Skincare: How to tell if your skin is dehydrated or dry, and how to treat it

These words may seem like one and the same, but when it comes to skincare, ‘dry’ and ‘dehydrated’ mean very different things.

Is Your Skin Dehydrated or Just Dry? Yes, There’s a Difference
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Is Your Skin Dehydrated or Just Dry? Yes, There’s a Difference

It’s easy to get lost among all the different skincare terms and treatments. Some, like ‘dehydrated’ and ‘dry’, sound exactly the same. These two terms mean different things, and which one applies to you could change how you look after your skin.

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What’s the difference between dry and dehydrated skin?

In a nutshell, dry skin is a skin type, whereas dehydrated skin is a skin condition.

Dry skin

Dry skin, much like oily, normal and combination, are all skin types and relate to the skin’s sebum production. Sebum is a combination of oils, lipids, wax and sugar that help create the natural moisture barrier, saving your skin from losing water.

To discover your skin type, wash your face with just water and gently pat it dry. If you have typically dry skin, you’ll find that after a few hours, you might notice that your skin:

  • Is tight
  • Is rough or textured
  • You have tiny pores
  • You might have flaking skin or red patches

Your skin type may also change throughout your life and is heavily influenced not only by your sebum production but also by genetics and environment.

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Dehydrated skin

On the other hand, dehydrated skin is when your top layer of skin (known as the stratum corneum) lacks water. This water loss can be caused by a range of factors such as not drinking enough water, loss of sleep, environmental changes and damage to the skin’s moisture barrier. Dehydrated skin often presents itself as:

  • Looking dull
  • Looking flat
  • Shows more fine lines
  • Having increased sensitivity
  • Having increased tightness

Dry and dehydrated skin are not mutually exclusive, and you can even experience dehydration in oily and combination skin types.

What should you do if you have dry skin?

As dry skin applies your natural skin type, there isn’t much you can do to change it permanently, but you can help improve its feeling and appearance.

With dry skin, it’s best to opt for hydrating, milky cleansers over those that foam up. These foaming cleansers tend to strip the skin of its precious oils. After cleansing, a nourishing face oil like marula or rosehip seed oil will help provide your skin with extra lipids.

If your dry skin comes with a side of flakiness, using a gentle chemical exfoliator twice a week will help your skin slough off those dead cells.

After you’ve finished with cleaning and treatments, treat your skin to a ceramide heavy moisturiser and an SPF for extra protection.

What should you do if you have dehydrated skin?

In repairing dehydrated skin, you really want to restore your skin’s natural moisture barrier. Sorry to say it, but that means ditching any harsh scrubs, especially those loaded with particles of shells, coffee beans and sugar.

Fragrance, essential oils and the overuse of chemical exfoliants can also cause sensitisation and skin barrier damage. Even though these ingredients are far from bad, overusing them can cause harm. For those with sensitive skin, sensitising ingredients can also cause an adverse reaction. Instead, reach for a hydrating cleanser and look for products with ingredients like squalane, glycerin, hyaluronic acid and ceramides.

At night, finish off your skincare routine by slugging with a petrolatum product like Vaseline. Slugging will help lock in all the nourishing treatments you’ve added and create a healing environment for your moisture barrier.

As to not ruin all the hard work you’ve put into rehydrating your skin, make sure you use and reapply SPF throughout the day as UVA and UVB rays will further compromise the moisture barrier.

Of course, to rehydrate anything, water is essential, so make sure you’re keeping on top of your water intake, especially if you have also been consuming caffeine or alcohol.

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