the skincare pharmD

What's the Difference Between Dry and Dehydrated Skin?

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After reading the title of this blog post, you may be thinking to yourself, “Don’t dry and dehydrated mean the same thing?”

While these two terms may be shown as synonyms in a thesaurus, dry and dehydrated mean two completely different things in the world of skin care. They do share similar signs and symptoms, such as skin dryness and sometimes flaking, itching, tightness, or sensitivity, but the causes and treatments are quite different. So what's the difference between dry and dehydrated skin? Keep reading to find out!


Everyone is born with genes that dictate their physical characteristics, including their skin type. Skin can be dry, oily, sensitive, acne-prone, or a combination of any of these types. If you are born with dry skin, this means that your skin produces less sebum than normal. Sebum is the natural oil produced by glands in your skin that functions to lubricate the skin and act as a waterproof barrier. Too much sebum, of course, leads to oily skin. However, skin that lacks sebum will become dry, cracked, and possibly flaky.

Dry skin needs to be treated with products that are oil-based in order to replace the oil that the skin is lacking.

Look for organic oils, such as jojoba oil, rosehip seed oil, evening primrose oil, hazelnut oil, etc.

My personal favorite is jojoba oil because it is non comedogenic (it doesn't clog pores) and it smells amazing!


Product recommendation: Jojoba Oil by Leven Rose, Pure Cold Pressed Natural Unrefined Moisturizer


Another way to treat dry skin is to use reparative moisturizers, which are moisturizers that are specially formulated to repair the damaged skin barrier and replenishing the lost barrier components. The ingredients found in these moisturizers not only treat the symptom (dryness) but also treat the cause (damaged barrier). One example of an ingredient that can help repair the skin barrier is niacinamide, the amide form of vitamin B3. Studies have shown that niacinamide can repair the skin barrier, improve skin moisture, reduce inflammation, blotchiness, hyperpigmentation, wrinkling, and even inhibit skin cancer formation.

Product recommendation: Paula's Choice RESIST Skin Restoring Moisturizer with SPF 50 with Shea Butter and Niacinamide



Dehydrated skin will look and feel the same as dry skin. In contrast to dry skin, however, dehydrated skin is caused by a lack of water (hydration), not a lack of oil. Many factors can deplete the skin of hydration, some of which include diet, excessive sun exposure, makeup, incorrect product use, and many more.


In fact, the skin naturally loses hydration with age. Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD explains that, “As we age, our skin loses some of its essential, self-moisturizing components.” The epidermis contains natural humectants called Natural Moisturizing Factors (NMFs). NMFs attract and retain water inside of keratinocytes (skin cells) to aid in keeping skin hydrated. As part of the normal aging process there is a significant decrease in the amount of NMFs found in the epidermis, which leads to dryness and ultimately contributes to wrinkle formation.


But here’s where it can get confusing: When skin is dehydrated, it produces more oil to compensate for the insufficient water. This is why skin can feel dry and oily at the same time. When this occurs, problems such as acne breakouts, irritation, and dry patches can develop.


In order to correct dehydrated skin, start by trying to identifying what’s causing the dehydration. A common misconception is the dehydrated skin is caused by insufficient water intake, when the amount of water you drink actually will have little effect on the appearance of your skin. To confirm, Amy Hess-Fischl, RD, CDE, explains, “Unless the individual is severely dehydrated, drinking large quantities of water will not prevent dry skin. Basically, the moisture level of skin is not determined by internal factors. Instead, external factors such as skin cleansing, the environment, the number of oil glands, and the functioning of these oil-producing glands determine how dry the skin is or will become. The water that is consumed internally will not reach the epidermis [the top layer of the skin].”


Therefore, instead of drinking more water as an attempt to replenish dehydrated skin, look for products that contain humectants. Humectants are substances that absorb water from the air or underlying layers of the skin and draw those molecules toward the surface of the skin. Some of the most common humectants include glycerin, hyaluronic acid, urea, aloe vera, and lactic acid.

Product recommendation: