Is Your Skin Dry or Just Dehydrated? Here’s How to Tell

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Turns out, you could have been treating your dry skin like dehydrated skin your whole life and not even known. Um, rewind—does that mean they’re different? Hate to break it to you, but yep. One is a skin type and one is a condition, and (plot twist) your skin could be both at the same time. We turned to board certified dermatologist, Dr. Joyce Imahiyerobo-Ip from Vibrant Dermatology in Wellesley, MA, to help set the record straight.

The One Skin-Care Ingredient You Need for Winter

So, what's the difference between dry and dehydrated skin?
“While people often use the terms dry skin and dehydrated skin interchangeably, they are actually two distinctly different skin conditions. Dry skin is a skin type characterized by decreased oil production. Dehydrated skin refers to a skin state where the top layer of the skin has less water content than it should. Anyone can experience dehydrated skin—even those with an oily skin type.”

How do you know which one you have?
“In the case of dry skin, decreased oil production results in abnormal barrier function resulting in red, inflamed and very itchy skin. Dry skin often feels rough and can look flaky. Dehydrated skin on the other hand looks dull, feels tight and shows accelerated signs of aging such as an increased number of fine lines and wrinkles.” 

Is there any way to prevent dry skin?
“When it comes to dry skin, genetics matters. That said, good skin care can help to overcome this medical condition. Those with dry skin need to make sure that they moisturize with heavy creams frequently. Creams containing ceramides will help to replace the lipids that dry skinned individuals don’t make naturally. It’s important not to over-exfoliate dry skin, because this will strip the skin of much needed lipids. You also want to opt for gentle cleansers and gentle skin care overall. Since people with dry skin are also more likely to suffer from dehydrated skin, I recommend that they always stay well hydrated and that they consider adding a humidifier to their bedrooms at night to increase the water content in their skin. It’s super important to know that excessive sun damage can lead to chronically dehydrated skin. The sun damage increases free radicals that damage skin and cause dehydration."

And what about dehydrated skin?
“If you suffer from dehydrated skin, hydration is also very important. Everyone should be drinking at least eight to ten glasses of water a day and avoiding caffeinated beverages, which contribute to further dehydration. This skin condition is more common during the winter months when we pump dry, hot air into our homes and offices. It’s a good idea to keep the thermostat down whenever possible and to take shorter showers to prevent excessive moisture loss.”

But there’s hope, right?
“Yes! If you have dry skin, it’s important to keep your skin well moisturized. Opt for thick moisturizing creams that contain oils and ceramides, like Cerave Moisturizing Cream, as these lipids help to repair the skin’s barrier function and prevent inflammation. It’s also important to opt for gentle cleansers, as oppose to harsher soaps, which contain detergents that can strip the skin of its natural oils.

If you suffer from dehydrated skin, you want to opt for products that contain humectants. Humectants help to reduce water loss from the skin. Examples include hyaluronic acid, glycerin, urea and aloe vera.”

Phew! Do you have any product recommendations?
“One of my favorite serums is HydroPeptide’s Hydrostem Serum. I use it every night. It contains a blend of potent antioxidants and hyaluronic acid, which work together to protect the skin from environmental toxins and minimize fine lines and wrinkles.

I also love SkinMedica’s HA5 Rejuvenating Serum. It contains a blend of five hydrators that provide eight hours of continuous hydration to the skin.

If your skin needs a quick pick me up, you might want to consider adding a moisturizing mist (or essence) to your routine. I love hydrating sprays because they can be applied directly on top of makeup and reapplied throughout the day.

Another product that I’m currently in love with is HydroPeptide’s new HydraFlora Probiotic Essence, which is a strengthening and hydrating antiaging essence specially formulated with pre and probiotics to balance and reset skin's microflora and moisture barrier.

Last but not least, for those with more sensitive skin, I recommend Avène’s Thermal Spring Water spray. It’s made with trace minerals and silica to condition and reduce irritation while leaving a soothing barrier of lightweight moisture over the skin.”

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Brianna Lapolla formerly held the role of Senior Commerce Editor at PureWow covering all things shopping across beauty, fashion, and lifestyle. Now, she's putting her 12 years of...