The Difference Between Dry and Dehydrated Skin, According to Experts
Certain skin concerns are so similar that we often confuse them, but the first step towards a healthy complexion involves correctly identifying what you're trying to treat. This is why it's critical to differentiate between dry and dehydrated skin. Believe it or not, there are a few subtle differences between the two distinct conditions: According to board-certified dermatologist Dr. Marisa Garshick, MD, of MDCS Dermatology, the main differentiator is that dry dermis, which is typically considered a skin type, involves a lack of oil production. Dehydrated skin, on the other hand, is considered to be a conditional state that anyone can experience; it means that your complexion lacks water.
Dr. Jeannette Graf, board-certified dermatologist and assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, affirms this: "Dry skin is due to the lack of natural oil production, while dehydrated skin is due to a lack of water in the skin's outer layer or stratum corneum." Genetics are often to blame for the former, Dr. Graf notes, but everyone might have the latter. Luckily, it's simple to tell which one you have, and both conditions are easy to treat. Dr. Garshick and Dr. Graf share everything you need to know, below.
The signs for each are a little different.
Yes, the signs of these ailments can be similar, but there are subtle differences. Both Dr. Garshick and Dr. Graf note that dehydrated skin may appear duller; fine lines, wrinkles, and dark circles may become more noticeable due to a lack of moisture that adds plumpness. To identify it, Dr. Garshick says to pinch a small area: If it fails to bounce back quickly or wrinkles easily, your skin may be dehydrated. Dry skin, on the other hand, tends to be flaky or scaly and is affiliated with redness, sensitivity, and irritation. "It is often associated with an impaired skin barrier which makes moisture loss more common and also increases the sensitivity to certain ingredients," says Dr. Garshick. Dr. Graf agrees, adding that it can also be genetic and is oftentimes worsened by extreme weather.
Treatment for both is similar.
Luckily, treatment for each ailment is easy, and you can even use the same products for both. "In many cases, dry and dehydrated skin can be treated similarly by helping to boost hydration and strengthen the moisture barrier to help lock moisture in and reduce the potential for water loss," says Dr. Garshick. Dr. Graf recommends gentle formulas that focus on hydration; options that restore water absorption can also aid skin's elasticity. Ingredients like aloe, snail mucin, honey, and ceramides, she says, are key; she likes Avène's Thermal Spring Water ($14, ulta.com) to soothe, hydrate, and calm dehydrated skin on the go. Dr. Garshick says to look for ingredients designed to draw moisture in, like hyaluronic acid and glycerin. The Glow Recipe Plum Plump Hyaluronic Acid Moisturizer ($39, sephora.com) boosts hydration, while the Vichy Mineral 89 Daily Skin Booster Serum and Moisturizer ($29.50, dermstore.com) strengthens and repair the barrier.
For dry skin in particular, Dr. Graf recommends ingredients like shea butter and glycerin; vitamin E and lactic acid can also be beneficial (she turns to CBD For Life's Face Cream ($35, cbdforlife.us) to boost and lock in moisture). Dr. Garshick looks for emollients like squalene, occlusives like petrolatum, and ceramides (these support the barrier). She recommends products like CeraVe's Moisturizing Cream ($18.99, ulta.com) and Dove's Beauty Body Love Sensitive Care Body Lotion ($18.47 for three, amazon.com).
Prevention is key.
As with any skin condition, prevention is always the best treatment. Physically consuming more water is a great place to start if dehydrated skin is the issue. "While I generally say you can't drink your way to perfect skin, depending on the extent of dehydration, drinking water and staying hydrated can help improve its overall appearance," says Dr. Garshick. Dr. Graf agrees—eating water-rich fruits and vegetables also helps keep skin hydrated, she says. Limiting coffee and alcohol and paying attention to your environment (to see if that's contributing to the problem) are other preventative measures to take, they say. "Certain environments can also contribute to dehydration, especially if there is less humidity," says Dr. Garshick. Switching on a humidifier and avoiding long, hot showers will help reduce low humidity's effects, notes Dr. Graf. For dry skin, Dr. Garshick says to stop stripping skin of its natural oils by avoiding harsh active ingredients like retinoids, benzoyl peroxide, or salicylic acid; prolonged hot showers are also off limits. If those agents are important to your routine, however, she recommends pairing them with a moisturizer to lessen the chance of water loss and irritation.