The Difference Between Dry & Dehydrated Skin

Dry and dehydrated skin might sound synonymous with one another; If something is dehydrated, it must be dry, right? In this case, the distinction between dry and dehydrated skin is what the skin is missing in each case.

Dehydrated skin is low on water. It has lost its elasticity, leaving it tight and dull and accentuating fine lines and wrinkles. This is a skin condition. Dry skin is a skin-type that is chronically low on oil, leaving the skin unprotected, sensitive, and prone to irritation.

People often confuse dehydrated skin for a variety of other skin-issues. They see thin, fine lines starting to appear on their brow or around their eyes. Their skin feels sensitive, itchy. Red rashes, even acne starts to flare up. They slather on moisturizer or turn to other symptom-oriented products because they don’t understand that the difference between dry and dehydrated skin is night and day.

While dry skin is a skin-type that certainly impacts your skincare regime, skin dehydration is a condition that can affect everyone — dry, oily, or combination skin. Read on to find out how to identify dehydrated skin, and more importantly, how to fix it.

Signs and Symptoms of Dehydrated Skin

  • Tightness
  • Uneven Complexion
  • Increased Fine Lines
  • Sunken Eyes
  • Dark Under-Eye Circles

Signs of Dry Skin

  • Scaly Skin
  • Redness
  • Irritation
  • Flaking Skin



Causes of Dehydrated Skin

Aging and Genetics

There are a handful of reasons your skin might become dehydrated. The first two are the unstoppable forces of dehydration, Aging and Genetics. Sorry, you can’t do much about those two — though not for a lack of trying on humanity’s part. As you age, your skin naturally becomes less adept at moisture retention.


The things you can do a whole lot about are the choices you make on a daily basis that might be dehydrating your skin. More often than not, we find poor diets at the center of whatever health problem has decided to spring up lately, and dehydrated skin is no exception. Examine your diet. Excessive alcohol and caffeine consumption and lowered water intake are your prime suspects. Consume both moderately, and drink more water. The old rule of thumb is eight glasses of water a day, or about two liters.


One of the more overlooked causes of dehydrated skin might be the way you shower. At first, that might make no sense — I mean, a shower should be the last thing to dehydrate your skin, right? It’s water. Well, it’s less about the water itself and more about the temperature and length of the shower itself.

Most of us like a good, warm to hot shower. It’s relaxing. Time passes easily. The problem is that heat, whether it’s from the sun or hot water, makes you sweat; You might not notice it because, well, you’re in a shower. Couple that with a long shower, and not only are you sweating out all your skin’s internal moisture, but that relentless downpour of hot water might be washing away your skin’s protective layer of oils — leading to dehydrated skin.

Take shorter, cooler showers to prevent excessive skin dehydration, and try a milder, less abrasive soap.

Hard Water

The other culprit is the quality of the water. Hard water contains a variety of minerals and other trace elements that can dehydrate your skin. Soap particles cling to calcium and magnesium, making it difficult to remove and drying it out as time drags on. Limestone absorbs water from the skin like a sponge, sucking it dry all day. If you suspect you have hard water at home, consider investing in a water softener. They come in a variety of forms, from heavy duty powered filters to handy slip-ons.

Climate Control

As the seasons come and go, and depending on your geography, you might be using a lot of air conditioning or central heating. Both of these draw moisture out of the air, making it harder for your skin to stay hydrated — especially if the lipid barrier is withered or damaged. This effect is magnified in places with stronger winters where the air is especially cold and dry and people tend to keep the heat running 24/7. Picking up a humidifier can do wonders for dehydrated skin, and can be enjoyable with numerous fragrances and customizable designs.


People make the mistake of over-exfoliation for numerous reasons. Sometimes it’s just plain overzealousness; they want the most bang for their buck. Maybe they’ve just had a breakout, or a rash has flared up, and their first instinct is to exfoliate the problem into oblivion. More often than not, people end up over-exfoliating accidentally, because they simply don’t know there is such a thing as over-exfoliation. Or that not all skin is the same. Abrasive exfoliants like sugar and salt scrubs that work wonders for your body are like a cheese grater on your facial skin.

Over-exfoliation can cause numerous problems, but the one most relevant to this discussion is the damage it can do to your skin’s protective lipid layer, the sebum. This layer is used to protect your body from moisture loss! By scrubbing it away, you’re taking away your natural defense against skin dehydration. This opens your skin up to excessive moisture loss, as well as impurities and other pollutants. It is critical to use a less abrasive

Acne treatments are designed to remove oil from the skin; sometimes you want this, but routinely stripping your skin of the oils also removes its natural mechanism for retaining moisture and can lead to chronic dehydration.

Over Cleansing

What could be wrong with washing the dirt and grime off your skin? Well, the same problem arises with over-cleansing as with over-exfoliation. Washing your face and cleansing is certainly good, but like the old adage goes: too much of a good thing is indeed a bad thing. Cleansing too frequently or too harshly wears away the sebum and not only defeats the purpose of cleansing by exposing your skin, unprotected, to dirt and impurities, but lets moisture dissipate into the air unmitigated.

Check out your cleanser, too. Foam cleansers, unless they include an oil or other emollient, tend to absorb the moisture from your skin and could lead to dehydration. Switch to a cream cleanser, or double-check that it is formulated to protect against dehydration.

Avoid anything with Sodium Lauryl Sulfate AT ALL COSTS! It is an extremely harmful irritant with mountains of scientific evidence showing irritation to the skin, eyes and lungs. Its only purpose is to create a pleasing lather -- it doesn't do anything to make a product more effective.

How to FIX Dehydrated Skin

  • Drink More Water
  • Drink Less Coffee/Alcohol
  • Quit Smoking
  • Pick up a Humidifier
  • Take Gentle Showers
  • Use Humectants
  • Choose the Right Moisturizers and Cleanser
  • Be Easy on Your Skin

But by far, the best way to look your best is to maintain a consistently healthy lifestyle. Skincare regimes indeed do wonders for your skin health, appearance, and longevity but become truly effective when built on a foundation of good overall health. You can use all the AHA’s and heavy-duty moisturizers you want, but at the end of the day nothing beats healthy living and a good old glass of water for hydrating your skin.



Dealing with Dry Skin

Because dry skin is a skin type, rather than a condition, your long-term skincare regime should cater to that. The tattered and flaky nature of dry skin makes it much more susceptible to dehydration, for it naturally lacks the sebaceous activity that creates the protective lipid barrier that keeps moisture in and impurities out. This not only leads to further dehydration, but makes your skin more prone to acne breakouts as well. And, if you don't know how to treat it, this can be the start of a vicious cycle.

Use Heavy Moisturizers

Dry skin can accept more product than more naturally oily skin, so don't be afraid to slap on a little extra moisturizer. People with dry skin should look for richer, heavier moisturizers made with nourishing oils and butters. These contribute towards a heavier, thicker layer on the skin that can lock moisture in.

Find a Humectant

Humectants are products that actually draw moisture into the dehydrated tissue. The product will often be missing an indication that it actually is a humectant, so look for humectant ingredients like urea, glycerol, sorbitol, honey, molasses, egg white, glycerin, hyaluronic acids, and alpha-hydroxy acids. These will help restore moisture to the tissue itself which can protect your dry skin from its tendency to dehydrate.

Get a Good Occlusive

Occlusives are your number one priority when it comes to protecting dry skin. Without an effective, well maintained sebum layer, your dry skin is open to the environment; Moisture diffuses into the air, impurities work their way into the tissue. It is the very root of your problems. An Occlusive helps serve this function by placing a physical barrier between your skin and the environment, locking moisture in. An example of an everyday occlusive is lip balm. When the seasons turn, and your lips chap, the balm sets over the tissue and prevents its internal moisture from release.

Look for Ceramides

Ceramides are the building blocks of your skin's natural lipid layer. Products that include ceramides improve the strength and integrity of this protective layer, making your skin more resistant to daily wear and tear, and help people with dry skin form a proper sebum barrier their skin otherwise struggles to produce. Their ability to help produce this layer naturally makes it an integral part of any skincare regime oriented towards dry skin.

Avoid Harsh Cleansers

Because people with dry skin generally have a burning desire to fix the symptoms of dry skin, like acne or rashes, there is a tendency to inadvertently make it worse. If you have dry skin, remember to be extra-gentle. Otherwise, you can end up dehydrating it and creating more of the aforementioned problems for yourself.

Apply Oils

The root of the problem for people with dry skin is their inability to produce a strong sebum barrier on their skin, due to their lack of oil. However, it turns out that one of the best ways to replace missing oil, is to replace missing oil. The shelves are stacked with varieties of oils for treating dry skin. An oil rich in oleic acids and omega-9’s like marula, avocado, olive, sunflower, safflower, macadamia nut or argan oil is excellent for usage on dry skin and can do wonders to recreate that missing piece of healthy skin.