Dry vs. dehydrated skin
Although easily confused, there is a big difference between dry and dehydrated skin, both in the causes and how you treat it. Dry skin is a skin type you are born with, while dehydrated skin is a condition or a temporary state caused when the surface barrier has been damaged and the skin loses moisture. “And it’s often self-inflicted, whether from over-exfoliation or using the wrong product for your skin,” explains aesthetician Joanna Czech. “Very often I find it’s down to an over-use of retinols – I love them for any skin from one’s late-20s onwards, but not when used every day.” Traveling and diet can also leave skin dehydrated, as could your favorite fitness class, as ‘hot’ sessions in particular impact the skin’s barrier, resulting in water loss.
A real sign of dehydrated skin is if it suddenly feels uncomfortable, especially in cold weather or when the temperature changes. The damaged barrier that lets moisture out also lets irritants in, so reactive skin is another sign of dehydration. However, while your complexion can feel rough, flaky and even sore, it’s relatively simple to rectify. “Pull back on anything that is polishing or resurfacing your skin and, while it’s obvious to use hydrating serums and oils, what’s vital is to also use a cream – and especially a richer cream at night or in winter – to ‘seal’ the hydration in,” says Czech.
Boost your barrier
Using even the best hydrating serum or cream on skin with a damaged barrier is as effective as carrying water in a leaky bucket. Weather, pollution and stress may be the main causes of damage, but even over-enthusiastic cleansing can remove this vital layer of lipids, or fats, along with the dirt and dead cells. Some dermatologists tell me they have seen an increase in dehydrated skin specifically from double cleansing, so if your skin feels tight and taut post-cleansing, be more gentle and think about changing to an oil or balm. “Ceramides, shea butter and, to a degree, coconut oil all help keep the barrier intact,” says LA dermatologist Dr Karyn Grossman, who suggests choosing creams that include them. Plus, as with our gut, a healthy skin microbiome (good bacteria) is important; creams and serums with pre- and probiotics can be the answer to chronically irritated, red or dehydrated skin.
How to treat dehydrated skin
Crepey skin, fine lines and dull complexions can owe more to dehydration – especially around the eyes – than to aging. Your superstar ingredient here is hyaluronic acid (HA). Found throughout the body, it attracts and holds water – a staggering six liters for every gram of HA. The best serums use both low- and high-molecular-weight HA, as this ensures your skin is hydrated both on the surface and below. Oilier skin types can choose lighter, oil-free HA serums, “but on any skin type always use a cream; it seems like a lot of steps, but you need that finishing cream,” says NY dermatologist Dr Dendy Engelman. For the body, mixing a cream with an oil makes an excellent combination for treating seriously dehydrated skin.
Treat from the inside out
Each skin cell membrane is made up of omega fatty acids, so keeping these strong and intact is the key to healthy, hydrated skin. “Taking omegas orally is more effective than using them topically,” says Dr Engelman. “This way, you get the healthiest skin, as they work at a deeper cellular level from when cells are formed.”
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