Is Your Skin Dry or Just Dehydrated?

It’s that time of year when many of us are slathering on creams, lotions, and anything else that we can think of to hydrate and repair winter-parched skin. The effects of weather on your skin are no joke, whether you’re dealing with subzero temps or just less moisture in the air. As you’re looking for solutions to your skincare woes, you might be wondering if your skin is truly dry, or just dehydrated, and is there even really a difference?

What Is the Difference Between Dry and Dehydrated Skin?

When you’re looking to heal and rehydrate your skin, taking the right approach is important. However, choosing the right products to nourish your skin requires understanding exactly what it needs – something that can be difficult when you’re not sure if your skin is dehydrated, or truly dry. Contrary to what many think these two are not actually the same.

Many of us, especially this time of year, make the mistake of treating dry skin as if it’s dehydrated, and vice versa. One of the main differences between dry and dehydrated skin, is that one is a skin type and the other is most frequently a temporary condition that results from a variety of external factors, such as weather, using skincare products that are incompatible with your skin type, or basically anything that can rob moisture from the very top layer of your skin – which brings us to another difference between dry and dehydrated skin.

With dehydrated skin, you’re looking at a condition where the top layer is lacking the moisture it needs to be healthy. Dry skin is characterized by insignificant oil production, meaning your skin isn’t producing enough of the natural oils it needs to keep it smooth, healthy, and supple. Someone who is a dry skin type can certainly have dehydrated skin as well, however people with oily, combination, and sensitive skin types can also have skin that’s dehydrated.

With the main differences between dry and dehydrated skin out of the way, let’s take a bit closer look at each skin condition on its own to help you determine if your skin is dry, dehydrated, or both, and what steps you can take to balance and soothe your skin.

What Is Dry Skin?

Our skin requires a certain level of oil, or moisturization, to keep it healthy. Within the layers of your skin are tiny structures called sebaceous glands. These glands function to secrete a substance called sebum into the skin’s follicles to provide lubrication to your skin and hair. In healthy skin, the amount of sebum produced by the sebaceous glands is balanced in a way that there isn’t an over- or underabundance of oils produced. When these glands are overactive, the resulting condition is oily skin. When they’re underactive, the skin lacks the moisture it needs and becomes dry.

With dry skin, it isn’t just a case of not producing enough sebum. If this were the extent of the issue, then it would seem that applying a high-quality moisturizer would be enough to restore the balance. Moisturization is key for dry skin, but there are other factors at play.

For instance, dry skin lacks the lipid content necessary to retain moisture. This means that any products you apply are going to have to work even harder to produce any noticeable improvements. This is why many standard moisturizing products are seldom effective on truly dry skin. Sebum also provides an important barrier on the skin, shielding it from environmental influences. Without this protective barrier, skin is less resilient against the elements and is more prone to irritation and injury.

As we age, everything begins to slow down – including how effective the sebaceous glands are at producing the moisturizing oils your skin needs. Dry skin tends to become more of an issue as we mature but anyone, at any age, can have dry skin. When choosing a skincare routine for dry skin, you want a balance of gentleness and hydration.

A moisture trapping ingredient such as hyaluronic acid is perfect for dry skin because it not only hydrates the skin, it also helps it retain moisture while providing a protective barrier. Vitamin C is also a good choice, as is retinol. A high-quality retinol serum, which is different from prescription strength retinoids, can help stimulate the synthesis of collagen and elastin, while sloughing off the layers of dead skin that can cause problems for dry skin types.

What Is Dehydrated Skin?

Dehydrated skin can occur regardless of skin type, which can be frustrating for someone with oily skin who may be battling breakouts while also attempting to soothe their dry, irritated skin. With dehydrated skin, it isn’t necessary a lack of sebum production as the culprit but a lack of moisture to the top layers that can result from a number of contributing factors.

Dehydrated skin can be uncomfortable, often displaying symptoms such as redness, irritation, and itchiness. If you have dehydrated skin, you might also suffer from rough or scaly patches, dark circles or discolorations under your eyes, a greyish hue to your skin resulting from layers of dead or dehydrated skin cells, a less than radiant complexion, and you also might notice that fine lines seem to really like to settle into little crevices on your face.

As with dry skin, gentleness is key when soothing your dehydrated skin, but you want to look for ingredients that are more emollient, protective, and that will lock in moisture. Aloe is a classic for this, so is shea butter, avocado oil, hyaluronic acid, and lactic or citric acid.

Choosing Skincare Products to Suit Your Skincare Needs

When choosing skincare products to soothe and restore your dry or dehydrated skin, look for the gentle ingredients mentioned above in formulas that soothe and nourish your skin naturally. The worst thing you can do for both dry and dehydrated skin is to treat it with harsh skincare products. Nature has provided much of what your beautiful skin needs, and much of it can be found in the beautifully simple, natural skincare products that are available today.