Clear Signs Your Skin is Dehydrated and How to Fix it Quickly

Cover Image for A woman rubbing a facial scrub into her skin
* 8 min readDryness

Table of Contents:

Oftentimes, the terms dehydrated skin and dry skin are used interchangeably. However, there’s a difference between the two; for one, dehydrated skin implies a lack of water, while dry skin is a skin type.

If you want your skin to look its best, you need to know whether it is dehydrated or dry. In this article, we will show how you can tell which is which and treat the problem accordingly.

How to Determine if Your Skin is Dry or Dehydrated

Dehydrated skin and dry skin represent two different conditions that involve distinct factors and signs. Let’s go through them in some more detail.

What Does it Mean to Have Dehydrated Skin?

Dehydrated skin refers to a lack of water molecules in the outermost skin layer, which is caused by a higher rate of water loss compared to lower moisture intake. Skin can become dehydrated due to exposure to extremely low humidity conditions, excessive use of air conditioning, hot or extreme cold bathing, and excessive exposure to solar radiation. This can happen to anyone, no matter their skin type.1,2

What Does it Mean to Have Dry Skin?

Dry skin is a broad term describing the lack of moisture and lipids in the upper stratum corneum. Skin can be dry for many reasons, including higher trans-epidermal water loss (TEWL), lower sebum production, decreased lipid bilayer activity, and poor channelization of essential minerals or nutrients. Abnormal hormonal conditions can also lead to skin dryness, and oily skin can still be dehydrated due to water loss.3,4

The Clear Signs Your Skin is Dehydrated

1. Your skin is itchy

People with dehydrated skin might notice patches that feel scaly, rough, and itchy - especially after washing. Wind and temperature changes can also trigger an unrelenting need to scratch. This is a typical sign your skin might be dehydrated.

2. Your skin feels sensitive

Dehydrated skin can feel very sensitive, especially if left untreated. This happens because your skin’s moisture barrier is not able to protect itself from external environmental stressors as well, making you feel more uncomfortable. You will probably feel more sensitive around fine lines.

3. Your skin is dull and tired

Because dehydration affects your skin’s ability to perform essential functions, your skin can typically appear dull and lifeless and feel tight, stretched, and rigid. You might also notice darker shadows and under-eye circles.

4. You can see fine lines and wrinkles

Skin loses its natural glow, smoothness, and elasticity, which can also result in the appearance or pronouncement of fine lines and wrinkles - usually a network of small, triangular ones.

Woman with pigmentation, acne scaring, and some wrinkles
A simple change in habits can make a world of difference to your skin

How to Prevent Dehydration or Water Loss From Your Skin

There are several things you can do to help treat dehydrated skin, from simple changes to your skincare routine to specialized products. Here’s what might help.

Embrace Slugging

Slugging is a moisturizing technique that involves smearing an occlusive product as the last step during your evening skincare routine. A popular product for slugging is the CeraVe Healing Ointment. The name comes from the “slug-like” sheen this product tends to leave on your skin. Despite the way it sounds, slugging is actually an excellent way to lock in all of the moisture while you sleep!

Say Goodbye to (Excessive) Coffee and Booze!

Two of the most notorious enemies of healthy skin are caffeine and alcohol. Both of these substances are diuretics and can deplete your skin’s water content (plus, alcohol also suppresses the production of vasopressin, which is essential to help your skin rehydrate). Don’t worry, though; you can still have a glass of wine and a couple of cups of coffee per day - just don't overdo it.

Find and Use the Right Products

If you want to make sure your skin remains well hydrated, you should consider using a combination of humectants that can attract water molecules and retain them in the epidermal layer. Keep in mind, though, that certain ingredients or chemicals can harm the skin epidermis, drawing moisture and causing dehydration. Among them are drying alcohols (for example, ethyl alcohol). While you’re dealing with dehydrated skin, stay away from retinoids and benzoyl peroxide.

Traditional humectants like glycerin and natural moisturizing players (especially Urea and PCA) are vital in addressing the dehydration problem.5 Just make sure you use a mild cleanser before applying a topical moisturizing formulation. Alpha-hydroxy acid (like lactic acid or sodium lactate) is also a good remedy for dehydrated skin.

Consider adding a hydrating toner or essence to your skincare routine if dehydration in your skin seems to be a consistent problem. They are quite good at rehydrating your skin after cleansing as well as preparing it before you put on your moisturizer. A very popular essence used for hydration would be the CosRX Advanced Snail 96 Mucin Power Essence

Get an Air Humidifier

A good way of helping your skin avoid dehydration is to add moisture to the air. First, you should consider turning off your AC. But more importantly, look into buying a humidifier. These quiet machines evaporate water using a heating element and venting steam into the air, creating humidity and moisture to help your skin remain hydrated.

Throw out Harmful Face Scrubs

Although exfoliation is a great way to keep your healthy skin bright, gritty scrubs can be irritant if you have a dehydration problem. When you pick up an exfoliating product, make sure you choose a more gentle solution (for example, one that uses chickpea or rice flour instead of sugar beads).


Dehydrated skin happens when the uppermost protective layer of your skin (or the stratum corneum) lacks moisture. In other words, when your skin loses more water than it needs. This is when you’ll start noticing signs of dehydration such as itchy, sensitive, dull, or tired skin.

Although dehydrated skin and dry skin are different conditions, there are things you can do to help in both situations.

Firstly, make sure you address any lifestyle factors that might cause issues; for example, limit your alcohol and coffee consumption, say goodbye to harsh exfoliants, and consider getting a humidifier to add more moisture to your environment.

You should also choose hydrating cleaners, moisturizers, and lotions designed to address dehydrated or dry skin.

If you’d like to discuss how to deal with dehydrated skin and how to best conquer it, join us at Breakout!


  1. Li, X.; Johnson, R.; Weinstein, B.; Wilder, E.; Smith, E.; Kasting, G. B., Dynamics of water transport and swelling in human stratum corneum. Chemical Engineering Science 2015, 138, 164-172.
  2. 2. Batt, M.; Fairhurst, E., Hydration of the stratum corneum. Inter. J. of Cosmet. Sci 1986, 8 (6), 253-264.
  3. Leveque, J.; JC, G.; RIGAL, D., Transepidermal water loss from dry and normal skin. Journal of Society of Cosmetic  Chemist 1979, 30, 333-343.
  4. Loden, M.; Maibach, H. I., Dry Skin and Moisturizers: Chemistry and Function. Taylor & Francis: 2005.
  5. Bissett, D.; McBride, J., Skin conditioning with glycerol. J. Soc. Cosmet. Chem. 1984, 35 (7), 345-350.

Related Stories

Cover Image for A close view of a woman’s eye

Dry Skin Around The Eyes: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

The area around your eyes is very thin and delicate, so it’s common for your skin to look dry. This is due to several factors, such as the nature of the skin morphology around this area, the fine surface, and the relatively fewer sebaceous glands around the...

Cover Image for Woman with drawing of the sun with sunscreen

Mineral Sunscreen vs. Chemical Sunscreen: Which is Better?

Using sunscreen is essential if you want to prevent sunburn and premature aging and reduce the risk of skin cancer. There are many products out there that can do the job, but each has slightly different mechanisms of action. In this article, we will explain...

Cover Image for A woman applying cream to her shoulder

Adding Vitamin B5 To Your Skincare Routine: A Good Idea?

Vitamin B5 is frequently found in moisturizer products and serums because of its many beneficial properties.1 For one, Vitamin B5 can stabilize the skin’s barrier and help it retain more water, keeping it elastic and soft and reducing fine lines. This compo...