When it comes to maintaining healthy skin, keeping your skin hydrated is essential. Proper hydration is not only important for tackling dry skin, but also for chronically dehydrated skin. While it may come as a surprise, dry skin is not the same as dehydrated skin—and as a result, treating one may not necessarily help treat the other.

Understanding Dehydrated Skin vs. Dry Skin

Dry skin and dehydrated skin are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they're actually different conditions. For starters, dry skin is a skin type that refers to when there's a lack of oil in the top layer of your skin. Dehydrated skin, on the other hand, is a condition when there's a lack of water, not oil.

Once you know the difference between the two, you can keep an eye out for the distinct symptoms. If your skin is dehydrated, it may appear oily on the surface, with a dull complexion and uneven texture with deep wrinkles and fine lines. If you pinch or apply pressure on your skin and it easily wrinkles with minimal recoil (or bounce back), you may have dehydrated skin.

Dry skin usually presents as flakiness, redness, and irritation. Your skin may feel tight, and unlike dehydrated skin, dry skin often comes with an added itch.

Tackling Dehydrated Skin vs. Dry Skin

Although very different, committing to a regular skin care routine that focuses on balancing your skin's oils and maintaining water can help both issues. It's important to keep the following tips in mind for both dry and dehydrated skin.

  • Avoid triggers and skin irritants: When it comes to treating both conditions, the first step is to avoid and/or minimize exposure to potential triggers, like hot water, fragrances, and exfoliants. Avoid using topicals containing numerous natural botanicals, which may trigger a rash (allergic or irritant dermatitis) and worsen dry skin.
  • Hydrate thirsty skin: Hydration is key to maintaining a protective skin barrier and preventing (and treating) both dry and dehydrated skin. Niacinamide, ceramides (lipids that restore the protective skin barrier), hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, and glycerin are ingredients that further promote hydration and are critical to restoring damaged skin.
  • Find the right moisturizer for everyday use: Even if your skin isn't dry or dehydrated, don't skip the moisturizer. Moisturizer should be applied within five minutes after a shower for best results. A lightweight formula, like the EltaMD Moisturizer, is perfect for everyday wear and intense enough to combat dry skin and lock in moisture.
  • Take shorter showers: Limit bathing to less than 10 minutes two or three times per week in warm—not hot—water. This will help prevent and soothe both dry and dehydrated skin, as hot water strips your skin of oil and water.
  • Say goodbye to harsh soaps and cleansers: Unscented soaps and gentle cleansers are easier on your skin, as they don't zap your skin of moisture.
  • Dab, don't rub dry: Washing too hard with a rough material like a washcloth or loofah can cause tiny tears in your skin. And if your skin is dry and cracked already, this can just make things worse. Instead, wash gently with your hands or directly from a bar of soap, and pat your skin dry with a soft towel.
  • Minimize dry air exposure: Central indoor heating in the winter months can exacerbate both dry and dehydrated skin. A humidifier promotes moisture in the air and, in turn, your skin, and it clears your pores, increasing your skin's production of oil.
  • Wear sunscreen: Ultraviolet rays and free radical damage weaken your skin barrier, leading to oil and water loss. A sunscreen like the EltaMD UV Replenish Broad-Spectrum SPF 44 defends your skin while also offering an infusion of hyaluronic acid, which helps to maintain moisture.

According to the Mayo Clinic, more research is needed to conclude that your water consumption is related to the condition of dehydrated skin. However, if your body is severely dehydrated, it may manifest in similar symptoms like uneven skin and loss of elasticity.

Beyond Normal At-Home Skin Care

Your skin is an outward representation of what's going on inside your body, so treating from the inside out is a good place to start. Lifestyle changes, like eating a well-balanced diet rich in antioxidants, protein, and fatty acids, can be key to maintaining healthy skin cell function, which may improve the appearance and feel of your skin.

It can be frustrating and, at times, may even feel impossible to get your skin concerns under control. But rest assured there are many ways to treat and even prevent both dry and dehydrated skin. If your skin still fails to improve, a board-certified Dermatologist can help. If your skin condition is severe, you may be a good candidate for procedures like dermalinfusion or hydrafacials. These are helpful in-office treatments performed by a skilled provider to help both exfoliate and hydrate dull, dehydrated skin by infusing a "boost" of hydrating ingredients.

At the end of the day, remember that your skin is unique. It may take some trial and error, but when you land on the perfect daily skin care routine, you'll be glowing in no time.


  • Saving Pretty Faces With SPF

    My name is Dr. Rina Allawh and I am a Board-Certified Dermatologist in the Philadelphia suburbs, with a special interest in the unique challenges for pigmented skin with regards to anti-aging, hair loss, sun care and acne. Founder and co-host of "Skin the Surface" podcast which serves as an educational resource about skin-related issues, a tool to empower people to take a more active role in their skin health including skin cancer prevention, and an outlet to discuss some of the current hot topics in dermatology.