There's A Big Difference Between Dry & Dehydrated Skin. Here's How To Tell + What To Do

There's A Big Difference Between Dry & Dehydrated Skin. Here's How To Tell + What To Do Hero Image
Photo: Stocksy

When our skin starts to look and feel dry, our first instinct is to slather on heavy face moisturizers. The tightness and dullness may go away for a few days or so, but then we find ourselves back at square one trying to solve the problem. Is it dehydrated or dry?

"It may be hard to believe but dehydrated skin is actually far more common than dry skin," says Dr. Taz Bhatia, board-certified physician, specializing in integrative medicine and women's health. And it turns out there is a pretty big difference between the two skin types. "Dehydrated skin lacks moisture, not water, and if you put more water (topically) on dehydrated skin, then it will actually dry the skin further."

Lower humidity levels

"Since there is less moisture in the air, water in your skin evaporates more quickly than in humid months," says all-natural esthetician Jordana Mattoli. Holistic facialist Britta Plug says dehydration in skin is the most common condition with her clients. "Our lifestyles and environment (especially in NYC) converge to create super-dehydrating circumstances. Externally, we've been going through winter in the Northern Hemisphere, with dry heat and cold weather leaching hydration from our delicate outer layer. On the internal front, go-go-go lifestyles and lack of sleep affect our kidney qi and ability to stay well-hydrated. Increased coffee consumption in an effort to boost energy further stresses and taxes and dehydrates our system."

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Hydrating is important to keep toxins flushed and fluid moving efficiently through the capillaries. "Diet will play a huge part in how your skin behaves," says Mattoli. "If you eat processed food high in salt or preservatives, you'll be more prone to dry skin, and puffiness. Look for foods and supplements rich in antioxidants, omegas, and silica rich foods. Even just one green juice a day will make a difference." For omegas, incorporate fish like trout, tuna, and salmon as well as flaxseed. "Nuts, avocado, olive oil, and sweet potatoes are rich in vitamins and protect the skin from oxidative cell damage and will help with dryness and dehydration. Similar to omega-3 fatty acids, these protect the skin barrier and reduce inflammation."

Lock moisture into the skin quickly after cleansing.

Skin is at its most vulnerable time after cleansing. "Try adding in a hydrating toner or essence after you cleanse and exfoliate," says Mattioli. "Another great ingredient to look for is a serum with hyaluronic acid, which will attract water. Then apply your lotions, creams, or oils. Pay attention to each area of the face, and remember, it's OK to just use certain products for certain areas instead of treating it all the same. For example, if just your cheeks are very dry, then that's the area you can apply a richer product." Try a hydrating moisturizer like Éclair Naturals All Over Lotion in French Lavender ($8.99) with Passport to Organics Hyaluronic Acid Serum ($29), a game-changer for sensitive and mature skin.

Photo credit: Stocksy

Evening primrose oil

"If the skin around your eyes and lips has a way of getting crazy, painfully dry, this is the stuff to fix it. Pop one capsule open and rub the oil inside over chapped areas," says Mattioli. How do you improve dehydrated skin and dry skin with food (internal) and topical? Omega-3 fatty acids, aka the building blocks that enable your skin to retain moisture. Take one daily so your skin can bounce back from dehydration.

Stay internally hydrated.

"Drinking enough water is key," says Plug. "Simple, I know, but if you really pay attention you may be drinking less than you think." Try coconut water, mineral-rich spring water, or adding a pinch of Celtic or Himalayan salt to water to increase water absorption. "For the babes that keep guzzling water, and running to the bathroom to pee 10 minutes later, this could be because you're low on electrolytes and need to boost those so your body can retain the water without diluting your body's minerals to suboptimal levels," says Plug. "Bone broth is also very mineral rich, and yin nourishing to keep our tissues plumped. Getting enough sleep is essential for hydration! Just notice next time you don't get enough slumber, even without drinking alcohol being part of your late night, you'll feel dehydrated all day."

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