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Dry vs. Dehydrated Skin: The Ultimate Dermatologist-Approved Guide

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It’s time for an important skincare PSA: Like the rest of our bodies, our skin is prone to dehydration. Unlike dry skin, skin dehydration occurs when the skin lacks water—and as you can imagine, the two skin concerns are often mistaken for each other. We tapped board-certified dermatologist Geeta Yadav, MD, to explain the signs to look out for with both dry skin and dehydrated skin, as well as how to treat each condition. Read on for the skincare lesson, straight from a derm.

About the Expert:

Geeta Yadav, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Science Dermatology in Toronto.

So what exactly is dry skin?

The more commonly discussed of the two skin conditions, dry skin occurs when the skin doesn’t produce enough sebum, aka the natural oils that give us healthy and hydrated skin. “Without adequate hydration of the skin, the skin can become flaky, scaly and itchy,” explains Dr. Yadav. “People with this skin type tend to feel tight skin in addition to the skin appearing ashy or scaly.” Dr. Yadav also notes that dry skin types may notice that moisturizers and lotions absorb more quickly, especially during winter. But the weather is hardly the only thing that causes dryness and flaking. “Dry skin can be caused by genetic factors, from the overuse of irritating products, or even just as a result of aging,” says Dr. Yadav.

How to treat dry skin

The main thing to do is to layer moisturizing products into your skincare routine. “Using highly nourishing ingredients like plant oils, shea butter, and ceramides are critical for this skin type,” explains Dr. Yadav. “These ingredients help restore much needed oil while locking in moisture and preventing it from escaping, keeping dry skin comfortable.” Try moisturizing with DRUNK ELEPHANT Lala Retro™ Whipped Cream, which contains a plant ceramide complex, antioxidants, and skin-loving oils to protect and repair skin, and following with a facial oil like DERMAE Radiant Glow Face Oil to replenish lipids and prevent moisture loss. Also, rather than using a foaming facial cleanser that could strip skin, try a cleansing balm such as CLINIQUE Take The Day Off™ Cleansing Balm, which leaves skin feeling nourished and prepped for the rest of your routine.

Although skin hydration is obviously a key part of treating dryness, the first step may be to exfoliate dead skin cells so ingredients can better penetrate the skin barrier. “If the skin is very scaly, I recommend using a physical or topical exfoliant,” says Dr. Yadav, who recommends skincare products containing a glycolic acid, uric acid or lactic acid. (We also like SUMMER FRIDAYS Soft Reset AHA Exfoliating Solution.)

Wait, so what about dehydrated skin?

Like it sounds, dehydrated skin is skin that lacks water, as opposed to a lack of oil. “Dehydrated skin is a temporary condition caused by water loss in the skin rather than failure to produce enough oil or retain moisture under normal circumstances,” explains Dr. Yadav. It tends to come on suddenly, often as a result of external factors (think: a late night out, lack of sleep, or prolonged sun exposure). It can also exacerbate the look of fine lines, and other signs of aging. “This [type of] skin is more fragile and can appear wrinkled,” says Dr. Yadav. 

How to treat dehydrated skin

As you may have guessed, the solution is to hydrate—both inside and out. Products with humectants like hyaluronic acid or glycerin are key. “For dehydrated skin, seek out ingredients that replenish your skin’s water levels,” explains Dr. Yadav. At the first sign of skin dehydration, apply a hyaluronic acid serum such as GLOSSIER Super Bounce to plump up skin, followed by a moisturizer like YOUTH TO THE PEOPLE Superfood Air Whip Moisture Cream to seal in hydration.

It’s also important to remember our skin is an organ, and it reflects our internal health. Drinking enough water is crucial in keeping the body functioning properly. “Upping your water intake can also help,” says Dr. Yadav. And maybe bring that bottle of aloe to the pool, rather than using it after you get back. “Other behavioral changes can also help, like making sure to moisturize immediately after swimming to repair the skin barrier and keep the pH balance in the skin.”

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About the author
Lindy Segal
Lindy is a contributor at IPSY, a beauty and lifestyle writer, and Real Housewives aficionado. She was an editor at People and Glamour, and her freelance work has appeared in Harper’s Bazaar, Who What Wear, and Cosmopolitan, among other publications.
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Article Last Updated November 26, 2021 12:00 AM