Looking in the mirror can sometimes feel less like looking at your reflection and more like gazing out across the dunes of the Sahara desert.
If this is true for you, your skin might be dry, dehydrated, or even both. But what’s the difference between dry vs. dehydrated skin? While you might be thinking they’re one and the same, think again. Dry skin and dehydrated skin are two separate conditions, and determining which it is can make a huge difference in treating the root of the problem. So how can you tell the difference?
To put it simply: Dry skin lacks oil, while dehydrated skin lacks water. Dry skin is also considered a skin type, meaning that due to genetics, you naturally produce less oil or sebum. This manifests as skin that is scaly, sensitive, and flaky.
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Dehydrated skin, on the other hand, is a skin condition, meaning it is a temporary result from diet and environmental factors. Dehydrated skin may feel taut, itchy, and appear dull. Interestingly, dehydrated skin can cause dry skin that is both flaky and oily, due to the body attempting to overcompensate with sebum (oil) production to moisturize the skin. This is why we really want to focus on hydrating from the inside out before attempting to treat dry skin.
Treating Dehydrated Skin
Hydration is all about increasing the amount of water in your skin cells (and helping to keep it there!). Aside from keeping skin plump and dewy, cellular hydration has been shown to improve and help maintain efficient cellular function, which allows for better absorption of nutrients (1). There are several ways to hydrate the skin, as well as a few things to avoid:
Water, Water, and More Water
This one’s a no-brainer. Staying hydrated helps to keep the skin soft and supple, with studies showing that drinking just two cups of water increases blood flow to the skin (2). This results in more nutrients being delivered to the outer layer, which aids in maintaining supple skin in the long term.
How much water is enough? While it may be tempting to start guzzling gallons of water to hydrate your cells, it’s best to aim for roughly eight 10-ounce glasses spread throughout the day, as the body can only absorb so much water at once. Also, be sure to supplement your intake by eating a variety of fresh, high water content foods such as cucumbers, watermelon, radishes, celery, and grapefruit.
Aloe is a powerhouse hydrator for the skin when used both topically and internally. Its gel is 99 percent water and contains over 200 active compounds (vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and amino acids) to help nourish parched skin. It’s best to use fresh aloe in your hydration routine by simply scooping out the clear gel from a leaf and adding it to juices and smoothies, while also rubbing it into your skin.
Hyaluronic acid is a natural substance found in the body whose levels decrease as we age. As a humectant, it is responsible for holding water in the cells and maintaining elasticity of collagen. In fact, research shows that hyaluronic acid supplementation has a direct correlation with skin moisture and smoothness, and may even be one of the best supplements to increase suppleness in the skin (3).
It is possible to naturally increase hyaluronic acid production through diet by consuming lots of leafy greens, root vegetables, and homemade bone broths. It can also be applied topically as a serum, where it is able to penetrate and repair the skin’s outermost layers.
Invest in a Humidifier
This is especially important during the winter months and for those living in dry climates. The lack of moisture in the air can cause skin to easily become dehydrated and tight, no matter how much water you drink. Investing in a humidifier adds water vapor to the air, so water isn’t pulled from your skin. At the very least, aim to leave it on overnight to avoid drying out.
Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol
There’s no gentle way to tell anyone to avoid their daily java or glass of vino, but cutting back could drastically improve dehydrated skin: both caffeine and alcohol are diuretics, meaning they flush water out of the body. This is counterproductive to hydrating the skin, so try to limit your intake and drink more water to offset your consumption.
Treating Dry Skin
Treating dry skin involves dealing with the lack of protective oils on the topmost layer of the skin. This involves a more topical approach that locks in moisture, while aiding the skin in balancing its natural oil production.
Moisturizing with Natural Oils
Synthetic lotions and creams contain a host of unappealing and toxic chemicals that can penetrate skin and make conditions worse (4). Moisturizing with natural oils, however, helps to provide deep, penetrating moisture to the skin, and can also help to regulate natural sebum production.
You may have to experiment with an oil that’s right for you. Coconut oil is great for sensitive skin types, while jojoba is perfect for deep moisture (plus, it’s the closest in composition to skins’ natural oils). Other options include olive, avocado, argan, and sesame oils.
Honey, like hyaluronic acid, is a natural humectant, meaning it pulls in and retains water. Plus, it is also antibacterial and contains a rich array of minerals that support glowing skin. Raw honey is recommended for this (as it has all of its enzymes intact), and apply it as a face mask a few times a week along with adding it to your diet.
Eliminate Harsh Cleansers
Commercial cleansers are huge contributors to dry skin, as most contain chemicals that strip skin of its natural sebum layer. This results in further drying of the skin, which then overproduces oil to compensate. The result is a not-so-great combination of flakey and oily.
Instead, try a natural cleanser of diluted apple cider vinegar (one part vinegar to three parts water) before bedtime.
As mentioned, it might be difficult to tell if you’re suffering from dry or dehydrated skin due to the similarities in symptoms. However, if you begin to properly hydrate your skin and start a moisturizing program with natural oils, you’ll likely address both simultaneously (a win-win in our book). With a these tips and a little wandering, you’ll soon say farewell to parched desert skin and hello to a lush epidermal oasis.
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