Do You Have Dehydrated Skin? Here’s How to Tell

by Michele Ross


I recently booked a routine facial, during which I explained my skin woes to my new esthetician, Cielo Ruiz. Lately, I’ve had a strange case of excess oil interspersed with dry, flaky patches.

Was my skin type transitioning from combination to oily to dry at will? And how the heck can I achieve clear, healthy skin if it changes more often than Kardashian-Jenner hairstyles?

To my surprise, Cielo deduced that my skin was actually dehydrated. Say what? I had to learn more about dehydrated skin to determine if this mysterious condition was at the root of my newfound complexion crisis.

Dry Skin vs. Dehydrated Skin

First things first: Dry skin and dehydrated skin aren’t interchangeable.

Simply put, dry skin is a genetic skin type while dehydrated skin is a temporary skin condition. Another key distinction is that dry skin lacks oil, whereas dehydrated skin lacks water.

“People with dry skin have smaller pores, so they secrete less oil,” Cielo explains. “They have a history of dryness, which can result in flaking and premature aging. On the other hand, dehydrated skin can affect anyone, regardless of skin type, pore size, or genetic makeup.”

(Armed with this crucial info, I now know that I can rule out dry skin since I’ve always been more combo/oily.)

What lifestyle factors can contribute to skin dehydration?

The usual suspects of smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, and too much sun exposure can lead to dehydrated skin (and, of course, a host of other health and beauty issues).

Nutrition-wise, Cielo notes that caffeine and other diuretics—plus a lack of water and fruits and veggies in your diet—can compromise your skin’s hydration levels.

In terms of skincare, potential culprits include harsh exfoliation, using the wrong products for your skin type, and applying heavily alkaline products. (Alkaline skincare products have a high pH level and can often leave your skin feeling tight and squeaky clean.)

Lastly, living in a dry climate that lacks humidity can factor into skin dehydration.

How to Tell If You Have Dehydrated Skin

Cielo says the easiest way to determine if you have dehydrated skin is if it’s especially oily in the T-zone, with dryness around the rest of the face.

“The oiliness usually brings on a waxy congestion in the form of blackheads and sebaceous filaments,” she explains. (Sebaceous filaments look like blackheads but are typically narrower, longer, and less clogged than their congested cousins.)

“Since the skin is trying to make up for a lack of hydration, it produces more oil,” she continues. “But because the skin condition is dehydrated, the oil can become hard and create a ‘plug’ in the pore. It’s then not able to secrete to the skin’s surface.”

Next, you might have dehydrated skin if its texture is rough, bumpy, and/or wrinkled. “Hydrated skin is more supple and plump compared to dehydrated skin,” Cielo notes.

For a quick test, gently pinch your skin. If it wrinkles and takes time to bounce back to form, it could be dehydrated.

How to treat dehydrated skin

Thankfully, Cielo says you can easily treat dehydrated skin under the right conditions.

First, cut your vices and up your intake of water and plant-based foods. Next, you can take a GLA supplement such as HUM’s Red Carpet to tackle moisture loss from within. From there, revamp your skincare regimen to maximize skin hydration.

“Add water-based ingredients like hyaluronic acid—which binds 1,000 times its weight in water—and aloe vera to your routine,” she advises. Other key hydration powerhouses (aka humectants) include sodium PCA, glycerin, and algae.

While you can find these skincare ingredients in cleansers, moisturizers, mists, and masks, Cielo swears by serums.

“Serums are targeted treatments with better penetration technology,” she begins. “For best results, use a serum as part of a well-rounded daily hydrating regimen, plus weekly moisturizing masks.”

(On a side note: Didn’t Derek Zoolander champion this message years ago?)

Another pro tip: Since water binds to water, humectants such as HA work best on damp skin. For optimal benefits, apply serum to lightly towel-dried or freshly misted skin.

Next, Cielo notes that you should use humectants in conjunction with a moisturizer containing occlusive ingredients—such as oils and butters—to prevent transepidermal water loss (TEWL).

Finally, sequencing is key: “With any skincare regimen, always apply serums and gels first after cleansing, as their molecules are smaller in size.” Afterwards, pat on your moisturizer—which has larger molecules—to seal the (hydrating) deal.

A good rule of thumb? “When it doubt, always apply thinnest to thickest in consistency,” Cielo advises.

When can you notice results?

Millennials, rejoice: We’re talking instant gratification here!

“Dehydrated skin is simple to treat,” Cielo notes. “Even after the first run-through of a revamped, hydrating skincare routine, someone who grapples with dehydrated skin can see visible results. The skin will look plump with a glow.”

Final Thoughts

More than ready to hydrate and heighten my microinfusion brightness, I took Cielo’s advice. Since I’m trying to transition to clean beauty, I turned to Youth to the People—a clean, green, beautifying machine beloved by Team HUM.

After cleansing, I spritz on their Adaptogen Soothe + Hydrate Activated Mist, which has HA, antioxidant-rich ashwagandha, and soothing reishi and pentapeptide.

While my face is still moist, I pat on two pumps of their Superfood Firm + Brighten Serum. It’s another multitasking master, since it has both hyaluronic acid for hydration and vitamin C for brightness and anti-aging.

I’m happy to report that ever since adding these humectants to my routine, my flakes have totally, well, flaked out.

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