‘Dry skin’ and ‘dehydrated skin’ are often used interchangeably in skincare. However, there is a distinct difference between dry and dehydrated skin. While both can exhibit similar characteristics, the distinguishing factors lie in their root causes. Dry skin has inadequate sebum production and, therefore, lacks oil, whereas dehydration refers to a skin condition lacking water.
Let’s clear up the confusion between dry and dehydrated skin and explore four of the best ingredients to treat dehydration.
Dry skin is a genetically determined skin type that produces less sebum (natural oils) than other skin types. Sebum contains epidermal lipids that play a vital role in keeping the skin moisturised. They make up the wall-like structure of the lipid barrier and work with Natural Moisturising Factors (NMFs) within the epidermis to regulate the skin's moisture content.
Lack of lipids in dry skin is the root cause of moisture loss and symptoms like rough, itchy, flakey patches. If not treated correctly with the right skincare, this can disrupt the skin barrier function and quickly spiral into dehydration or other skin concerns.
The root cause of dehydrated skin is insufficient water levels due to excessive water loss. Transepidermal water loss (TEWL) is a natural process that is particularly active during sleep and is regulated by the skin barrier function.
If any part of the skin barrier function becomes disrupted - such as the acid mantle, which maintains the skin's pH, the skin microbiome that supports the skin's immune system, or the lipid barrier maintaining moisture - the skin loses its ability to retain water.
Some culprits of this disruption can be harsh detergents in cleansers, perfumed skincare, severe weather conditions, smoking cigarettes, not wearing sunscreen or just neglecting to take care of your skin.
Dehydration may manifest as fine lines, increased sensitivity, tightness and irritation. Unlike dry skin, dehydration is a temporary condition that can be rectified with the right measures, including increased water intake, humidity control, and targeted skincare products that support the skin barrier function.
Four Ingredients To Treat Dehydrated Skin
1. Repair With Niacinamide
Niacinamide is a multifaceted ingredient with many benefits for dehydrated skin. An active form of vitamin B3, it improves skin barrier function by increasing epidermal lipids such as ceramides and stimulating cell renewal and collagen production. Niacinamide can also repair and prevent free radical damage —a common side effect of dehydration, lightening and brightening pigmentation marks caused by the sun.
2. Restore With Hyaluronic Acid
Hydrating ingredients that act as humectants within the skin to attract and retain water are a must for dehydration. Ingredients like hyaluronic acid and glycerin are natural components of the skin that, when depleted, are significant contributors to dehydration. Products containing these hydrating humectants can quickly restore water content and improve skin radiance.
3. Replenish With Seed Oils
Besides being packed with free radical-fighting antioxidants, plant-based oils are a rich source of essential fatty acids (lipids) proven to repair and maintain the lipid barrier. Replenishing the skin with vital lipids effectively prevents transepidermal water loss, improves moisture content, and boosts the skin's overall health.
4. Prevent With Zinc Oxide
Perhaps the most essential product for dehydrated skin —especially if you follow our tips and begin to see results, is zinc oxide mineral sunscreen. Zinc oxide is considered one of the most effective and safest UV filters. We highly recommend protecting dehydrated skin with daily use of mineral sunscreen —even on cloudy days.
But the dermatological uses of zinc oxide don’t stop at sunscreen. A 2014 study showed zinc oxide to help treat dandruff, acne, pigmentation, rosacea, eczema, melasma, psoriasis, keloids, ulcers and ageing skin. It’s also the main ingredient in good old-fashioned calamine lotion due to its speedy wound-healing abilities.
Zinc oxide is the primary filter in SPF30 Mineral Sunscreen.
Gabrielle Richens is Krī's skincare consultant and content editor, a veteran model-turned-NVQ-qualified skin therapist, and an online skin coach.