Is your skin dry or dehydrated?

We skincare brands talk a lot about dry skin and dehydrated skin and what you should use but how can you tell if your skin is either dry or dehydrated, or both?

The differences are subtle — both leave your skin looking and feeling flat and can lead to skin health issues— and the things that make them worse are very similar.

In short dry skin lacks oil and dehydrated skin lacks water. I am going to try to make this simple (but it really is not) and just focus on what they are and how to tell which is affecting you and a few things you can do to help.

Is your skin dry or dehydrated and how can you tell?

Diagnosis: how does your skin look and feel?

Dry skin is one of the four skin types (the others are oily, normal or combination) so dry skin is what you’ve always had, it’s your genetics so you will know if that is you, it is not changeable, it’s nothing you have done to cause it but there are lots of things you can do to keep your skin healthy.

Dry skin means you simply do not produce enough of the oil that’s essential for maintaining a healthy skin barrier. The oil provides waterproofing which protects us from irritants and chemicals in the environment and keeps our skin hydrated and flexible by keeping the precious water in. Dry skin can result in tiny, microscopic holes developing. So, like a hole in a waterproof layer, it allows the bad things in, making your skin irritated, red and sensitive. It also means water gets out more easily, leading to dehydrated skin as well.

Dry skin feels tight, dry, can be flaky, has tight patches, feels rough and may be itchy and you’ve probably had issues with sensitivities. 

Read what to do with sensitive skin here.

On the other hand, dehydrated skin is a condition that can and does affect many of us, whether we have dry, oily, combination or normal skin. It is not permanent and you can fix it. Your skin can feel OK one day, tight and dry the next but not dealing with it does lead to problems. If you have not had dry skin all your life but are experiencing tight, dry, itchy skin and starting to have sensitivity issues then dehydration is your problem. Dehydrated skin is a lack of water which, like oil, also is essential for skin health.

Your skin can look dull and drawn; the lines on your skin will look more severe without water to plump up the outer layer of skin. When you apply your products, your skin just sucks them in. Because you are losing hydration your skin becomes dry, feels rougher and you run into all the same problems as dry skin: irritation and sensitivities.

Caring for dry skin

Dry skin can be made worse by cold weather, over-cleansing, exfoliation, hot water, getting older, hormone imbalance, under-active thyroid, poor diet, stress and some medications — including the pill.  Oh, and smoking is terrible for the skin full stop. 

Firstly, keep it simple. Stop making your skin worse with exfoliation, cleanse with a gentle cleanser at night only and by gentle I mean something that does not make your skin feel tight or squeaky after using.  So no soap, no foaming cleansers. Use a good Face Oil  to nourish, hydrate and protect your skin and to replenish what you are not producing and as you most likely will be losing water, use a super-hydrating face cream will deliver moisture and keep it locked in. And always wear your sun block.

Caring for dehydrated skin

Dehydrated skin is a condition that is caused by lifestyle and environmental factors— cold, wind, sun, air conditioning. And then the things we do ourselves: incorrect or overuse of skin care products, harsh cleansing, exfoliating, poor diet, alcohol and smoking.

When it comes to your skincare its always “keep it simple” and that is particularly important here-your overall aim here is to improve the health of your skin barrier. STOP exfoliating, cleanse once a day (at night) using a gentle cleanser that will nurture your skin while cleaning, leaving it plump and soft.  If you have oily skin cleanse morning and night  (because yes, you can have oily AND dehydrated skin)

Make sure you are getting lots and lots of good quality fats in your diet: so avocados  grass fed meats with lots of fat through them, eggs, dairy products or nuts and seeds. 

Then because dehydrated skin needs water, a  good face cream is the number one thing for you because it combines water, humectant (a water-attracting ingredient) and oils.  And for extra hydration, apply your face cream it to slightly damp skin. And always wear your sun block.

And drink water for your general health but it will not rehydrate your outer layer of skin.

And if you're over 40 ...

Of course, there is also the issue that affects us women after 40 when perimenopause starts and that is the fact that our skin does become more dry, leading to dehydration but that is a whole separate blog which I will write soon. Overall, our aim is for healthy skin so avoid the things that make it worse, do the things that make it better and use a simple, non-damaging skincare routine and stick with it. And always wear your sun block.

Main photo by Oscar Keys on Unsplash