A Beauty Therapist Guide: Is Your Skin Dehydrated or Dry?
Dry versus dehydrated skin… wait, there’s a difference? Yes, and it’s often a source of confusion, largely created by the term 'dry dehydrated skin,' which we often hear bandied about on beauty adverts. A lot of people think they have dry skin, or a dry skin type, when actually it is dehydrated. Our Jersey Beauty Company skin therapists, Emma and Christine, have given us some handy tips on the telltales signs of dry vs dehydrated skin, the science behind it, and how to recognise if your skin is dry or dehydrated.
Dry versus Dehydrated Skin: The Tell Tale Signs
As our skin therapist Emma tells us:
“if you've been on quite heavily toxic products for a particular concern like dryness for 2-3 years and you're still having that issue, it's very likely that it isn't dryness of your skin and it is possibly dehydration.”
This common misconception can lead us to use products for dry skin which don’t effectively reach the deeper layers of skin that are dehydrated.
To help us to better care for the remarkable you, Emma and Christine have given us a handy checklist of what to look for in dry versus dehydrated skin.
- will feel tight (like you’re using a face masque)
- will feel thirsty, absorbing skincare products, including moisturiser, quickly
- will drag to the touch, like it lacks elasticity
- may be dullish in colour
- may have lines that appear on the skin, which can be mistaken for wrinkles, (think of a fruit when it’s parched)
- May be ‘flaky’
- Looks dry
- Feels rough to touch
- Can be itchy, sensitive or prone to irritation
- May appear dull or grey, especially if you naturally have a darker skin tone
The main difference between dry skin and dehydrated skin is the cause – put simply, dry skin lacks oil, whereas dehydrated skin lacks water. To understand this better, skin therapist Emma explains some of the science behind the layers of our skin.
The Skin’s Layers
The skin can be affected by dryness and dehydration at two key points in its structure - the epidermis, the skin’s upper layers, including the stratum corneum, and the dermis, the deeper layers of skin.
Dry skin affects the outermost layer of the epidermis, known as the stratum corneum. In healthy skin, this layer is built a bit like a brick wall. Dead skin cells form the bricks and are held together by lipids, which act as a kind of oily glue. This layer provides an important protective barrier which prevents excessive water and moisture loss through the skin and also protects the deeper layers of skin from external factors.
Dry skin is a sign that this lipid barrier function is damaged or weakened, there is a lack of oily lipids holding the brick wall of dead skin cells together that make up the stratum corneum. This can cause problems, with the classic signs of skin dryness being flakiness, irritation, sensitivity and damage to the deeper layers.
Dehydration on the other hand is where the skin lacks water. Skin therapist Emma explains that this can be caused by “transepidermal water loss”, which she explains simply as “where water is being lost more quickly from your skin. Skin dehydration can be caused by your lifestyle. It can be from not drinking enough water, from what you eat, what you drink, what you put into your body, even air conditioning; it can also be to the aging process, sun, free radicals.” When our skin loses too much water, it becomes dehydrated. This can affect the skin at the point of the epidermis and the dermis.
At the epidermis level, skin can become dehydrated from changes in the weather (extremely hot or cold climates), smoking and other external factors. This is when the skin may feel tight, become dull or lined, and you may get a build-up of dead skin cells. All of these changes are in the skin’s upper layers.
At the dermis level, skin that does not contain water deep down is not as dense, and parts of the skin’s structure dip or collapse, forming wrinkles. This is because the ability to produce collagen and elastin is affected at this level. This is why it is always important to try to hydrate skin.
A Simple Test
While dry and dehydrated skin may have similar telltale signs, skin therapist Christine, gives us a simple test to help us differentiate between the two. Christine’s advice is to take both of your thumbs and gently stroke them along any specific area of your skin, to check for dryness. If the skin underneath your thumb feels rough or flaky, your skin in that area is dry. However, if the skin underneath your thumb feels really tight and begins to “drag” and crease as you lightly move across the surface, Christine comments, “this is a massive sign of dehydration”. A further test for dehydration is taking your thumb and finger and gently pinching the skin and releasing. Healthy skin will recover quickly – the more dehydrated the skin, the longer it will take to recover.
Dry vs dehydrated - why does it matter?
It’s important to understand whether our skin is dry or dehydrated to help us to choose the right way to treat the problem. Whilst most of us will assume dry flaky skin can be resolved with a moisturiser, this is not necessarily the case. Dry skin will need treatment to rebuild the oily lipid barrier and to remove the dead skin cells to encourage cell regeneration and replenish natural oils, whereas dehydrated skin will need help to build back up water levels in the skin, at the epidermis or dermis level. Skin dehydration in this sense can be improved by hydrating the skin through appropriate skin care. Understanding our skin better will help us to care for it in the right way, leaving it happier and healthier.