Dehydrated Skin vs. Dry Skin: How to Know the Difference?

Both may feel the same - parched and tight. But there's a huge difference between dry and dehydrated skin.

October 25, 2021 6 minutes read
Dry cracked ground texture

In This Post

One of the biggest mistakes you can make in your skincare routine is thinking your dry skin is dehydrated and vice versa. While they might have many similar symptoms, such as tightness, redness, itching, and increased sensitivity, dry and dehydrated skin are vastly different.

So, to take good care of your skin, you need first to find out what exactly the problem is and what lies behind it.

Dry vs. Dehydrated Skin: How to Tell the Difference

Just like oily or combination skin, dry skin is a skin type and something you're born with. Dehydrated skin, on the other hand, is a skin condition that's usually only temporary, just like acne.

Dehydrated skin can occur at any point regardless of your age or skin type. So, your skin may be oily and dehydrated at the same time. It can pass relatively quickly or last for a while, depending on what caused it.

cracked skin magnifying glass

Dry Skin: Causes and Symptoms

Dry skin isn't a temporary condition but something that's genetically determined and is associated with lower sebum production. Therefore, dry skin is a skin type that lacks oils or lipids essential for retaining moisture and forming a protective coating that shields the skin from numerous external factors.

If you have a dry skin type, it means that your skin will likely be dry everywhere, including your scalp, hands, and legs. Once you apply a lotion or moisturizer, chances are your skin will soak them up pretty quickly. You may also experience other symptoms, such as:

Dehydrated Skin: Causes and Symptoms

Dehydrated skin is a temporary (or, in rare cases, lasting) skin condition that occurs when your skin lacks water. As we mentioned before, it can affect any skin type, even those who have oily skin or skin prone to acne.

Numerous factors can lead to skin dehydration, including changing of the seasons, extreme temperatures, stress, unprotected sun exposure, lack of sleep, diet, wearing too much makeup... And the list just goes on. In any case, your skin is the most common place where the signs of dehydration will show. These symptoms include:

dry and dehydrated skin texture

Besides changes on your skin, dehydration may manifest in other ways, like:

How to Determine Whether You Have Dry or Dehydrated Skin

Well, first of all, if you generally have oily skin, and it starts feeling tight and uncomfortable out of the blue, it's pretty simple – your skin is likely dehydrated and temporarily lacks water.

Determining whether your skin is dehydrated becomes a bit trickier if you generally have a dry skin type. Since dry and dehydrated skin symptoms are fairly similar and, therefore, somewhat confusing, you might not notice on time your skin is suffering from the lack of water. In this case, you can:

#1: Observe

woman holding magnifying glass close to her face

Pay close attention to how your skin feels and looks and if you're noticing any changes. If you're experiencing any additional symptoms besides your usual ones, like darker under-eyes, increased sensitivity, and discomfort even after you've applied your moisturizer, your skin is likely dehydrated as well.

#2: Try the Pinch Test

woman doing pinch test on her belly

Another quick but not consistently accurate way of checking whether your skin is dehydrated is doing the pinch test. Simply pinch your abdomen, cheek, or the back of your hand, and hold a small amount of the skin for a few seconds. Once you release it, notice how your skin behaves.

If it bounces back quickly, chances are you're not dehydrated. On the other hand, if it takes a moment to bounce back, your skin is likely dehydrated.

#3: See a Dermatologist

dermatologist checks woman

If you're still uncertain about the cause of your problem and how to treat it, it's best to visit your dermatologist. They will best diagnose the root of the issues you might be experiencing and help you treat the cause rather than symptoms.

Dry Skin and Dehydrated Skin Require Different Treatments

If dry skin sounds more like you, then stick to your usual skincare regimen. Use creams, toners, and masks rich in ceramides, hyaluronic acid, shea butter, and plant oils (jojoba oil, rosehip oil, coconut oil). It's best to stick to cream- and oil-based skin care products and apply them daily to manage your dry skin.

What About Dehydrated Skin?

Taking care of dehydrated skin is a bit different story. First, you (or your doctor) need to identify the root of the issue and try to correct it. It could mean some lifestyle changes, like your diet or adjusting your environment.

Here are some tips to help you manage dehydrated skin:

Tip #1: Drink Enough Water

glass of water

The first and major step should be replenishing your body with the water it's missing. Some rule of thumb would be drinking six to eight glasses of water per day, depending on your weight and the level of your daily activities.

While it's important to have plenty of water, it's also crucial not to drink too much of it. Too much water can lead to loss of minerals and electrolytes, essential for the normal function of your heart and other organs.

Tip #2: Choose Proper Skincare

woman applying face cream

The goal should be to reduce water evaporation from the skin and keep it in sufficient quantity in the epidermis, as well as restore the damaged skin barrier. Choose water-rich ingredients such as glycerin, aloe vera, ceramides, hyaluronic acid, and honey. All of these ingredients will hydrate and nourish your skin while strengthening the skin's barrier at the same time.

Tip #3: Eat Water-Rich Fruits and Veggies

watermelon slices

To make sure your body and skin get enough hydration, you should include water-rich fruits and veggies in your diet besides enough water intake. These include watermelon, cucumber, celery, and the like.

Tip #4: Embrace Healthy Lifestyle Habits

healthy lifestyle habits illustration

For your overall health, and therefore, the health of your skin, try to introduce some lifestyle changes in your day-to-day routine. Of course, you shouldn't do them all at once as it can be stressful, and we've already established that stress can only contribute to the problem.

Therefore, take baby steps, and introduce one healthy habit at a time (whenever you feel like you can and that you're ready). These would be:

Tip #5: Steer Clear of Heat

woman in sauna

Spending too much time in the sun or in overheated rooms can lead to increased sweating, which can, in turn, dehydrate you. Steam rooms, for example, might have a number of health benefits, but if overused, they can be harmful, especially if you're already dehydrated. As much as 15 minutes spent in a steam room is enough to cause dehydration.

Tip #6: Avoid Harsh Soaps and Face Cleansers

woman cleansing her face

Wash your face once or twice a day (more frequently if you've been sweating throughout the day), but use gentle cleansers. Harsh soaps can be very irritating, especially for already sensitive, dehydrated skin. Also, instead of patting dry your face with a towel after washing, leave it wet and apply your hydrating cream on damp skin to lock all the water in and relieve tightness.

Some Parting Words of Advice...

As you can see, dehydrated skin is manageable and treatable, but you need first to diagnose it correctly. However, there's not much that separates dry from dehydrated skin – the symptoms are almost identical, making it harder to diagnose.

So, although there are numerous ways to determine the type and condition of your skin on your own, it's because of these shared symptoms that it's best to visit a dermatologist who will determine exactly what the issue is about. This is especially important if you tried all the tips we suggested without any improvement.

dry vs dehydrated skin infographic


How do I know if my skin is dry?

If your skin is dry everywhere, including your face, body, and scalp, it's highly likely you have a dry skin type. You may also experience other symptoms, such as flakiness, tightness, scaly appearance and dullness as well as irritation and redness. Also, you may notice that when you apply a body lotion or face moisturizer, your skin absorbs them fast. All of these are signs your skin is dry.

How do I know if my skin needs hydration vs moisture?

If you have dehydrated skin, it means it's lacking water. If it's dry, it's lacking oils. You can do a simple pinch test to determine if your skin needs hydration or moisture more. If your skin bounces back quickly after pinching, it means it's well hydrated. If it takes a moment to bounce back, it's likely your skin is lacking hydration.

How can I hydrate my skin fast?

It would be best to use skincare products with loads of glycerin and hyaluronic acid and apply them to damp skin. Also, it's important to drink plenty of water and avoid hot showers and baths.

Does drinking water hydrate your skin?

If your whole body is lacking water, chances are your skin will too. Therefore, drinking enough water throughout the day is essential to keeping your body and skin hydrated. Drinking about six to eight glasses of water per day should be your guidance, although the amount of water you need will depend on your weight as well as the level of your daily activities.

How long does dehydrated skin take to heal?

It all depends on your overall skin condition. So it might take two weeks to several months to heal. However, it's important to be persistent, not to get discouraged, and stick to your skincare routine and healthy lifestyle habits, such as drinking enough water, eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and avoiding harsh soaps and hot showers.

...Liked what you read?