The question that I answer most often from skin care newbies is: “Is my skin dry or dehydrated?”
It’s a fair question, especially with the amount of confusing information out there. If you just glance through a few posts about dry or dehydrated skin, they basically sound like interchangeable terms, but this isn’t quite true.
Dry skin can be dehydrated, and dehydrated skin can also be dry. And for one more layer of fun, just because your skin is dry, that doesn’t automatically mean it’s dehydrated. Confusing, right?
Today, I’m going to explain the terms dry and dehydrated in a simple way that’s easy to remember. I’ll also share a few of my favorite tips on dealing with both so that your skin is as happy and healthy as it can be.
Dry skin can be dehydrated, and dehydrated skin can also be dry. And just because your skin is dry, that doesn’t mean it’s dehydrated. Confusing, right?
Dry vs. Dehydrated: A Quick Breakdown
First, I’m going to make an important distinction. In general, dry skin is a lifelong condition. It’s a skin type, and those don’t often change. On the flip side, dehydrated skin is an issue that can come and go, much like acne. It’s a skin condition, which means that it’s a problem that can be solved.
This is why your skin can be both dry and dehydrated, or oily and dehydrated. In fact, a lot of people who think that they have oily skin really just have normal or combination skin that’s dehydrated.
Spot the Difference
When skin is dry, it doesn’t produce enough natural oil on its own. This can lead to flaking, itching, irritation, dullness, and uncomfortable tightness. Your skin might feel rough in spots as well.
When skin is dehydrated, it lacks water. This leads to many of the same problems that I mentioned regarding dry skin, so it makes sense for people to think that their skin is just dry.
There are ways to tell the difference, though! For example, one of the telltale signs of dehydration is that your skin feels tight and dry but also oily. Another is that you’re prone to acne breakouts or sensitivity.
If your skin is dry, you might notice that it affects your scalp and hands too. Maybe you deal with dandruff, or your scalp gets itchy and irritated if you use new products. Dry skin may also feel papery, and it can often look dull as well.
What to Do For Dry Skin
Because dry skin lacks oil, it’s helpful to add nourishing oils to your morning and evening routines. Oils that are high in oleic acid, such as olive, sunflower, and argan, can help to add the right kind of oil that your skin isn’t naturally making.
It’s also important to use a gentle, low-pH cleanser that won’t strip your skin. Some dry-skinned people can even get away with using only an oil-based cleanser on their faces.
Other ingredients that can soothe dry skin on your face and body include hyaluronic acid, urea, ceramides, and plant butters.
When you have dry skin, it’s important to remember that your skin will typically appreciate plenty of layers of hydration as well as thicker, richer creams and serums. Don’t be afraid to apply a heavier sleeping pack under your makeup or mix a facial oil into your foundation!
What to Do For Dehydrated Skin
When your skin is dehydrated, it means that the outermost layers aren’t retaining enough moisture. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but they almost all involve a damaged moisture barrier.
The top layer of skin (where the moisture barrier lives) is called the stratum corneum, and it’s responsible for regulating hydration. It helps to keep moisture in and irritants out. When it’s compromised through harsh skin care products, sun damage, age, or other factors, too much moisture evaporates from your skin, and you get all of those lovely, uncomfortable symptoms of dehydration.
The solution to dehydrated skin is more of a one-two punch. You need to add hydration back into your skin, but you also need to repair your moisture barrier so that you can stop the cycle of losing too much hydration.
To add hydration, I’ve found that lots of light, watery layers is incredibly effective. Products with glycerin, hyaluronic acid, propanediol, and linoleic acid are all excellent for drawing in moisture and sealing it into your skin.
Even though your skin might be oily, trust me when I say that adding a lightweight oil can help! Squalane, safflower, and grapeseed are all good choices. If you’re still unsure about how well your skin will absorb an oil, apply it underneath a sheet mask! The mask will help the oil sink into your skin more easily.
For dehydrated skin, you need to add hydration back into your skin and also repair your moisture barrier to stop the cycle of losing too much hydration.
To repair your skin’s natural barrier, add ingredients like donkey milk, ceramides, fatty alcohols (like cetearyl alcohol), and niacinamide, which all help to nourish and bolster your moisture barrier.
Dry, Dehydrated, or Both?
Regardless of whether your skin is dry, dehydrated, or a little bit of both, there’s hope for glowing skin! Once you can recognize which skin issues you’re having, you can take the right steps towards treating the problem and getting that coveted “lit from within” glow that we’re all chasing.
What are your favorite skin nourishing tips? Share them with me in the comments!