When you look down at your skin and it seems flaky, rough, and tight, your first thought might be that you have dry skin and need to apply a moisturizer or drink a gallon of water. However, what we conventionally call dry skin is usually the result of dehydration rather than the clinical definition of dry skin. While they may seem like the same thing, the causes and treatments of the two conditions vary significantly, so identifying which type you have is critical for alleviating the symptoms of scaliness, tightness, sensitivity, and redness. Let’s look at the differences between the two and ways of identifying them so you can rest assured you are using the right products or addressing any underlying conditions in order to alleviate these irritating symptoms.
Dry skin is generally an underlying condition, known as the dry ‘skin type’, where your pores are small and refined, which means your skin is less adept at producing sebum, or oil. Dry skin can be hereditary or a mixture of environmental and health factors. What is interesting about dry skin, is that it most often contains the same water content as those with combination, normal, or oily skin. If you have dry skin, adding more water can actually be counterproductive to fixing the symptoms. Overall, if you have dry skin, you should be focusing on increasing your sebum content and reducing contact with potential inflammatory ingredients, as those with dry skin are usually very sensitive to potential allergens and harsh substances.
Here is how to test if you have dry skin
- Notice How Your Skin Feels If you have dry skin, on given day of the week, your skin feels tight, flaky, or cracked. These symptoms will get worse during the winter months, so if you have a history of these symptoms getting much worse during December through March, it is likely you have dry skin.
- Take a Look at Your Pores If your pores are small, tight, and have tiny, triangular, fine lines, you most likely have dry skin.
- Post-Cleansing See if after cleansing, if your skin feels tight and almost waxy.
- Moisturizing Needs If you have dry skin, you will feel the need for a moisturizer almost immediately afterwaking up or washing your face.
What Can You Do If You Have Dry Skin
If you do have chronic dry skin, or the dry skin type, here are a few things you can do to help alleviate the symptoms:
Showering: Try showering with warm, not hot water. The hot water will further dry out your skin and cause irritation. Keep your shower time to less than 10 minutes and even try showering every other day to further reduce the possibility of damaging the surface of the skin.
Toweling: Try patting rather than rubbing when using a towel after showering or cleansing.
Moisturizing: Try using a moisturizing soap in the shower, and apply a moisturizer aimed to increase oil production or retention immediately after showering. In addition, try using a hydrosol spray first before moisturizing. Look for a petroleum-based product for extremely dry skin. Because people with dry skin are also prone to allergic reactions, look for a moisturizer derived from natural ingredients that help oil production such as argan oil, avocado oil, and coconut oil.
Humidifier: Think about keeping a humidifier in your room at night to keep the surface of your skin from drying out overnight.
Use Natural Detergent: Using detergent with synthetic ingredients or perfumes can further exacerbate the effects of dry skin.Consume Helpful Fats: Eating healthy fats such as avocados, fish, coconut, nuts, chia seeds, dark chocolate, olive oil, whole eggs, and cheese can help restore your sebum content.
Dehydrated skin can occur with people of all skin types. It differs from dry skin in that the surface epidermis is lacking water due to harsh weather, lifestyle behaviors, poor skin care products, and aging. Dehydrated skin for people with skin types other than dry skin can be both dry and oily at the same time, leading to confusion as to what treatment to apply. Instead of focusing on the oil production, you should focus your skincare routine on restoring water content to your skin.
If your skin is not chronically dry (think of your entire history of skin health, not just the period of time the symptoms have been occuring), look out for these symptoms to test if you have dehydrated skin:
- Prone to breakouts
- Oily and dry at the same time
- Skin dullness
- Dark bags under eyes
- Increased appearance of fine lines and wrinkles
If your skin (or your body in general) gets to a severe level of dehydration, you can also experience dizziness, dry mouth, light-headedness, overall weakness, and dark urine that is less frequent.
What Can You Do if You Have Dehydrated Skin?
If your skin type is not dry, but you are still experiencing the symptoms above, here are a few things you can do to help your skin return to its natural state:
Hydration: The most important thing you can do to increase hydration in the skin is to increase it throughout your body. Your skin being dehydrated is usually a sign of a larger issue throughout the body, so besides drinking enough water (between ½ to ¾ gallons of water per day), try using electrolyte tablets and eating foods high in electrolytes such as yogurt, butternut squash, greens, cheese, and coconut water. Eating broth-based soups can help increase hydration as well.
Moisturizing: Use moisturizers that contain water-binding ingredients and use non-soap-based cleansers that have moisture penetrating properties such as aloe vera. Avoid harsh or skin-sensitizing cleansers, and opt for a lotion that contains a humectant, such as Sodium PCA, Glycerol, Squalene, and Hyaluronic Acid.
Vitamins: Increase your Vitamin B content, either by supplementing (remember to ask your doctor first before taking supplements) or by eating marmite or vegemite. You can also eat sardines, salmon, mackerel, milk, and red meat to increase your Vitamin B content.
Lifestyle Changes: Drinking less caffeine and alcohol, as well as ceasing smoking can dramatically help dehydrated skin. Making sure you get the right amount of sleep (between 7-8 hours per night) and exercising regularly, while making sure to replenish fluids immediately after working out, can also significantly help.
Too Much Salt?: If your diet consists of consuming a lot of sodium, it can lead to both an overproduction of oil, as well as dry and cracked skin. If your face feels bloated and puffy and you have bags under your eyes, this could be a sign that you are intaking too much salt. Try using other flavor additions like herb blends, lemon juice, pepper, or vinegar to substitute for salt in your diet. In addition, try to eat less packaged and processed food, and instead eat whole foods, which will help with your vitamin intake as well.
There is no quick fix, or one product, that will help with dehydrated skin, as it is generally a larger issue than just addressing the skin symptoms you see. If you have both dry and dehydrated skin, try implementing a mixture of these techniques to both increase sebum and address an underlying dehydration issue.