Is Your Skin Dehydrated or Dry? Here’s How to Tell and Treat It

by Michele Ross · August 1, 2021

Here, an esthetician helps us unpack dehydrated skin vs. dry skin. Plus: how to hydrate skin like a pro in three simple steps.

When I first moved to LA, I booked a facial with esthetician Cielo Ruiz. My skin appeared to be having an identity crisis upon relocating from NYC, as I was experiencing excess oil interspersed with dry, flaky patches.

Was my skin type transitioning from combination to oily to dry at will? And how the heck could I achieve healthy, hydrated skin if its texture changed more often than Kardashian-Jenner hairstyles?

To my surprise, Cielo deduced that my skin wasn’t actually dry, but 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 vs. Dehydrated Skin

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

To clarify this common misconception, Cielo shares a few quick facts:

  • dry skin is a genetic skin type while dehydrated skin is a temporary skin condition
  • dry skin lacks oil, whereas dehydrated skin lacks water

“People with dry skin have smaller pores, so they secrete less oil,” she details. “They also have a history of dryness, which can result in flaking and premature signs of aging.” On the other hand, dehydrated skin can affect anyone, no matter their skin type, pore size, or genetics.

Armed with this crucial info, I knew that my skin was in fact dehydrated, as I’ve always been more combo/oily.

Signs of Dehydrated Skin

Cielo says that the biggest tell-tale sign of dehydrated skin is having an especially oily 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.

Tip: Still unsure if your skin is dehydrated or dry? For a quick test, gently pinch your skin. If it wrinkles and takes time to bounce back to form, it’s likely dehydrated.

man looking for signs of dehydrated skin after washing face

Causes of Dehydrated Skin

Fortunately, we can now successfully distinguish dry from dehydrated skin. But what causes dehydrated skin to begin with?


First, in terms of lifestyle factors, the following may contribute to parched skin:

These factors also contribute to greater issues when it comes to your skin, such as developing early signs of aging and dullness. Of course, they all pose risks to your overall health, as well.

Then, while this aspect is likely out of your control, living in a dry climate that lacks humidity can also increase your chances of having dehydrated skin.


When it comes to your diet, Cielo notes that caffeine and other diuretics can compromise your skin’s hydration levels.

Further, she points to a lack of water (go figure!) and a low intake of fruits and veggies as other potential dietary instigators.

Your Skincare Routine

Lastly, in terms of your current skincare routine, potential culprits that could cause skin dehydration include:

  • exfoliating excessively or aggressively
  • using the wrong products for your skin type
  • applying heavily alkaline products that leave your skin feeling tight and squeaky clean

Woman hydrating skin after shower with a hyaluronic acid face mist


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

1. Take an Inside-Out Approach

First, cut your vices, drink more water, and eat more plants. You can also take supplements to combat moisture loss from within.

We particularly recommend:

  • Collagen Pop to lock in moisture while hydrating your entire body
  • Red Carpet to mitigate transepidermal water loss (TEWL)

2. Apply Hydrating Skincare Ingredients

From there, revamp your topical 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
  • 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 explains. “For best results, use a serum as part of a well-rounded daily hydrating regimen. You can also apply moisturizing masks weekly.”

On a side note, have we learned nothing from Derek Zoolander years ago?

3. Go the Extra Mile with Pro Skin Hydration Tips

Lastly, Cielo shares a few tricks of the trade to treat dehydrated skin fast:

  • Layer products in the right order. “With any skincare regimen, always apply serums and gels first after cleansing, as their molecules are smaller in size,” Cielo shares. “When it doubt, apply them from thinnest to thickest consistency,” Cielo advises.
  • Apply a hydrating serum to damp skin. Since water binds to water, hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid work best on lightly towel-dried or freshly misted skin.
  • Don’t forget to lock in moisture. Use a moisturizer containing occlusive ingredients, such as oils and butters, to prevent TEWL and seal the (hydrating) deal.

Final Thoughts

Once you recognize the differences between dry vs. dehydrated skin, you’ll be better equipped to remedy your specific concern.

Better yet, if your skin is dehydrated like mine was, there’s some good news: You can notice improvements pretty much instantly if you follow the skin hydration tips above.

“Dehydrated skin is simple to treat,” Cielo notes. “Even after the first run-through of a revamped, hydrating skincare routine, you can notice visible results; the skin will look plump with a glow.”

As for my own signs of dehydrated skin? Heeding Cielo’s advice, I’ve been using hydrating mists and serums morning and night for the past two years. I’m happy to report that ever since, my flakes have totally, well, flaked out.

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