The Difference Between Dry and Dehydrated Skin, According to Experts

By: Vanessa Gibson

The terms ‘dry’ and ‘dehydrated’ are often used synonymously. And while they are similar, these skincare terms have some fundamental differences that can impact your routine and skin health. Read on to understand the difference between dry and dehydrated skin.



What is the Difference Between Dry and Dehydrated Skin?


Dry skin, which is a skin type, refers to skin that has a lack of natural oil and lipid production. Dry skin can be a result of genetics (you might just be born with drier skin), while dehydrated skin, on the other hand, is a skin condition anyone can get, even if you have oily skin. In simplest terms, dehydrated skin is when there is a lack of water in the top layer of skin, known as the stratum corneum. Just like when we haven’t been keeping up on our water intake for the day and begin to feel dehydrated, our skin is greatly influenced by the fluctuation of water content within the cells.


The Signs for Dryness Vs. Dehydration


Both dryness and dehydration can appear on the skin with symptoms such as increased sensitivity, itchiness, flaking, tightness, and dullness. But according to board-certified dermatologists Dr. Marisa Garshick, MD, and Dr. Jeannette Graf, MD, dry skin tends to feel rough, flaky, andbecause it is often the result of an impaired skin barrierthe moisture loss leads to dryness and can increase skin sensitivity. Dehydrated skin is more associated with symptoms like dullness and a lack of moisture that leaves skin feeling tight and emphasizes fine lines and wrinkles.


Factors That Lead to Dehydrated Skin


So if dehydrated skin is something that can happen to anyone regardless of their skin type, how does our skin become dehydrated? Well, it has a lot to do with lifestyle and environmental factors.


Sun Exposure


It shouldn’t be a shocker that spending too much time in the sun (especially without wearing sunscreen) increases our chance of being exposed to harsh UVA rays, free radicals, and damaging oxidation. Not only are UVA rays associated with skin aging (UVB rays are what cause skin burning), but they stimulate skin damage that makes us more prone to dehydration.


Dry Environments


Stripping the air of humidity means that your skin will also pay the price. To keep your skin plump and hydrated, avoid long, hot showers and baths that can strip your skin of moisture. Dry air caused by air-conditioning and central heating can also cause dehydration and make the symptoms of skin dryness worse. To combat dryness in your home and skin, it’s always a good idea to have a humidifier going.


Harsh Skincare Products


This one factor pertains to both dry and dehydrated skin since maintaining the skin’s moisture barrier is key for staving off water loss. Harsh active ingredients (like retinoids, salicylic acid, glycolic acid, and benzoyl peroxide) can be super effective. But when used too often or on already compromised skin, they strip your skin of its protective oils, leading to water loss and an increased risk for sensitivity and irritation.


How to Treat Dry Skin and Dehydrated Skin


According to Dr. Garshick, the treatment methods for dry and dehydrated skin are similar since they focus on increasing hydration and strengthening the skin barrier to prevent future water loss. For dry skin, you should focus more on incorporating emollients like plant oils and shea butter, and ceramides into your routine to pack the skin with anti-inflammatory properties and rejuvenating fatty acids that can help restore the skin’s integrity and protective moisture barrier.


For dehydrated skin, start by using more hydrating ingredients to restore the skin’s water content. Reach for humectants like hyaluronic acid, glycerin, allantoin, lactic acid, and hydrators like aloe vera and snail mucin. Pair these hydration boosters with more occlusive ingredients like plant oils and ceramides to lock in that hydration and restore your skin’s healthy glow.


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