Will Drinking More Water Transform Your Skin? The Answer May Surprise You

Illustration by Olivia Santner
Dear Daniela,

How important is it to drink water for your skin? I constantly hear beauty influencers and celebrities saying that water is their ultimate beauty secret, and I see people on TikTok challenging themselves to drink these massive bottles of it every day. I know water is good for you but will it really affect my skin? How much do I need to drink?

Alannah, 29
As a cub reporter, I was sent backstage at more fashion shows than I can remember. I would have to sweet-talk stern women with clipboards and ear pieces to get in, then duck flying cans of hairspray and sidestep clothes rails speeding towards me. My goal? Approach the models and ask them for their 'beauty secrets' while they sat in hair and makeup, legs akimbo, in a folding chair, scrolling on their phones. Sometimes one of them would reveal a cool French pharmacy product I’d not heard of before, or maybe even tell me their favourite facialist. But for the most part they’d intone: "I drink a lot of water."

You’re absolutely right that water is non-negotiable in anyone’s daily regime, for health and beauty reasons, and like you I’ve seen the curious trend of the 'two gallon' challenge. If you were previously exclusively drinking juice, fizzy drinks or coffee, drinking more water will almost definitely make you feel better. I mean, humans are about 70% water. We're cucumbers with imposter syndrome! But what is the tipping point in terms of it actually helping our skin?
"Water is the main component of our cells and tissues, and represents the majority of our body’s composition," confirmed Dr Costas Papageorgiou, a plastic surgeon and aesthetic doctor. "Some studies show an increase in what we call 'deep' skin hydration after additional water intake, as well as reductions of the clinical signs of dryness and roughness, plus an increase in the elasticity of the skin. However, a clear definition of our daily water requirements does not exist," he added.

There are a few guidelines bouncing around. Dr Papageorgiou pointed to an American recommendation of 2.7 litres and 3.7 litres a day for men and women respectively, and a more conservative recommendation from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) of 2l and 2.5l of water per day for women and men. The British Dietetic Association suggests even less at 1.5 to 2 litres a day. The popular maxim that eight glasses a day is the magic number comes from a recommendation made all the way back in 1945 and even in that recommendation, the following sentence noted that most of that water is actually found in foods. Apples, spinach, tomatoes – lots of fruits and vegetables are high in water, and it’s advisable to eat your water as well as drink it. 
"Cutaneous water content, or the amount of water in the skin, is known to play an important role in different skin functions, such as the water 'barrier' and water deficiency is associated with several dermatological dysfunctions," explained Dr Papageorgiou. Not staying adequately hydrated could indeed make your skin feel tight, dry and itchy, especially if you’re already prone to eczema or dermatitis. Hydrated skin also reflects light better, which can give you a dewier, fresher face, but there’s no study which says a certain, exact amount will tip you over into 'unlocking' the benefits of skin hydration.

No doubt anyone who has acne will have been told at some point to drink more water, which must be just as annoying as "just wash your face". Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s nothing to say that chugging Evian will do much for breakouts. "More research is needed to confirm whether drinking more water can improve acne," said Dr Papageorgiou. "Water is essential to proper detoxification, as it helps carry nutrients through your body, flush out toxins and keep your liver and kidneys working efficiently." One really important thing to take away there: when Dr Papageorgiou says 'detoxification', he’s talking about your body’s own detoxification system of kidneys, liver and sweat, not green juices, herbal teas or 'clean' eating
The best way to think about water as part of your skincare routine is as a foundational layer that will almost undoubtedly support your skin’s health but probably won’t fundamentally change how it looks or feels in the same way skincare or even injectables might. If you know you don’t drink much – or really any – water and your skin is feeling dry and/or you’re bothered by breakouts, increasing your water consumption is probably advisable and hopefully it will help. Just like sleep and diet, you need to be at a point where what you’re aiming for is doable, sustainable and enjoyable for you. Some people need nine hours of shut-eye, others really are fine on five. Some people feel that dairy plays havoc with their complexion, others mainline cheese with little ill effect.
Overhydration is absolutely a thing and it does happen. While I have no authority to comment on the safety of 'water challenges', some of the bottles I’ve seen people fight their way through are alarmingly large – even if it’s not dangerous, it’s almost certainly superfluous. One thing’s for sure: if someone tells you their only beauty secret is to drink water? Take it with a pinch of salt.


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