If the only time you experience glowing skin is when there’s a screen facing it, we feel you. When everything is everywhere, it’s easy for aspects of your skincare routine to take a backseat. (After all, who’s got time for hydrating and moisturizing when there’s so much doom-scrolling and revenge bedtime procrastinating to do?) But keeping your skin hydrated is important for many reasons beyond looking healthy and well-rested.
“When the skin is properly hydrated, it’s able to carry out its innate function, which is to act as a natural barrier to any external and harsh elements,” says Michele Green, M.D., a New York-based board-certified cosmetic dermatologist. “If the structure and integrity of the skin is impaired, it’s more vulnerable to cracking and breaking, and therefore an easier entry point for environmental stressors and pathogens.”
The most common ways skin becomes dehydrated is any way in which water is drawn out of the skin—taking hot showers, eating salty foods, throwing back cocktails, turning up the heat, and not being diligent with the daily moisturizer, to name a few.
How to tell if your skin is dehydrated or dry
It turns out dehydrated skin and dry skin aren’t the same thing, although at first glance they may appear to be.
“Dry skin is characterized by fewer oil-producing glands on the face and body, whereas dehydrated skin is a lack of water, not oil,” says Corey L. Hartman, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist and founder of Skin Wellness Dermatology in Birmingham, AL. “It’s important to distinguish between the two so the appropriate active ingredients can be selected to address it.”
Dehydrated skin might not necessarily be flaky or rough, but rather, could be showing a loss of resiliency. “If you pinch the skin, it will remain tented because of lack of hydration,” says Hadley King, M.D., a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist. “This is in contrast to what we usually refer to as dry skin, which becomes dull, flaky, and rough.”
The two aren’t mutually exclusive, either—your skin can be both dehydrated and dry. “Dry skin lacks oil, which affects the skin barrier function, which can lead to loss of more water through the skin barrier, which can then result in dehydrated skin,” explains Dr. King. (Phew.)
How to hydrate your skin (and keep it that way)
Nix hot showers and baths.
On the surface, it may seem like taking hot showers and baths would help quash dehydrated skin (after all, you’re soaking your skin with water), but the opposite is true. “Hot showers and baths encourage water to flow out of your skin and evaporate into the shower, therefore dehydrating the skin,” says Dr. Green.
The best kinds of showers are short, lukewarm showers, to ensure water stays within the skin. “To really lock in that water content, look for ingredients in body washes that will draw water in and amplify the affect of hydration,” says Dr. Green. “A great ingredient that does this is hyaluronic acid.”
- Try: Olay Cleaning & Nourishing Body Wash
Invest in a humidifier.
Running a humidifier in your bedroom, or any other rooms you spend a lot of time in, increases the humidity in the air, so less moisture will be lost from your skin, says Dr. King. This is especially crucial during the winter months, when the air in our homes tends to get super-dry from having the heat on full-blast.
Steer clear of harsh cleansers.
Harsh cleansing agents strip the skin of natural moisturizing factors and oils and allow micro-cuts or cracks in the top layer of skin to take place. This can lead to drying, cracking, redness, and even eczema of the skin. “Look for gentle cleansers and avoid any that contain chemical exfoliants, such as alpha hydroxy, salicylic, or glycolic acid,” says Dr. Green.
When you over-cleanse your skin (as in, wash your face more than the recommended once in the morning and once before bed), you’re repeatedly stripping it of both its natural microbiome and moisturizing barrier agents. If you have to cleanse your skin more than twice a day (say, you’re a sucker for intense workouts), Dr. Green recommends applying a light moisturizer post-cleanse to replace any lost hydration.
Leave your skin moist after cleansing.
Instead of completely drying your skin after cleansing, gently pat-dry so your skin is still slightly damp as you apply your moisturizer. “This helps to ensure the moisturizer you apply will pull that water in so your skin can ‘drink’ it,” says Dr. Green.
Seek out hydrating skincare ingredients.
There are three types of hydrating ingredients that should be incorporated into your skincare routine: humectants, emollients, and occlusives. “It’s important to look for products that contain all three because they work together to moisturize the skin and each plays a critical role,” says Dr. King.
- Humectants (hyaluronic acid, glycerin) are substances that bind water into the outer layer of the skin, and need to be used along with the other components in order to retain the water content they provide.
- Emollients (squalane, ceramides, fatty acids) help with skin barrier function, leading to an overall improvement in skin texture and appearance.
- Occlusives (petrolatum, beeswax, mineral oil) are oils and waxes that form an inert layer on the skin and physically block transepidermal water loss (the process in which water evaporates from the skin).
Always, always wear sunscreen.
Free radicals from UV rays can damage the skin barrier, which can lead to dry, irritated skin. “Over time, UV rays break down the extracellular matrix (the fibers within your skin) and the skin won’t be able to stay as hydrated,” says Dr. King.
Besides being your biggest shield against the sun, applying broad spectrum sunscreen daily helps to lock in moisture by creating a physical barrier, says Dr. Green. When buying sunscreen and beauty products that contain SPF, look for ingredients like zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, which form a physical barrier on top of the skin.
Switch to a heavier moisturizer at night.
In addition to applying a hydrating moisturizer right after cleansing, it’s recommended the moisturizer used at night be on the heavier side. “Doing so will support the skin barrier and lock moisture in so it won’t evaporate while you sleep,” says Dr. Green. Look for an emollient moisturizer that contains ingredients like ceramides, squalene, and petrolatum.
By periodically sloughing off dead skin cells, you help to ensure the moisturizers you use absorb better—once or twice a week should suffice. “More frequent mechanical exfoliation can ruin the skin barrier and cause increased dryness and irritation,” says Dr. Hartman. “Exfoliate with a humectant ingredient that reduces the loss of moisture, like glycolic or lactic acid.”
- Try: The Ordinary Lactic Acid 10% + Hyaluronic Acid
Add a hydrating sheet mask to your roster.
“Adding a hydrating sheet mask into your skincare routine (ideally, once a week) is a convenient way to increase water content in a concentrated manner,” says Dr. Hartman. For a one-two punch of hydrating and soothing properties, look for sheet masks that contain ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, aloe, green tea, vitamins A, E, and C, and oat extract.
- Try: Dr. Jart Dermask Water Jet Vital Hydra Solution Sheet Mask
Add a thermal water spray to your regimen.
To get your dehydrated skin back on track, consider adding a thermal water spray to your repertoire. “They have mineral-heavy concentrations that have been shown to hydrate, decrease irritation and redness to the skin, and support a healthy skin microbiome,” says Melanie Palm, M.D., a San Diego-based board-certified dermatologist.
- Try: Avène Thermal Spring Water
Revamp your makeup routine.
You can incorporate key ingredients into your daily makeup routine that can help to restore skin’s hydration. “For dehydrated skin, you should gravitate toward makeup that has moisture-pulling ingredients, such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and squalane,” says Dr. Green, who also recommends looking for makeup products that have sunscreen built in for added oomph against UV rays.
- Try: IT Cosmetics Your Skin But Better CC+ Cream SPF 50
Drink more water.
Many people understandably assume that drinking loads of water will keep skin hydrated, but skin hydration is impacted by many variables. (Translation: Just drinking water to hydrate your skin won’t cut it.) “Your skin is also affected by your diet, lifestyle, environment, and skincare routine,” says Dr. Green. So drink more water, but make sure to alter and improve the other variables to legit rehydrate your skin and keep it that way.
Eat more water- and antioxidant-rich foods.
Fruits and veggies aren’t just great for your health—they’re excellent for your skin too. “Water- and antioxidant-rich foods increase the total water content of your body, and in conjunction with daily hydrating moisturizers, will make your skin supple and healthy,” says Dr. Green. Some great foods rich in water and antioxidants include beets, spinach, and mushrooms.
Avoid dehydrating drinks and foods.
Alcohol, excessive coffee, and poor diet—foods and beverages high in sodium and sugars—all contribute to systemic dehydration, which may show up as skin that looks dull, sallow, and non-plump, says Dr. King. Do your best to limit your intake of processed foods, as well as excess amounts of caffeine and alcohol (and when you do indulge, make sure to offset any dietary splurges with hydrating foods and some old-fashioned H20.)
Eat more healthy fats.
“Healthy fats are the building blocks of skin cells,” says Dr. Palm. “They’re necessary for our skin as an organ to function properly and act as an appropriate barrier from the outside environment.” Omega-3 fatty acids, which can be harder to come buy, can be found in fatty fish like salmon and mackerel, nuts, seeds, and olive oil.
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