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Difference Between Dry And Dehydrated Skin

The difference between dry and dehydrated skin? Aren’t they the same thing? 

If that’s what you thought after seeing the title, well have I got news for you.

They’re totally different!

But I don’t blame you for not knowing that right away. Dry and dehydrated are pretty similar words. 

When it comes to our skin though, the differences between the two are important.

You’ll have a hard time keeping your skin healthy if you don’t know exactly what you’re dealing with.

So, for today, let’s find out the 5 things we need to know about the difference between dry and dehydrated skin!

The Difference Between Dry And Dehydrated Skin

Difference Between Dry And Dehydrated Skin

There isn’t only one difference between dry and dehydrated skin.

So, to understand their difference means going through the key points of both. And there, we’ll see just how different dry skin and dehydrated skin are.

Skin Type VS Skin Condition

Difference Between Dry And Dehydrated Skin

Here’s one difference between dry and dehydrated skin. Dry skin is a skin type. Dehydrated skin is a skin condition.

Skin type is determined by genetics [1]. Your skin type can be normal, dry, oily, combination, or sensitive and still be considered healthy.

Meanwhile, your skin condition can change greatly throughout your life [1]. They can come and they can go. 

And there are actually a lot of things that can affect our skin condition.

Like climate and pollution, medication, stress, hereditary factors, allergies, irritants, certain diseases, and immune system problems [1, 2].

So, all this tells us that we can be born with dry skin and have to deal with it throughout our life.

But dehydrated skin can come and go in our life—depending on the factors we encounter.

Main Cause

Difference Between Dry And Dehydrated Skin

Another difference between dry and dehydrated skin is their main cause. 

The main reason you can have dry skin is that your skin produces less sebum—the skin’s natural oil—than normal skin [3].

Because skin lacks those natural oils, dry skin finds it hard to keep moisture.

And since our skin needs natural oils to for the protective barrier, dry skin is more prone to external influences. These external factors can make dry skin even drier.

For dehydrated skin, the cause is something you or your environment brought on [4]. And for a lot of us, that could be using skincare products with harsh ingredients.

Harsh products can damage our skin barrier. And one of the results of a damaged skin barrier directly results in dehydrated skin. That is transepidermal water loss or TEWL. 

TEWL is the process of losing passing water from the epidermis through evaporation [5]. In simpler terms, it's when water on the uppermost layers of your skin evaporates.

The result: dehydrated skin.

Feeling and Appearance

Difference Between Dry And Dehydrated Skin

Feeling and appearance might be the most helpful out of all the things we’re finding out about the difference between dry and dehydrated skin. 

That way, you can simply look at your skin in the mirror, observe how it feels, and tell whether you have dry skin or dehydrated skin.

Dry skin is easier to spot between the two. 

You won’t see oil anywhere on dry skin. Instead, you’ll see skin flaking and peeling. You’ll also feel how tight and dry your skin feels.

Rarely will this change much—so skin will feel dry all year long [3].

What can change is dry skin becoming even drier. That depends on climate, season, and your daily activities. 

Dehydrated skin can look a lot like dry skin at first glance. You’ll see flaking and tight-feeling skin. Though unlike dry skin, dehydration doesn’t persist all year long. 

Most especially, the biggest difference you’ll see is that dehydrated skin comes with a lot of oil on skin’s surface [4].

And despite all those oils, your skin everywhere on your face will still feel tight or dry. All that on top of flaking. Crazy, right?

Triggers

Difference Between Dry And Dehydrated Skin

If you already have one or the other, it’s best to know what to avoid so you won’t be exacerbating your dry or dehydrated skin.

Let’s first look at the factors that can trigger or worsen both dry skin and dehydrated skin [1, 6, 7].

Climate/Environment

When you’re exposed to heavy pollution, continuous use of air conditioning, and heating, you’ll feel the effects on your skin.

Having cold dry winters and hot dry summers can also affect how fast water can evaporate on your skin.

Water

Taking hot showers will expose your skin to heat and friction, which can then strip and damage the skin.

Using hard water is also damaging to your skin. It can leave minerals on your skin, which can then remove and absorb water from the skin.

Skin products (Skin care and other cosmetics)

What we put on our skin will certainly affect it.

Ingredients like alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, retinoic acid, benzoyl peroxide, and hexachlorophene can damage skin and strip it of moisture.

Also products like bar soaps, cleansers with a lot of sulfates, and harsh astringents.

Even safer ingredients like AHA and BHA, when used too often, can dehydrate your skin and make your dry skin even drier.

Now, let’s see the difference between dry and dehydrated skin triggers.

One thing is that when not cared for, dry skin can lead to atopic dermatitis (eczema) and infections [7].

Meanwhile, dehydrated skin can be affected by internal factors:

Water

When your body is thirsty and not receiving enough water, it can show on your skin.

Take a look at how much water you drink in a day and adjust until you’re receiving the amount that keeps you hydrated.

Lifestyle

Drinking, smoking, and excessive exercise can make the body dehydrated and in turn, the skin.

Dehydration can show on the skin if you don’t drink ample amounts of water in relation to your lifestyle. 

Aging

As our body naturally ages, our sensation of thirst goes down and the kidneys are less effective in conserving water. So be conscious of your water intake.

But take note that the triggers above are where a lot of TEWL happens. So, those can do a lot more damage than internal factors.

While you can certainly counter those, it won’t be as easy as keeping an eye on your daily water intake.

You’ll need to actively protect your skin from those triggers to prevent dehydrated skin.

Treatment

Difference Between Dry And Dehydrated Skin

The first thing you need to do for both dry skin and dehydrated skin is to avoid triggers as much as possible. 

Especially about the skin products—if you’ve found a product that’s messing your skin up, yeet that thing into oblivion.

Stick to gentle yet effective cleansers. Stay away from harsh scrubs and rough cleansing tools.

Now, for actually dealing with either dry skin or dehydrated skin. Even if you’re only dealing with one and not the other, the best thing to do is to hydrate and moisturize your skin.

When we say hydrate, that means using a product that’s going to add a lot of moisture to your skin.

Meanwhile, moisturizing does a little bit of that. But the main thing it should do is to make sure moisture stays on your skin and won’t evaporate.

Here’s where the difference between dry and dehydrated skin comes in.

If you have dehydrated skin, you usually can get away with just using a hydrating product. But for dry skin, it’s a big no-no to skip moisturizer. 

Sure, you can skip the hydrating product if your moisturizer is hydrating, too. But you sure aren’t doing your dry skin any favors by skipping moisturizer.

In some cases, though, it’s also bad for dehydrated skin to skip moisturizer. That’s when you’re living in a place with low humidity.

Most hydrating products contain hyaluronic acid (HA). HA takes moisture from the environment.

So, let’s say you are in a low humidity place. HA won’t find much moisture in the air and will draw moisture from the skin’s deepest layers [8].

Then, HA will bring that moisture to the surface of the skin, where it can evaporate. That will then leave the skin even more dehydrated than it was in the first place. 

So, again, use a moisturizer after your hydrating product if you’re in a low humidity environment.

If you have dehydrated skin and live in a fairly humid place, hydration will be enough.


Knowing exactly what your skin is going through can sometimes be the key to make it super healthy.

Remember how dehydrated skin will have a lot of oil? Imagine if you have dehydrated skin but mistook it for oily skin. 

You’ll start using oily skin focused skin care products—managing the oil but not targeting the cause.

Then you’ll end up dehydrating your skin even more, living yourself confused why your “oily skin” just won’t behave.

So, hopefully, this sheds some light on what you’re dealing with.

Do you have dehydrated skin or dry skin? Let me know in the comments!

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