Dry vs Dehydrated Skin: How to tell the difference

When it comes to skincare, understanding your skin type is vital. Whether you have oily, normal or combination skin, knowing your skin type will play an important role in identifying the right products that work perfectly for you.

But it doesn’t stop there. As the seasons change, our skin can often lose its lustre and look dull or become prone to dry patches. Why does this happen? Well, chances are, your skin is either dry or dehydrated. 


To understand the difference between dry or dehydrated skin and treat it effectively, first, you need to know a little bit more about your skin before you can give it what it needs to be healthy. 


Your skin is the largest organ in your body made up of two distinctive parts; the dermis, the lower level of the skin, and the epidermis, the top level of the skin. 


The skin barrier is the outermost part of the epidermis with skin cells uniquely stacked like a bricks-and-mortar wall protecting your body from a whole host of external elements, including pollution, bacteria and UV light. Most importantly, Skin cells, at this level, are also maintained with a combination of essential lipids (oils); ceramide, cholesterol and free fatty acids which stop water from evaporating from the skin. 


Maintaining this balance of oils is a key part of maintaining optimal skin health. When compromised, the skin can become constantly dry, dehydrated, sore, shiny or itchy. 


What is dry skin?


Dry skin is the depletion of natural oils (or moisture) and is often associated with frequent bathing and the use of harsh soaps that strip moisture from your skin, leaving it feeling rough and dry. 


It’s also associated with ageing and skin conditions such as eczema or psoriasis which allows the skin to crack, water to leave and irritants to enter. As a result, the complexion of dry skin can take on a more flakey appearance and can often become itchy, which leads to skin becoming sore if not treated sufficiently. 


Naturally, for women with darker skin tones, this can be a major bugbear as dry skin is often more noticeable on our skin and can lead to hyperpigmentation if not given the right attention sooner.


How to treat dry skin


Moisturising daily is vital. In fact, if you regularly visit our website, you’re probably doing this already. But with dry skin, it’s important to maintain your skin’s moisture levels throughout the day. This means moisturising your skin in the evening, as well as the morning, as sebum levels in the skin tend to be lower in the evening.


When it comes to ingredients, your best bet is to stick to products that contain occlusives. In fact, you’re probably accustomed to some of these ingredients already! Ingredients such as shea butter, cocoa butter and grapeseed oil are just a few of a wide variety of dry skin saviours that form a protective layer over your skin to seal in water - leaving your skin feeling silky smooth. 


If you want to get the most out of occlusive-based products, cleanse as normal, then apply an occlusive-based moisturiser to wet skin to seal in moisture and avoid transepidermal water loss (TEWL).


You should also opt for gentle cleansers rather than harsh soaps and avoid hot showers to prevent excessive dryness that will irritate your skin. In fact, we created a free, in-depth dry skin guide packed with tips on how to help you keep dry skin at bay and maintain healthy, moisturised skin throughout the year.


What is dehydrated skin?


Put simply, your skin lacks water and is consequently, dehydrated. Like a scratchy throat relieved by a glass of water, your skin is similarly in need of a dose of hydration. 

Skin often appears dull, lacks radiance and is prone to fine lines which can be mistaken for dry or ashy skin - especially on our darker skin tones. In fact, dehydrated skin is so common even oily or acne-prone skin can, over time, lack water.


How to treat dehydrated skin


Humectants such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin and amino acids are just a few hydration heroines used in hydrating products in the beauty market. 


Fast absorbing and light in texture, these ingredients naturally absorb water into the skin leaving it feeling firm and plump. It’s also why you’ll often find humectants in your favourite serum as they help nutrients absorb in the skin faster. 


Ever wondered why ingredients like aloe and honey are used in serums? Well, not only are both these ingredients packed with skin healing benefits but they’re also part of the humectant family too!


Take the time to update your skincare routine and use a toner and serum with humectants ingredients before sealing that much-needed burst of hydration with an occlusive moisturiser or oil.


Don’t forget, there are other external factors that can exacerbate water loss in your skin such as hot and cold weather. Ensure that you always wear sun cream (minimum SPF 30) and reapply regularly during the hotter months of the year when you’re more likely to be in the sun for longer periods. When the temperatures dip, protect your skin by covering up paying close attention to your chest and hands to help regulate your body temperature.


And last, but definitely not least, keep hydrated throughout the day. It’s so easy for us to get distracted with social media, catching up with friends and securing the bag, sometimes we forget to take a moment to stop and focus on what our body needs. Start with the usual 8 glasses of water per day and take it from there.


The bottom line


Remember, dry skin is a lack of moisture (oil) while dehydrated skin is simply lacking water. It may take a while to understand your skin’s unique qualities, but if you pay close attention to the weather and how your skin looks and feels, you’ll easily know whether your skin needs a dose of tender moisturising care or if it’s simply thirsty!

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