Is your skin dry or dehydrated? Here's how you can tell.

Is Your Skin Dry or Dehydrated?

Here’s How You Can Tell

By Kendall Farr, Licensed Esthetician, Spada Skincare

Here’s a fun fact: your skin is your largest organ. Wholly external and very much out there, your skin is vulnerable to all kinds of environmental stressors. It also has a definite ‘type’ and it’s important to understand exactly what that is to best support your skin. Most common skin irritations are the result of barrier (the outer layer of the skin) irritation and often caused by cleansing (or a lack of cleansing) and ‘treating’ for the wrong skin type. And cleansing the same way for decades – for a skin type you had when you were younger- can also create all kinds of skin disruption. We estheticians frequently see clients who identify their skin type as ‘dry’ (when it is dehydrated) as a kind of blanket explanation for why their skin looks dull and flaky. So, are you truly a ‘dry’ skin type or are you experiencing temporary surface dehydration?

What Does Dry Skin Look Like?

  • Pores are small-to-medium in size. You don’t have much oil production, so your pores don’t stretch to accommodate oil flow.
  • Breakouts are minimal. Or you have very little oil production at this stage of your life. Even if you had some break outs when you were younger, it’s important to treat your skin as it is right now.
  • Skin consistently feels tight, dry and may have a rough or flaky texture.
  • Fine lines and wrinkles are pronounced. This is also related to how much sun damage you have.
  • Barrier function (your skin’s surface) is compromised which can mean increased sensitivity and irritation.
  • You may have varying degrees of rosacea (broken blood vessels) across your cheeks.

What Causes Dry Skin?

  • It’s Your Type: Dry skin is a skin type and a constant – essentially the skin type you were born with.
  • Age: Skin has a harder time retaining moisture as we age.
  • Lifestyle: Air travel, alcohol consumption, and consistent antihistamine use have a big effect on skin dryness.
  • Over-drying skin care products: Bar soap, foamy cleansers, over-using facial scrubs and brushes, and daily use of prescription retinoids are all offenders.
  • Hormones: Estrogen – which retains water and makes skin look plump – naturally diminishes with age. Less estrogen means skin loses firmness and wrinkles look more pronounced.

RX for Dry Skin

Develop a routine using products formulated specifically for dry skin including a gentle exfoliant like Intensive Exfoliant used 1-2 times per week to slough away the dead cells that create a rough texture.

Use the right moisturizer. You want a formulation that combines emollients (oil) and humectants (water) suited for your skin. The balance prevents moisture loss. A consult with your esthetician can help you land on just the right combination of ingredients.

Apply a moisturizing serum like Hydramucine Optimal Serum before your moisturizer to create an additional layer of hydration that will help to hold water in the skin.

How is Dehydrated Skin Different Than Dry Skin?

Unlike dry skin which lacks oil, dehydrated skin lacks water. The technical name for this temporary condition is trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL). Dehydration is common in skin that is normal, oily, or combination and is usually due to a lack of exfoliation (or dead skin cells piling up on the surface of the skin). Using products that remove too much oil from the skin can also leave skin stripped of oil and leaking water.

What Does Dehydrated Skin Look And Feel Like?

  • Tight: Skin feels tight due to a lack of water in surface skin cells. Unlike dry skin, dehydrated skin may feel tight one day and normal the next based on environment and cleansing. If you are consistently using drying products or over-exfoliating – it will feel tight – consistently.
  • Onion Skin: Look closely in a magnified mirror and then press and hold your finger firmly on your forehead or cheek and move it in tiny circles. Pay attention to your skin’s texture. Dehydrated skin appears as tiny, triangular fine lines – sometimes described as ‘onion skin’ since the skin of an onion can have similar crisscrossed marks.
  • Shiny: Harsh or drying cleansers can leave skin looking tight and shiny. Are you cleansing your face with shower gel? Skipping moisturizer? These are two common culprits.

Some Causes of Dehydrated Skin:

  • Air travel and alcohol are common irritants.
  • Environment: Dry air, sun, heat, heaters, and air conditioning (Hello, SWFL)
  • Overly drying skin care products: including bar soap, high foaming cleansers, overuse of oil removing products for acne care, and prescription retinoids.

RX For Dehydrated Skin

  • Develop a skin care routine formulated for your skin type. This should include a gentle but effective exfoliant. Used once or twice a week, fruit acids smooth away dehydrated cells that contribute to a dull and dry feel.
  • Use a moisturizer loaded with humectants: chemically speaking – humectants (think hyaluronic acid, ceramides, allantoin, algae) – these ingredients bond with water molecules and draw water upwards from the dermis (your skin’s second layer) to the epidermis (the outer layer). Here in SWFL, when the humidity is above 70 percent, humectants can even draw moisture from the air.
  • Use a toning mist: Mists provide instant hydration for parched skin. And hydrated skin is 10 X more absorbent than dry skin.
  • Use a hydrating serum applied immediately after your mist – and right before – your moisturizer.

More to Know About Dryness vs. Dehydration

  • Your skin will never be oily and dry at the same time. Oily skin produces too much oil. Dry skin doesn’t produce enough. Oily skin is often dehydrated on the surface from products used to remove excess oil. Using the same oil removing products you used in your teens and twenties – for decades – and not evolving your skin care with age is a (huge) contributing factor.
  • Water drinking alone won’t hydrate your skin. Drinking enough water is vital to keep your internal organs high-functioning and happy but it’s estimated that less than 4 percent of the water we drink reaches our skin’s surface. How you cleanse your skin and what you apply topically to lock-in moisture is what promotes hydrated – and healthy – skin.
  • When skin is dry or dehydrated it can act sensitive. When the skin’s surface is compromised by pollution for example, micro-irritants can penetrate your barrier causing water evaporation. To de-stress and de-sensitize your skin, use a hydrating cleanser like Hydramucine Cleansing Milk and a hydrating toning mist like Hydramucine Hydrating Mist to infuse moisture into the skin.
  • Dry skin lacks lubrication (oil) that seals moisture into the skin (water). Without oil the water in your skin quickly evaporates. To retain water, add oil through your moisturizer – one formulated to deeply hydrate dry skin like Nutrival Cream.
  • PRO TIP: Combining a few drops of a lightweight oil like Essential Infusion Dry Oil into your moisturizer or by simply pressing a thin layer of oil on top of your moisturizer can create a barrier against moisture loss.
  • Dehydrated skin produces enough oil but lacks water. Harsh cleansers formulated to remove oil – usually for acne and pore control – can strip the skin and leave it feeling dry, tight, and shiny (and confused for dry skin). To retain water, a gentle cleanser land a lightweight moisturizer can make all the difference.
  • Acne prone skin is very often dehydrated skin that’s subjected to a vicious cycle of cleansing to strip oil and skipping moisturizer (because, oil.) Your skin interprets the lack of surface oil as URGENT and produces even more oil to compensate. And the overproduction contributes to clogged pores. The goal is to use products that control excess oil without depleting it altogether like Pureactive Cleansing Gel and Pureactive Cream.
  • Choose a moisturizer that targets your skin type. Again, and most important: moisturizers are a combination of humectants (they attract water) and emollients (they seal in the water). While any moisturizer combines this mixture, the percent age varies depending on what the moisturizer is meant to do. This is where your esthetician can help you choose the best formulation for your skin type.

Naturally, our skin evolves with age. But what never changes, however, is that every skin needs a balance of nourishing oil and hydrating water – every day, always, and forever. Developing the right skincare routine will support your skin’s lasting health, whatever your skin type.