One thing I’ve noticed again and again when doing a skin analysis on my clients during facials is that almost everyone has dehydrated skin. Dry skin and dehydrated skin are two very different issues in skincare. Dry skin lacks oil; dehydrated skin lacks water. So even if your skin is oily it can be dehydrated, and surprisingly restoring the water balance to your skin actually has nothing to do with drinking enough water.
Why Doesn’t Drinking Water Treat Dehydrated Skin?
I Drink Enough Water – Why Isn’t My Skin Perfect?
Simply put your skin is dehydrated when your skin barrier is damaged or compromised and no amount of water that you drink will repair that damage. The water that we drink first goes to our hearts, brain, liver, and kidneys before it ever reaches our skin. So all those celebrities who credit their flawless skin to drinking water? Chalk that up to yet another Hollywood PR myth.
Dr. Leslie Baumann explains in her book The Skin Type Solution that (pages 313-314):
Poor hydration is due to damage to the skin barrier, and drinking water makes no difference. Cells on the surface of the skin line up to form what is called the skin barrier. These cells look something like a row of bricks in a wall held together by mortar. When the mortar breaks down and weakens, the wall cannot hold, and the skin cells (acting like bricks) move and leave gaps. As a result, skin cannot hold water in the skin to maintain the skin’s cellular integrity.
Furthermore, Dr. Ellen Marmur points out in her book Simple Skin Beauty (pages 41-42):
Water has always been thought to provide benefits for the skin, but drinking huge amounts of it isn’t going to make you look even better. The body will simply eliminate the excess through urination. … Water is essential to the skin’s metabolism and regeneration (actions such as producing new skin cells and growing new hair in follicles). The highways bringing nutrients to your skin and taking metabolic debris away are the blood vessels. Water moves blood flow along smoothly and washes away toxic by-products (enzymes, amino acids, salts) from chemical reactions. The visible brightening effect that you see on your skin has to do with the that robust circulation. It also increases the extracellular water in your facial tissues, so you may get a slight plumping effect. But refuting these facts, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania recently found no clinical evidence that water consumption is essential to helping the kidneys filer toxins more efficiently. Their findings also included this: drinking water can’t actually hydrate the skin from the inside out. With all this contradictory information, how much water do you need to benefit the skin? Since the liquid you drink won’t reach the stratum corneum, you’re better off alleviating dry skin topically with a moisturizer that prevents water loss from the surface. Even though there may be no direct correlation between drinking water and plumping or moisturizing your skin, sufficient hydration is essential to keeping the body – and the skin – healthy. Ultimately, adequate water consumption (this means not drinking to excess but avoiding dehydration) is like eating a balanced diet: it’s good for your body as a whole, your complexion included.
Too Much Water Can Hurt Your Skin
Ever notice how the skin on your fingers will pucker and prune if you take a long bath? It turns out that prolonged water exposure either via long baths, swimming, or snorkeling/scuba diving can actually harm your skin. Hot water, hard water (tap water with a high level of calcium), and chlorinated water all dehydrate the skin if you spend a long time in the water since soaking or spending a long time in water will actually harm your skin’s ability to retain water. So as wonderful as soaking in a hot bath can feel keep those kinds of baths brief.
How Your Skin Became Dehydrated and How to Treat It
One of the main reasons so many people have dehydrated skin is the shifts in the weather and drying effects of going from either a cold environment to a warm one (in the winter) or from a hot, humid environment to an air conditioned one (in the summer). This constant change in temperature doesn’t help our skin hold onto moisture. Furthermore, if you are exposed to harsh chemicals, too strong skincare products (from your cleanser and/or exfoliant for example), or prolonged sun exposure without proper protection you can suck the moisture out of your skin. Low humidity environments like airplanes can dehydrate your skin as well.
So how do you get that moisture back into your skin? You need to restore your skin barrier so that it can help retain moisture again. Look for moisturizers with ingredients like ceramides, fatty acids, and glycerin. Consider spritzing your face with a facial water (see my earlier post for more information about facial waters and for product recommendations) and immediately applying a moisturizer in order to lock in more moisture for your skin.
Sources and Further Reading
Simple Skin Beauty by Ellen Marmur, MD – pages 41-42
The Skin Type Solution by Leslie Baumann, MD – pages 313-314
- The Truth About Water and Your Skin – Leslie Baumann, MD The Skin Guru Yahoo! Health
- What Benefit Does Drinking Have on My Skin? – Renee Rouleau
- Does Drinking Water Really Make Your Skin Glow? – A Man’s Guide to Skin Care
For more information on staying proper hydrated read: