While dry skin and dehydrated skin may sound like they are the same thing, they are not. Here is the difference: dehydrated skin lacks water and dry skin lacks oil. Another key difference is that dehydrated skin is typically considered a skin condition (meaning it can be changed and improved), whereas dry skin is a skin type that can not be changed (but can be treated).
Dehydrated skin is typically caused by the skin not being able to maintain its water content – the skin’s barrier is somehow compromised and the skin’s natural water content evaporates more quickly than it should. Environmental factors such as weather and environment have a significant impact on the skin’s level of hydration or dehydration.
Dry skin is typically caused by the skin’s incapacity to produce enough oil – the sebaceous glands aren’t fully doing their job, or there are not enough of them. It should be noted that sebum production naturally decreases with age, when the activity of sebaceous glands slows (which is why more mature skin tends to be dryer).
Dehydrated skin feels tight, looks dull, with exaggerated wrinkles and dark circles. Congestion may also be a sign of dehydrated skin, which is counter-intuitive for many (and yes, you can be oily and dehydrated at the same time!).
Dry skin tends to be uncomfortable, flaky, itchy, red and irritated.
Overall, both dry and dehydrated skin will look lackluster, rough, lacking suppleness.
How to pick the right product?
Moisturizers for dehydrated skin need to prevent transepidemal water loss, help the skin replenish its moisture levels, and also repair the skin’s natural barrier to prevent excessive evaporation of moisture. Look for a product containing humectants, aka ingredients that bind water and hydrate skin by drawing water into themselves and onto the surface of the skin. Key humectants to look for include propylene glycol and urea (both are synthetic and very effective), and hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and shea butter (which are or natural origin).
In addition to humectants, for the most severely dehydrated skin, occlusive ingredients may also be necessary; these are oily substances that create a barrier on the surface of the skin and thus prevent moisture loss and evaporation. Many of these ingredients (think mineral oil, petrolatumm and silicones) have a bad reputation as they typically clog pores. Instead, look for products containing beeswax or natural oils such as evening primrose or sunflower oil.
Moisturizers for dry skin types need to contain ingredients that will complement the skin’s natural oils – meaning lipids. Look for moisturizers that contain ingredients such as jojoba and vitamin E. Ingredients that help to repair the skin’s natural barrier are also essential, including for example red clover.
And don’t forget…
- Oily skin (skin type) can be dehydrated (skin condition).
- The look of the skin can be deceiving – an oily skin type can look shiny (greasy) but still lack water.
- Our sebaceous glands tend to become lazy with age – meaning we tend to get dryer as we get older.
- The weather has a significant impact on dehydration of the skin – cold, wind, air conditioning, and indoor heating will all increase the likeliness of dehydration.
- A humidifier can help with the environmental influences noted above.
- Prolonged water submersion strips the skin of its natural oils (avoid too long, too hot baths).
- Whether confronted with dry or dehydrated skin, cleansing more gently is generally a good idea.
- Exfoliating regularly (and gently) is essential because as dead skins build up, they will prevent the effective absorption of any product.
- Drinking more water is always a healthy option, but it will not solve dry or dehydrated skin problems, since most of the water we consume passes through our kidneys and out of the body.