Dry vs. Dehydrated Skin

Ever wonder why dry skin remains stubbornly arid no matter how much moisturizer is slathered onto it? The answer might lie in differentiating between dryness and dehydration. I was first alerted to this notion by an article in the trade magazine Skin Inc. and was surprised to discover that this is no mere nuance: dehydrated skin is very different from its dry counterpart, both in the cause and the treatment. So find out if you are dry or dehydrated and what to do about it.

Dry Skin

I think I’ve always assumed that dry skin needs water. Wrong! Dry skin is apparently related to oil production. This can be genetic and/or oil production can decrease with age. Normal skin has a light hydrolipid film composed of oil and water. At this point, note that oil is essential for healthy skin. The hydrolipid film retains moisture and protects against bacteria. The problem is that oil gets a bad rap and people with normal, healthy oil production often strip their skin with harsh cleansers to remove the imagined slick. Au contraire, the hydrolipid film is essential to protecting the skin.

Dry skin doesn’t have this hydrolipid film. As a result, it can appear tight, dull and show signs of aging. Skin that does not maintain the hydrolipid film loses suppleness and is susceptible to transepidermal water loss (TEWL).  And now we get to understand why slathering on those water-based moisturizers isn’t helping. Oil layers over water and retains it – ergo, without that oily hydrolipid film, the skin will not keep moisture.

Dryness is a skin type, but matters can be made worse with harsh cleansers, or products such as mineral makeup that absorb oil.

Treating dry skin

Pick a cleanser that is creamy and nourishing.  Red Flower Lymphatic Phytopower Sea Cleanser and Masque ($42 in the shop) utilizes grape seed oil and does double duty as an antioxidant mask.

Introduce a facial oil into your regimen. Rescue is the operative word in. Osmotics Skin Rescue Nourishing Oil ($58). The blend of coconut, sweet almond, sunflower, red raspberry and evening primrose oils is rich in vitamins and fatty acids. There’s a fantastic blend of antioxidant oils in VOYA My Little Hero Face Serum ($102), including coriander, rose hip and pomegranate.

Look for niacinamide. A form of vitamin B-3, it boosts ceramides and fatty acids and improves the skin’s barrier function. At least one study demonstrated that niacinamide decreased inflammatory activity, decreased TEWL and increased barrier thickness. La Vie Celeste Extra Rich Face Cream ($75 in the shop) has niacinamide with argan and baobab oils, plus apple stem cells and a peptide that helps prevent sagging skin.

And don't forget ceramides. Ceramides are the glue that holds our skin surface cells together. All four layers of the epidermis contain ceramides, and they play an important role by creating a barrier that reduces infection and helps to retain the skin’s moisture. Ceramides feature prominently in the eye serum Prana SpaCeuticals Precious Fluids ($135 in the shop) along with sodium hyaluronate and many barrier boosting actives.

Dehydrated skin

Dehydrated skin needs a drink – water, not a martini. The main water reservoir of the skin is located in the two lower layers, the dermis and hypodermis, and is regulated by the antidiuretic hormone (APH) secreted by the pituitary gland. Epidermal lipids are an important line of defense and play a major role in slowing down TEWL. Wetting dry skin, or using a light water-based moisturizer will not help at all – the “horny layer” of cells in the skin barrier is designed to actually prevent water getting through.

Well-hydrated skin is smooth and dewy, while epidermal dehydration leads to crepiness and fine lines. Because of these conditions, there is a tendency to reach for the exfoliator. Unfortunately, you cannot scrub your way to dewy, skin and retinols will simply make the skin drier.

Note that redness-prone or rosacea skin can be sensitive to dehydration. And aging skin also loses water, going from 10 to 20 percent water composition to less than 10 percent.

Treating dehydrated skin

Look for water attracting and retaining ingredients.  As mentioned above, lipids are significant in the retention of moisture. Phospholipids, members of the lipid family, are comprised of two fatty acids. The “head” of a phospholipid is hydrophilic (attracted to water), while the hydrophobic “tails” repel water. This means that phospholipids attract water and hold on to it, making them a helpful moisturizer. You’ll find phospholipids in BRAD Biophotonic Sublime Youth Creator Gel-Cream ($245 in the shop), an unusually hydrating gel that also boasts Matrixyl 3000. They are also in The Organic Pharmacy Rose Plus Brightening Complex ($189), which has some great antioxidant botanicals.

Sodium hyaluronate is comprised of small molecules that penetrate the skin easily and can hold up to 1000 their own weight in water. When applied topically to the skin, it can reach deep down into the dermis to combine with, maintain and attract water. It also promotes skin/blood microcirculation and nutrient absorption, and helps maintain normal metabolism. With hyaluronic from a fungi called tremella, Sevani Hyaluronic Wrinkle Defense Serum ($68 in the shop) also has niacinamide and is especially suitable for rosacea types. It is front and center of Sciote Super Moist Hyaluronic Serum ($75 in the shop).

Gluconolactone is composed of multiple water-attracting hydroxyl groups. When applied to the skin, these water hungry molecules pull moisture out of the air and allow it to be absorbed by the skin. In addition, gluconolactone forms a barrier on the skin, preventing moisture already present in the tissue from evaporating. It is featured alongside sodium hyaluronate in Snowberry New Radiance Face Serum ($46).

Marta Wohrle is an anti-aging skin care and beauty expert and the founder/CEO of Truth In Aging. Marta is dedicated to uncovering the truth behind anti-aging product claims.