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Is Your Skin Dry…or Dehydrated?

By Wendy Rodewald-Sulz / November 19, 2014

Photo: ImaxTree

If your skin is feeling dryer than it used to these days, it may not just be a side effect of below-freezing weather.  
Lately I’ve noticed a flood (sorry) of products for parched skin crossing my desk, and wondered what exactly they meant by using the words “dehydrated skin” on the label instead of “dry skin.” Was it an issue of semantics?
As it turns out, dehydrated skin is a condition marked by lack of water, while dry skin is a skin type that doesn’t produce enough oil. That means that even oily skin types can be dehydrated. And dehydrated skin is an issue that we’ll all face eventually, since aging is its main cause.
The drying out of cells (on both the skin and the rest of the body) is a main topic that Dr. Howard Murad — the dermatologist and founder of Murad Skincare — addresses in his forthcoming Conquering Cultural Stress: The Ultimate Guide to Anti-Aging and Happiness (to be published in January 2015). “Despite what your high school biology text taught you, you are not 75 to 80 percent water,” Dr. Murad writes. That figure is true for very young babies, not so much for adults, who are closer to 50 percent water. “Since your early years, internal and external factors have damaged your cells and weakened their ability to retain water.” The result? Fine lines, wrinkles and even age-related issues like loss of flexibility and low energy.
And you don’t have to be an AARP member to suffer from dehydrated skin. Most of us start losing moisture in our skin by the time we hit our 30s. I’m almost 31, and I find myself needing heavier moisturizers than I did five years ago. And while wrinkles aren’t a major concern yet, sometimes my complexion just looks dull and lifeless. Other factors besides the proliferation of candles on your birthday cake can contribute to dehydrated skin, too, says Kate Somerville, whose skincare line and Los Angeles clinic have been in the business of creating glowing complexions for over 15 years. “Dehydrated skin is characterized by a lack of moisture, and can be caused by overexposure to sun, aging, diet and lifestyle,” she explains.
So what can you do about it? Both Dr. Murad and Somerville agree that what you eat matters even more than how much water you drink. “It’s important to stay hydrated through eating water rich fruits and vegetables, and essential fatty acids,” Somerville says.
Murad writes, “Colorful fruits and vegetables, which contain 85 to 98 percent water, concentrate nutrients in their water, thus making it structured — the best form of water for your cells because it stays in your system long enough for your body to put it to good use.” Contrast that with the giant bottle of Poland Spring that results in a bathroom break 30 minutes after you drink it.
Hydrating skincare is also essential. You know how wearing even a thin cotton tank under your sweater makes you feel that much warmer in the winter? Skin can benefit from a base layer, too — especially when dry air and indoor heating are sapping its moisture. If your moisturizer is no longer cutting it this season, Kiehl’s new Hydro-Plumping Re-Texturizing Serum Concentrate ($58) may be just what your complexion needs to get balanced again. In tests, the glycerin-based formula was found to nearly double the hydration effects of moisturizing creams when the products were used together.
Somerville also recommends a two-step regimen. “Look for products like serums containing hyaluronic acid, which holds 1000x its weight in water. Then seal in the hydration with a moisturizer to prevent water loss,” she says. Try a serum such as her Quench Hydrating Face Serum ($75) or hyaluronic acid-rich Ling Skincare Moisture Plenish ($65) layered under Murad Age-Balancing Moisturizer Broad Spectrum SPF 30 ($70). “Additionally, I recommend sleeping with a humidifier to add more moisture to the air and keep skin hydrated,” she adds. Thirsty? Not your skin.