How To Tell Whether Your Skin Is Dry — Or Just Dehydrated

“My skin is so dry, how can I fix it?” It's an age-old beauty conundrum, and we have yet to find a universal, quick-fix for banishing dull and tired skin. Sigh.
But, fear not, because we've been schooled on the scientific roots of skin dryness and dehydration —and what have we learned? You gotta start at the dictionary. Most of the time, we assume that skin dryness is a direct result of dehydration, or a lack of H2O. In actuality, we may be totally off in how we've been thinking about dryness and dehydration, because, as skin-care guru Reneé Rouleau explained to us, the two are actually not synonymous.
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Your best defense against flakey, tight skin is understanding the difference between dryness and dehydration, then finding the right products to achieve moisturized skin based on your need. Read on for a lesson on how to properly diagnose, treat, and prevent skin dryness and dehydration to keep your complexion at its most radiant.
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What Is Dry Skin?

"Dry skin is classified as alipidic, which means it doesn't produce sebum or oil," explains Rouleau. "Because skin relies on oil to hold moisture in, without it, skin can appear rough and flaky — and wrinkles are more pronounced. Dry skin can also lead to a damaged barrier function, increasing long term sensitivity and inflammation, and causing a chain or biochemical reactions like collagen breakdown."
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How To Prevent It?

It's important to use emollient-rich moisturizers that protect the skin from moisture loss. Rouleau advises looking for formulas containing shea butter, beeswax, jojoba oil, and sunflower seed oil to keep dry skin at bay.
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How To Treat It?

The best way to treat dry skin is to use mild cleaning lotions when washing, and to avoid using harsh cleansers or bar soap.

"Use gentle exfoliants: either acids or scrubs with gentle microbeads," Rouleau says. "Exfoliating helps remove surface flakiness and promote cell renewal, as they improve natural production of intercellular lipids for the barrier function. I also always recommend using a humidifier in the winter months to keep moisture in the air, and, more importantly, in your skin. Be sure to apply moisturizer within one minute after washing to prevent water in the skin from evaporating into the dry, winter air."
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What Is Dehydrated Skin?

"Dehydrated skin, as a skin condition, lacks water content, but may still produce oil," explains Rouleau. "While it may be genetic or environmental, dehydrated skin can feel flaky and tight, and often forms fine lines easily due to the surface-cell deflation. If looked at through a magnifying glass, dehydrated skin has tiny, triangular fine lines from the lack of water, and is common among those with oily and acne-prone skin who may use harsh products that strip the skin of water."
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How To Prevent It?

Rouleau likens dehydrated skin to a leather chair, in that it needs to be conditioned to keep form drying out. "If you apply water to a leather chair, it only gets drier," she said. "Bottom line: Dehydrated skin still produces oil, but feels tight, whereas dry skin produces little to no oil and can be flakey. And while drinking water is great for your overall health, no amount of gulping will truly hydrate your skin."
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How To Treat It?

Treatment of dehydrated skin starts with being ingredient-picky when choosing a moisturizer. "Use a moisturizer that contains humectants like glycerin or hyaluronic acid, as these ingredients attract water from the environment into the skin to keep it soft and supple," said Rouleau. "Go easy on the exfoliants: Using too many acids or scrubs can make dehydration worse, causing inflammation. Cleanse with a sulfate-free gel to prevent unnecessary dehydration after washing."
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