of it as possible. Your skin feels and appears hydrated, plump, and healthy. The best time to apply is after cleansers, before your creams or lotions.
  • Finish with a face balm. Because water evaporates quickly, follow your hyaluronic acid serum with a rich, hydrating face balm to create a seal. Press the balm into your skin gently with your fingers. This seals in the powerful benefits from the serum. It also protects your skin against the drying effects of the environment.
  • Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake. Both substances are diuretics that compromise your skin’s barrier function by depleting its water content. Alcohol is a double offender here. It hinders the production of the hormone essential for rehydration. 
  • Pay attention to the seasons. The temperature and humidity changes in the seasons affect the way your skin looks and behaves. Winter can be particularly harsh as cold, low humidity reduces oil production, causing the skin to dry out, and become cracked.
  • Wear sunscreen anytime you plan to be in the sun. Sunlight absorbs any moisture in your already dehydrated skin. This weakens its defense, increasing sensitivity, and premature aging. Wearing SPFslows the visible signs of aging dueto dehydration.
  • Drink more water. Eight glasses per day is the recommended average. But exercise, flying, and heating also draw water out of the body. So, adjust accordingly and drink more.

See a doctor for dry or dehydrated skin if...

Most cases of dry or dehydrated skin respond well to these tips but you should see a dermatologist if:

  • Your skin doesn't improve in spite of your best efforts.
  • Dry skin is accompanied by redness.
  • Dryness and itching interfere with sleeping.
  • You have open sores or infections from scratching.
  • You have large areas of scaling or peeling skin.

Dealing with parched, lackluster skin can be a drag. But the first step to getting your glowy complexion back and busting dull flakiness is learning the difference between dryness and dehydration. The terms are often used interchangeably in skincare; both even look and feel pretty much the same. But remember: dryness refers to a skin type and dehydration is a temporary skin condition. Understanding how these two skin concerns differ, as well as how to treat them could be the thing standing between you and your next skin day.

If your usually happy, hydrated skin has suddenly turned dull and dingy it may be or dehydrated (or both!). Give yourself a little skin assessment after reading through this article and add the appropriate tips to yourskincare routine.