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6 Ways to Quench the Thirst of Dry or Dehydrated Skin

Plus, figure out the difference between each with tips from board-certified dermatologists.


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Have you ever found yourself staring into the mirror wondering how you could possibly be breaking out while having dry skin on your face? If so, dehydrated skin might be what’s ailing your complexion — even if you might normally self-identify as someone with oily skin. 

In fact, everyone’s complexions are susceptible to dehydration (which is different from dry skin), regardless of skin type, New York City-based dermatologist Y. Claire Chang shared on the hydration episode of Allure’s The Science of Beauty podcast. “Those with oily skin can still have dehydrated skin, which means it can have high sebum levels, but low water content,” she explained. Plus, acne treatments can be particularly drying or even irritating, so skin hydration is even more important for those dealing with breakouts and oiliness, Chang added. 

Identifying Dehydrated Skin Versus Dry Skin

You can typically tell if your skin is dehydrated if you pinch one of your cheeks and it wrinkles with gentle pressure instead of holding its shape, Ross C. Radusky, a board-certified dermatologist at SoHo Skin & Laser Dermatology, tells Allure. Dehydrated skin will also feel tight and appear duller than usual, he adds. You may also notice more exaggerated wrinkles or ones in places you don’t remember having them, along with deeper dark circles

Dry skin, on the other hand, is characterized by lack of oil, Radusky says. Skin peeling and itchy, flaky skin typically happen as a result. Basically, general discomfort is a major sign of dryness. “The worst areas are typically near the eyebrows and around the corners of the nose and mouth,” Radusky adds.

Most of us understand the negative impacts of dehydration on our overall health, but not enough of us are aware of its potential to wreak such visible havoc on our complexions. In order to understand the difference between dryness and dehydration, we consulted experts on how to best address dehydration for happier, healthier, and more hydrated skin. 

How to Treat Dehydration and Dryness

Both dry and dehydrated skin have some treatments in common — however, you may be neglecting some of the more obvious ones if your complexion is on the oily side. If you’re not positive whether you’re dealing with dry or dehydrated skin, the good news is that the topical treatments for both are essentially the same. These six steps should help you see improvement in how your skin looks and feels either way. 

Moisturize, then moisturize some more

Dry and dehydrated skin can be soothed in a number of ways, but making sure you’re finishing off your day and nighttime skin-care routines with a moisturizer rich in emollients, humectants, and ceramides is the most obvious. For those unfamiliar with the latter ingredient, ceramides are lipids (aka fat molecules) that “help the skin retain moisture and allow [for] proper function,” New York City-based dermatologist Sejal Shah previously told Allure. When your skin lacks them, dryness and irritation occur. But a great moisturizer will replenish your skin’s ceramide levels and hydrate it in the process.

Our picks, in this case, include Murad’s Intense Recovery Cream and the Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin Cream

Invest in a humidifier

Placing a humidifier on your desk, nightstand, or end table is always a good idea, too. It will increase the air humidity, so the air in your home doesn’t suck the moisture out of your skin, according to Chang. Allure editors love the Best of Beauty-winning Hey Dewy Portable Facial Humidifier if you need a suggestion. 

Exfoliate once a week

Exfoliating is also key for both dry and dehydrated skin, alike. Dead skin cells may be built up on the surface of your face, keeping it from properly absorbing products, particularly moisturizer, says Francesca Fusco, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. She recommends exfoliating at least once a week to help slough away that build-up and allow your skin-care routine to work more efficiently. 

If your skin tends to be sensitive, reach for a chemical exfoliator formulated with alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs), like glycolic acid. “They exfoliate the upper layers of the skin while also hydrating and helping your skin retain moisture,” Michelle Henry, a board-certified dermatologist and clinical instructor of dermatology at Weill Medical College in New York City, previously shared with Allure. The Paula’s Choice 25% AHA + 2% BHA Exfoliant Peel or No7 Radiance+ Vitamin C Glow Toner will do the trick. 

Those with super oily skin, though, should go the physical exfoliation route to more effectively remove sebum buildup. Henry recommends looking for a formula with salicylic acid (a type of beta hydroxy acid, or BHA) on its ingredient list, which “gently speeds up skin turnover and better penetrates oil and oily follicles.” Need some help picking the right one? The Bioré Brightening Exfoliating Scrub and Bliss Well Yes! Healthy Glow Multivitamin Scrub are our favorites lately. (And both are under $10.) 

Add a serum to your regimen

Before moisturizing and after exfoliating, consider adding a serum to your skin-care lineup, Radusky suggests. “Serums are not moisturizers and vice-versa,” he adds. They are two different layers of moisture that are mutually exclusive. 

Radusky recommends finding a serum packed with hyaluronic acid, which helps water bind to the collagen in your skin. The Best of Beauty-winning AHC Aqualuronic Serum is always a great option. 

Serums spiked with peptides, particularly ones sourced from avocados, are also suitable for treating dry and dehydrated skin, Radusky says. They’ll boost your skin’s natural ability to produce its very own hyaluronic acid. Try the Glow Recipe Avocado Ceramide Recovery Serum

Get to slugging

“Slugging,” as the internet calls it, involves coating your skin in a layer of Vaseline after moisturizing before going to sleep. You’ll wake up with a more nourished complexion. Yup, that’s right — Vaseline is actually good for your face. It helps your skin seal in all the moisture from the serum and creams you topped it with and lock in hydration, according to Joshua Zeichner, the director of cosmetic and clinical research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. 

Pay attention to the seasons

Temperature and humidity changes can affect the way your skin looks and behaves, says Radusky. “Winter is particularly harsh as cold, low humidity air can cause skin to dry out and become itchy, cracked and irritated,” he says. “Cold air also tightens pores, reduces circulation, and reduces sebum production.” Enter dry, flaky skin. Low humidity, hot showers, and central heat also contribute to skin dehydration. Either way, a moisture-packed skin-care routine will save you from winter’s wrath. 

Fortunately, the atmosphere holds more water in the spring and summer — like a natural humidifier — providing an extra boost of water to our skin, Radusky adds. But too much direct sunlight can cause dehydration, so be extra vigilant with sunscreen

Hydration No Matter What

We’re sorry to break it to you, but dry skin is an inherent skin condition that will most likely stick around for most of your life, whereas dehydration is more of a state your skin is in that you can fix. Constant hydration will keep both at bay whether dry skin or dehydration has your face feeling parched. 

“When we think of water weight elsewhere on the body, we think of bloating and swelling,” says Radusky. “It’s the same thing on our skin. When hydrated, our skin cells swell, and this can be a great thing. It minimizes the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, and generally makes us look less tired.” So drink up.

Additional reporting by Allison Duncan.

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This post originally appeared on Allure and was published October 4, 2021. This article is republished here with permission.

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