How to rescue dehydrated skin
It happens every year: the weather turns cooler, the air becomes drier, schedules busier, and our skin officially gives up. And no skin type is safe – even the oiliest skin is vulnerable.
Frustratingly, most causes of dehydrated skin are tough to control. If your body feels dehydrated, you know it’s because you’re not drinking enough fluids, but the most common culprits for your skin are external. If you’re used to high temperatures and heavy humidity, even the mildest winter months are a shock to the system. Wind, rain, hot and chlorinated water will also strip moisture, while ageing and genetics can make you more prone to chronic dehydration.
Some factors are easier to manage – like an unbalanced diet, frequent late nights, or your office’s aggressively cold air conditioning – but the result is the same. What was once plump, glowing, and healthy, is flat, dull, and frustratingly unmanageable. More than anything, dehydrated skin feels dry. But this is where it gets complicated: just because dehydrated skin feels dry, doesn’t mean you have dry skin.
Dehydrated skin vs dry skin
The symptoms and treatments can overlap, but dry and dehydrated skin are, by definition, complete opposites. Dehydration is a temporary skin condition. The lack of water might make your skin feel tighter or thinner than usual. Dark circles look darker, wrinkles more pronounced, and new fine lines might even crop up in places they haven’t before but are only visible on certain days.
While you’d assume oily skin has all the hydration it could ever need, sometimes it means the complete opposite. Skin can often overproduce oil to try to compensate for not having enough water. In a cruel twist of fate, a lot of the products designed to control oiliness or acne can strip skin of moisture – especially if they’re overused.
Even at its worst, dehydration can be treated with the right steps. The same can’t be said for dry skin. This is a skin type caused by an underproduction of natural oils, and something you’re born with. Texture wise, it feels flaky, cracked, and almost leathery. You can regulate these side effects, but it’s difficult – if not impossible – to permanently change your skin type.
If you’re still unsure whether your skin is dry or dehydrated, a simple test can give you an answer. Pinch the skin on your face – if it takes longer than a second to bounce back to its previous position, it’s probably dehydrated. If not, it’s probably dry. It is possible for skin to be both, but it might take treating your dehydration first to know for sure.
What does dehydration do to the skin?
Dullness and dark circles are easy enough to fix. The long-term consequences of persistent dehydration are slightly more complex.
Any skincare expert will drive home the importance of your skin barrier, but that’s because it’s the wall responsible for protecting your skin from the outside world. Without enough moisture, it isn’t strong enough to do its job properly. As well as increasing your chances of sensitivity, inflammation, and irritation, this also leaves you vulnerable to sun damage – which is not only a health risk, but the top cause for premature ageing skin.
Your body’s collagen supply is also dependent on water, while our skin’s elasticity is dependent on collagen. If water is low, connective tissue is one of the first things to have its supply cut off, making it easier for fine lines and wrinkles to form.
How can I fix dehydrated skin?
In short, dehydration isn’t great for your skin, and left untreated it can snowball into something else entirely. The good news is that it’s quicker and easier to treat than most skin concerns.
Diet and lifestyle
Hydrate from the inside out – Yes, drinking more water is the most obvious solution in the world, but it’s also the easiest and most effective. The skin might be the last organ to benefit from water, but it’s also the first thing to show signs of dehydration. Try to consume the recommended amount of 2.5 to 3.5 litres a day and eat more water-rich foods such as cucumber, watermelon, celery, lettuce, tomatoes, and apples for an easy way to up your intake.
Cut back on caffeine – Anything that contains caffeine – including coffee (even decaf), green tea, or soda – has a mild diuretic effect, speeding up the rate at which water leaves your system. You don’t need to cut it out entirely but reducing the amount you consume will improve your body’s ability to retain hydration. If you can’t live without your morning coffee, have it with a glass of water on the side to counteract its effects.
Limit exposure to dry air – Winter’s cold, dry air makes it the worst season for dehydrated skin, but summer presents a similar threat: air conditioning. To cool you down, it blasts out colder air while simultaneously sapping the room (and, as it isn’t particularly picky, your skin) of moisture. A humidifier can replace this lost humidity, returning it to the ideal level of between 30 and 50 per cent. We recommend popping it on your bedside table overnight, as most of your skin’s water loss happens while you’re sleeping.
Moisturise (even if you think you don’t need to) – When you have oily skin, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you don’t need to moisturise. In truth, oil doesn’t hydrate skin. It just helps retain existing water. To make the most of your moisturising routine, incorporate a serum containing humectants – ingredients that help skin hold onto water better – such as hyaluronic acid or glycerine. Apply it to damp skin for maximum impact.
Choose the right cleanser – No matter how dehydrated your skin; cleansing should always be the first step in your skincare routine. To avoid stripping even more moisture, ditch foaming cleansers – or anything that leaves your skin feeling tight or uncomfortable – in favour of a cream, oil, or balm formulation. Products high in alcohol or fragrance can also damage moisture levels, as can rinsing your skin with hot water.
Exfoliate once a week – It takes skin an average of 27 days to regenerate new cells, but dehydrated skin can take longer. Slower cell turnover gives dead skin cells and bacteria a chance to build-up on the surface, which is what makes dehydrated skin look so dull. It can also keep your face from absorbing those hydrating products you’re so dutifully applying. To slough away dead cells and reveal the new, healthy skin underneath, try exfoliating once a week. Choose a chemical exfoliant over a physical one if your skin is particularly sensitive, but don’t go overboard – overusing active ingredients can damage the skin barrier.
Try slugging – A lot of the internet’s favourite skincare hacks are dubious, to say the least. Slugging is an exception. Born from Korean skincare traditions, this involves coating your face in an occlusive (usually petroleum jelly) to lock in moisture at the end of your evening skincare routine. It’s great for your skin barrier and can deliver rapid relief literally overnight. However, those with very oily or acne-prone skin might want to give it a miss as it can trigger breakouts.
Mesotherapy – This non-invasive treatment uses a series of micro-injections to restore nutrients and vitamins to your skin. The exact blend is tailored to your individual needs but can easily be used to restore the brightness and plumpness lost with dehydration across four to six sessions.
Fillers – Fillers are best known for restoring and boosting volume in areas like the lips, cheeks, nose, and chin. As most are made with hyaluronic acid, they can also be used to help skin recover from dehydration by binding together water molecules, encouraging collagen production, and improving its overall health. As it’s a naturally occurring substance, your body will metabolise it over time. However, expect to reap the benefits for around a year, depending on the part of the body you treat.
Profhilo – Pure hyaluronic acid is the secret to Profhilo’s success. Injected into the face, hands, décolletage, or anywhere prone to dehydration and signs of ageing, it acts like a sponge to absorb and retain the water already in your body. Best results usually require two sessions, spaced out over four weeks, and can last for up to six months.
How can I get a quick fix?
It doesn’t matter how you achieve it – hydration is, shockingly, the only way to fight dehydrated skin. The right routine can easily treat the worst of its side effects, but you need to be consistent all year round to avoid it altogether. If you have let your routine slip – and desperately need a temporary fix – look for a hydrating mist, brightening serum, or face mask containing glow-boosting ingredients like vitamin C or vitamin E.
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