Dehydrated Skin: What Causes It and How to Fix It

Pop quiz: Is the skin redness, tightness, or dull appearance you’re dealing with caused by dry skin…or dehydrated skin? The answer isn’t so easy. Although both these two terms are often used interchangeably, dehydrated skin is not, in fact, the same as dry skin — and treating it is easier than you may think. We’re breaking down the difference between the two, how to identify if you’re actually suffering from a dehydrated dermis, and next steps on getting your glow back on track. 

What is dehydrated skin?

Dehydrated skin is skin that lacks water. The low water content could stem from dehydration throughout the body as well as dry, low-humidity air, since there’s less moisture for your skin to absorb. Unlike dry skin, which is a skin type, dehydrated skin is a skin condition that could happen whether you have normal skin, dry skin, oily skin — it doesn’t matter.

So, you can have dehydration and still struggle with acne or redness, or deal with both dehydrated and dry skin simultaneously. All skin types — even oily skin — need to prevent dehydration via sufficient hydration.

“The easiest way to explain the difference would be to use an extreme example: When a person who is systemically dehydrated, their skin will therefore also be dehydrated,” says NYC-based dermatologist Hadley King, M.D. “This is in contrast to what we usually refer to as dry skin, which becomes flaky and rough. Dehydration won’t make the skin flaky or rough, but it makes it lose resiliency — and if you pinch the skin, it will remain tented because of lack of hydration.” An easy way to tell is with a DIY pinch test: If you pinch your skin and it takes more than a second for your skin to flatten and smooth back to normal, your skin might be dehydrated.

Dehydrated skin tends to be dull, have exaggerated fine lines and wrinkles, and, as King mentioned, may make skin look slack or loose. In severe cases of dehydration, you may experience dizziness, dry mouth, faintness, dark urination and overall fatigue, according to NYC-based dermatologist Michele Green, M.D.

Dry skin vs. dehydrated skin

The difference between the two is that while dehydrated skin lacks water, dry skin lacks oil, or sebum. It’s a skin type you may be genetically predisposed to, and ultimately affects skin barrier function. For that reason, someone with dry skin might experience flaking or peeling of the skin, redness, deep cracks within the skin — and in some severe cases, eczema and psoriasis. Unlike dehydrated skin, you can manage dry skin but not cure it.

Watch Glow Recipe cofounders Sarah and Christine break down the differences between dehydrated and dry skin.

How do you treat dehydrated skin? 

Whether you’ve been slacking on your water intake or are dealing with air drier than the Sahara, get ready for good news: Dehydrated skin can be fixed. “It is important to drink plenty of water to replenish your hydration,” says Green. “Eating more plant-based foods, like fruits and vegetables, and getting enough rest can help with dehydrated skin, too.”

It’s also important to treat your dehydrated skin topically, too. “If the skin is dehydrated but not dry, hyaluronic acid should help hydrate the skin by binding to water, and the skin barrier should help to lock in this moisture,” says King. 

Learn how to keep your skin hydrated all day, every day with the power of electrolytes.

Hyaluronic acid, a powerful humectant known to hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water, is the star of the show in the Plum Plump Hyaluronic Acid Serum. It contains five different molecular hyaluronic acid weights and three types of plum, which work to support the skin’s own natural production of hyaluronic acid. “The serum works to maintain the skin’s natural protective barrier by restoring moisture to the skin at every level,” explains Dr. Green. “Plus, it synergistically communicates with the skin to deliver the right amount of hydration to the areas needed, revitalizing the skin’s outer layers so they look and feel softer, smoother, and radiantly hydrated.”

Other ingredients can help increase skin’s water content, too. The Banana Soufflé Moisture Cream contains electrolytes, such as magnesium and potassium, that balance fluids within your skin’s layers and counteract moisture depletion. Plus, it contains emollient ingredients that replenish your skin barrier, which better enables it to seal in that water.

Last but not least, dehydration means thirsty skin — so quench it in your routine and throughout the day with the Watermelon Glow Ultra-Fine Mist, which pairs hyaluronic acid with hydrating watermelon extract. Spray it onto skin up to seven times in place of your usual toner step — you might recognize it as the Korean 7-Skin Method — and then throughout the day as needed.

Read more about dealing with dryness vs. dehydration: