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What’s the difference between dry and dehydrated skin?

If you Google synonyms for “dry,” “dehydrated” is one of the first words on the list. So it’s understandable that there’s a lot of confusion between dry skin and dehydrated skin. How can you tell the difference? Dry skin is genetic and refers to a type of skin, just like oily, normal, and combination. Dehydrated skin can happen to anyone, regardless of skin type, and is mostly caused by external factors. 

Read on for our breakdown of dry vs. dehydrated skin and how to treat each.

Dry skin

Dry skin is caused by lack of oils or lipids. Dry skin lacks oil because it produces less sebum than normal skin. Less sebum means that the skin is missing the lipids it needs to retain moisture and to protect against environmental factors, like wind or pollution. Here’s how to tell if you’re dealing with dry skin:

  • Feels dry and/or tight - especially after bathing, showering or swimming
  • Looks dull or ashy
  • Feels itchy
  • Redness 
  • Slight to severe flaking, scaling or peeling
  • Fine lines or cracks

Dehydrated skin

With dehydrated skin, there’s a lack of water in the stratum corneum, the top layer of the skin. You don’t need to have dry skin to have dehydrated skin. Oily, normal, and combination skin can be dehydrated as well.

Dehydration is generally caused by external factors - specifically weather, environment, diet, and caffeine. All of these can decrease the water content within your skin. While dehydration doesn’t directly cause acne, it can cause your skin to produce more oil in a misguided attempt to hydrate your skin. So does drinking water help acne? Not necessarily - but keeping your skin healthy and hydrated is definitely a step in the right direction when dealing with blemishes.

A good test to determine whether or not you’re dealing with dehydrated skin is to pinch your cheek. If it wrinkles instead of holding its shape or it doesn’t snap back quickly, your skin is likely dehydrated.

How to treat dry vs. dehydrated skin?

The “treatment” of dry skin should really be considered part of a lifelong routine and understanding of your skin type. If you have dry skin, your skin needs lipid-rich products. Here are some good ingredients to look for:

  • Ceramides
  • Nut + Seed Oils: Coconut, Almond, Hemp, Shea Butter
  • Plant Oils: Squalene, Jojoba, Rose Hip, Tea Tree

Dehydrated skin can happen to anyone and should be treated as needed. If your skin is dehydrated, it needs water-rich products. Here are some ingredients to look for:

  • Hyaluronic acid: Your skin naturally produces hyaluronic acid, but adding it to your skincare routine is super helpful when your skin is dehydrated because it helps your skin retain water.
  • Aloe: Often associated with sunburn relief, aloe vera’s hydrating properties make it a great ingredient for dehydrated skin. It’s sometimes listed by its Latin name, aloe barbadenis.
  • Glycerin: Glycerin, also known as glycerine and glycerol, is a natural component of healthy skin. It’s a humectant, which means it absorbs moisture from the air and helps keep this moisture in your skin.

Beyond looking for these ingredients in your moisturizers and cleansers, you can also use a water-rich facial mist as a pick-me-up throughout the day. Dehydrated skin can be caused by external factors, so it should also be treated environmentally. Try to drink eight glasses of water a day. And for the winter months, consider investing in a humidifier.

Remember you can have dry skin and dehydrated skin at the same time! If this is the case, you should mix and match lipid-rich and water-rich products and make sure to address any potential environmental factors.