Is Your Skin Dry or Dehydrated? Here's How to Tell the Difference
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If you’re dealing with breakouts, redness, or flaky spots, you may assume dry skin is the culprit. But there’s a chance your skin is actually dehydrated. (Yep, there’s a difference!) So how can you tell whether your skin is dry or dehydrated — and how can you get your healthy glow back? Here’s what you need to know.
Dry vs. Dehydrated Skin
Dry skin and dehydrated skin might sound like the same thing, but they’re not. So what’s the difference?
- Dry skin is caused by a lack of oil production. This can cause skin to become dull, flaky, or rough, explains Hadley King, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City.
- Dehydrated skin is an absence of water within the skin. Water is important to skin function as it helps maintain skin elasticity. Inadequate hydration may negatively affect circulation, which can lead to a dull complexion. “This won’t make the skin flaky or rough, but it makes it lose resiliency,” King says.
How To Tell If Your Skin Is Dry Or Dehydrated
The signs of dry skin are usually visible — you may notice flaky, red, or scaly areas on your skin. (These symptoms can also be caused by underlying skin conditions, so talk to a dermatologist if you notice any changes in your skin health.)
Dehydrated skin can be harder to spot. The best way to see if your skin is dehydrated is with a “pinch test” to check your skin turgor — a.k.a. the way your skin bounces back. Use two fingers and pinch a bit of skin on the back of your hand. When you let go, it should immediately return to its flat shape. If it holds its “pinched” shape for a moment, your skin may be dehydrated.
How to Treat Dry Skin
To relieve dry skin, the most important tip is to protect your skin barrier — the part of your skin that helps retain moisture. Look for skin care products that contain ceramides, an ingredient that mimics the fatty acids naturally found in your skin.
King also recommends products that contain squalane (such as The Ordinary 100% Plant-Derived Squalane). Squalane (with an “a”) is a saturated form of squalene (with an “e”), a lipid produced by your skin to lock in moisture. Squalane acts as an emollient to help improve the function of the skin barrier.
How To Treat Dehydrated Skin
When it comes to dehydrated skin, there’s one obvious tip that can help: Drink more water and increase the water density of the food you’re eating.
Some topical products may also help. When looking for a moisturizer to treat dehydrated skin, King explains that you should keep three types of ingredients in mind:
- humectants (like hyaluronic acid or glycerin) which help to attract and bind water into the skin
- occlusive agents (like shea butter or petrolatum) which act as a sort of sealant to help trap moisture inside the skin
- emollients (like squalane) which help prevent water loss and soothe skin
Some ingredients serve more than one purpose — for example, a humectant may have emollient properties — so if you’re dealing with dehydrated skin, your best bet is to look for moisturizers that balance these type of ingredients.
- Dietary water affects human skin hydration and biomechanics www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4529263/
- Skin hydration is significantly increased by a cream formulated to mimic the skin’s own natural moisturizing systems www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6197824/
- Moisturizers: The Slippery Road www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4885180/#sec1-3title