The Complete Guide to Dry vs Dehydrated Skin

Confused by the terms dry vs dehydrated skin? You’re not alone. Read on to find out what the difference is, and, most importantly, how to fix the underlying problem.

  • Flaky skin?
  • Rough or scaly skin?
  • Itchy skin?
  • Fine lines?
  • Tired & dull complexion?
  • Red & irritated skin?
  • Sensitive skin? 
  • Feel like your skin has aged a decade since the end of summer?

These are all signs that your skin is probably dry. Or is that dehydrated? Just what IS the difference between dry vs dehydrated skin?

What is dry skin?

Dry skin is lacking oil, more specifically, it’s not producing enough sebum.

Sebum is the waxy, oily substance produced by specialised glands in your skin. Its job is to lubricate and protect your skin. It seals in moisture, is naturally antibacterial and actively involved in the wound healing process. Sebum is made up of triglycerides (a type of fat) and other fatty acids (57%), wax esters (26%), squalene (12%) and cholesterol (4.5%). Yes, cholesterol in your skin - it might be bad for your heart but it keeps your skin looking hydrated and young.

Fun fact: Cholesterol in your skin converts sunlight into vitamin D

Your face and scalp produce the most sebum, while the palms of your hands and soles of your feet produce none.

If your skin is dry, it probably has small pores and has a tendency to look matte & a bit dull. Dry skin is often rough, with flaky patches and prone to feeling itchy, especially in winter. People with dry skin often describe it as feeling tight, like their skin is several sizes too small. Wrinkles and fine lines are more pronounced on dry skin.

Skin that is naturally dry is extremely prone to damaged barrier function. When this happens, your skin is more easily inflamed, irritated and infected. Eczema and dermatitis are extreme examples of a damaged skin barrier. Inflammation from a damaged skin barrier also triggers a cascade of biochemical reactions in your skin that can lead to the break down of collagen and elastin, resulting in prematurely aged skin.

Dry skin is usually also dehydrated due to a damaged skin barrier.

What causes dry skin?

Dry skin can be genetic. It can also be caused or aggravated by environmental factors that literally strip the oil from your skin:

  • cold weather
  • heating
  • hot baths/showers
  • harsh cleansers and soaps

Chlorine in swimming pools and spas can also create or worsen dry skin.

The hormone oestrogen also influences the oil content of skin and many women find themselves struggling with dry and flaky skin with increased fine lines after menopause.

What is dehydrated skin?

Dehydrated skin lacks water. It can be dry or oily. It can also appear flaky and feel tight.

Fine lines form more easily on dehydrated skin as the surface skin cells are deflated from insufficient water content. Well hydrated skin cells are plump and juicy, filled with moisture, giving a smoother and softer appearance to skin.

Dry skin is often accompanied by dehydration. Oily and acne prone skin are also commonly dehydrated.

What causes dehydrated skin?

The three most common causes of dehydrated skin are:

  1. Harsh skin care products and the overuse of exfoliants that lead to a damaged skin barrier. When the skin barrier is damaged, moisture leaks out and is evaporated away.
  2. Not drinking enough pure water and/or drinking too much tea, coffee and alcohol.
  3. Air-conditioning, heating and exposure to harsh environments like cold weather and wind.

Solving dry and dehydrated skin

So now we’ve established that

  • dry skin lacks oil
  • dehydrated skin lacks water
  • dry skin is usually also dehydrated due to a compromised skin barrier
  • oily and acne prone skin are often dehydrated

The next step is fixing the problem. 

The common feature that unites both dry and dehydrated skin is a damaged and dysfunctional skin barrier.

Your skins barrier is the outermost section of your epidermis.  It consists of a layer of cells that are held together with lipids (oils). These lipids act like mortar or cement, holding the cells together and creating a waterproof barrier that serves to lock in moisture and protect your skin from microbes and environmental factors. Your skin barrier is like your skin’s bodyguard and when it breaks down, you know all about it. 

Signs of a damaged skin barrier include:

  • Dry skin (lack of oil)
  • Dehydrated skin (lack of water)
  • Redness
  • Sensitive and reactive skin (easily irritated by skincare products and environmental changes)
  • Breakouts including adult acne
  • Peri oral dermatitis
  • Flaky or peeling skin
  • Rosacea
  • Eczema
  • Dermatitis
  • Tight skin

A healthy skin barrier means a smooth, calm and hydrated complexion – who doesn’t want that!  So what can you do to fix your skin’s barrier and solve your dry or dehydrated skin? 

Stop damaging your skins protective barrier!

Before we talk about the must have skincare ingredients that help to address the underlying problem with both dry and dehydrated skin, you first need to stop doing the things that are damaging your skins barrier.

Over exfoliating or using the wrong type of exfoliant is the number 1 culprit responsible for skin barrier damage 

If you’re using any exfoliating products with grains or gritty bits in them – STOP and promise that you’ll never ever use them on your face again. 

For some people, simply taking a break from exfoliating can be enough to solve dry & dehydrated skin issues. If you’re currently exfoliating more than 3 times a week, try giving your skin a complete rest for two weeks and use a gentle cleanser, like Honey Probiotic Cleanser, that doesn’t disrupt your skin’s barrier function.

Other causes of skin barrier damage include:

  • Overuse of chemical exfoliants and active ingredients such as retinol, vitamin C/ascorbic acid + glycolic, lactic and salicylic acid.
  • Alcohol in toners and antibacterial skincare products
  • Harsh cleansers (pretty much any foaming cleanser should be banned from going near your face, no matter how oily your skin may be. Detergents belong in the kitchen for greasy pots and pans, not in skincare).
  • Medications, especially acne medications such as Roaccutane/Accutane and some antibiotics.
  • Fragrances in skincare products as well as laundry liquids and fabric softener.
  • Genetics.
  • Age.
  • Excessively hot showers or baths.
  • Nutrient deficiencies, especially the omega 3 fatty acid acids found in seafood and plant oils such as linseed/flaxseed oil.

The best skincare ingredients for dry and dehydrated skin

If you have either dry or dehydrated skin, chances are you’ve been seduced by skincare trends or marketing claims and have a drawer or bag full of products that just don’t deliver on the promise to fix your skin.  .

As someone who has lived with genetically dry skin my entire life, I know a thing or two about how to work with dry and dehydrated skin. My dry skin used to crack and bleed in winter until I started working with my skin’s barrier and ditched all the ingredients that worked against it. 

The three must have skincare ingredients that work to address the underlying causes of dry and dehydrated skin are squalane (from olives, not shark fins!), Jojoba oil and beeswax

The clue to solving dry skin issues lies in understanding the composition of your skin’s own protective oils and lipids. You need to use skin biocompatible ingredients that mimic these.  Remember what sebum is made from?  Triglycerides and other fatty acids, wax esters, squalene and cholesterol. 

Jojoba oil and squalane from olive oil are both wax esters that work effectively for both dry and dehydrated skin by mimicking the function of sebum and preventing moisture loss.

Dry and dehydrated skin is also visibly improved with the use of a high quality beeswax, which creates a protective cocoon over your skin, locking in moisture and guarding against environmental damage.

Beeswax creates a thin, non-allergenic and soothing layer, while squalane and Jojoba oil mimic the molecular structure of natural waxes found in your skin.

Now that you understand the difference between dry vs dehydrated skin and how to work with your skin barrier rather than against it, you might like to check out some of our skin care products formulated with dry and dehydrated skin in mind.  All of our skincare range is free from fragrances and other ingredients that can damage the skin barrier, making it suitable for sensitive skin.  It’s all handmade in small batches in the Noosa Hinterland on the Sunshine Coast, Australia

Blue Tansy Serum

Blue tansy serum skincare for dry, dehydrated, mature and sensitive skin. Australian Skincare. Chemical free skincare

A 'mega hydrator', Blue Tansy Serum is a must-have for dry, dehydrated and mature skin. Rich in squalane from olives, organic blueberry seed oil, blue tansy oil and minimally processed beeswax produced by healthy beehives on the Sunshine Coast, Australia. It's a gorgeous blue colour and the smell of Blue Tansy and Blueberry seed oil is naturally sweet, fresh and invigorating. It soaks into your skin to give you a hydrated and dew kissed complexion.

Jojoba Barrier Balm

Jojoba sensitive skin barrier balm. Vitamin D, Australian beeswax and Jojoba oil skincare

A combination of Organic Jojoba Oil, vitamin D and minimally processed beeswax produced by healthy beehives on the Sunshine Coast, Australia. A convenient ‘giant lip-balm’ formulation allows you to apply it directly to problem areas on face or body without getting greasy hands or using too much. Great to use for babies and children.

Honey probiotic cleanser. Probiotic skincare. Raw Australian honey, probiotic for skin and squalane.

With just 3 ingredients – honey, probiotic and squalane from olives  – Honey Probiotic Cleanser is a dual action cleanser suitable for oil skin types. Use dry as a gentle and safe exfoliant, then add water to activate the natural antimicrobial properties of honey.  Your skin is left feeling soft and hydrated after the very first use.

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