Is my skin dry or dehydrated?

Let’s get to the facts on moisturizing skin.

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas
Jul 02, 2019 · 7 min read

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Closeup on the side of a face. A bottle of water is being lifted toward a mouth wearing red lipstick.
We’re here to share what we know — but don’t take it as medical advice. Talk to your medical provider if you have questions.

Let’s face it, we could all probably be drinking more water — especially in the summer, when we’re constantly sweating! — but even the most hydrated folks are likely to deal with dry skin at some point in their lives. Between genetics and environmental factors, flaky, tight, or itchy skin happens to almost everyone at some point. If your skin is dry (or dehydrated), how you moisturize can make a huge difference.

So we here at Curology have consulted with our dermatology providers to help you figure out the best dry skin treatments and remedies, as well as how to hydrate your skin.

What is the difference between hydrating and moisturizing skin?

Honestly? Not much. Moisturizing skin is about hydrating, and vice versa. However, the term dehydrated skin has been gaining in popularity recently. In general, hydrated vs dehydrated describes a skin condition as opposed to a skin type. Dehydrated skin lacks water while dry skin is more often used to describe a skin type that produces little sebum (or oil).

So what does dehydrated skin look like? Signs include dullness, flakiness, and more easily irritated skin. You may have other classic symptoms of dry skin, too, making it even more confusing! While the state of your skin may be dehydrated, dry refers to your skin type. Oily, dehydrated skin, often called “combination skin,” may look or feel similar to dry skin. (If you’re wondering how to get rid of an oily face, read our Guide on Oily Skin to learn more about best practices when it comes to oil absorption.) Hormones, stress, diet, and hot summer weather can all impact the oil production of your skin — because the oil production of your skin cannot be changed in the same way as adding water to the skin, we’ll save the nitty gritty on changing a dry skin type for another blog post!

To make things simple, let’s assume both terms mean lacking water. So treating signs of dryness (i.e., dehydration) boils down to restoring water to the skin. And, just like having dry skin, having dehydrated skin is totally normal!

Why is my skin so dry?

Signs of dry skin are caused by a reduction in the skin’s water content, Dryness can be caused by harsh soaps, harsh exfoliation, long, hot showers or baths, or exposure to other irritants that compromise our skin’s protective moisture barrier. If your skin is dry, you’ll know because of tight-feeling skin that’s rough or even peeling, sometimes with sensitivity and redness.

Dryness due to dehydration can be caused by environmental and lifestyle factors — things like low humidity, harsh winds, dry heat, and harsh skincare products. Something as ubiquitous as a seasonal change in weather can even cause skin to dry out. In addition to subpar soaps, alcohol-based cleansers and moisturizers can dry out your face even further.

No matter the cause, dry skin is always a nuisance! That’s why we’re here to give you the lowdown on the best moisturizing products for dry or dehydrated skin.

How to hydrate your skin

Hydrating skin involves restoring your natural moisture barrier to keep water in. In addition to harsh soaps and alcohol-based products, clay masks can sometimes over-absorb moisture as they’re peeled off, making dry skin worse. And if you’re showering in hard water, the mineral content makes it harder for soap to lather and rinse away, leading to product residue build-up on your skin.

It is true that more serious levels of dehydration can be reflected in the skin surface — but if you’re that dehydrated, you have bigger problems than how your skin looks! According to the CDC, if you’re doing three things, 1) making water your main choice of drink, 2) drinking water when thirsty, and 3) drinking water with meals, you likely won’t experience dehydration.

If you currently live in a place that’s too dang hot or too gosh darn cold, there might be less moisture in the air, due to the use of fans or central heating/air. If this is the case, try using a humidifier in a room where you spend a lot of time, like your bedroom. If you’re looking for the best humidifier for dry skin, look for one that will run for at least 8 hours. You don’t need anything fancy — the Pure Enrichment MistAire Ultrasonic Cool Mist Humidifier is an affordable option that can run for up to 16 hours at a time, which makes it ideal for using overnight.

Even if we could control everything about our environment, most of us will still deal with dry skin at some point, so read on for our tips on how to build a skincare regimen to keep your face feeling hydrated.

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Treat dry skin while you sleep

Wondering how to cure dry skin while you sleep? While it may or may not “cure” your dry skin, a good cleanser and moisturizer nighttime routine will help with water retention in your facial skin.

Start with a non-soap skin cleanser specifically for the face — look for labels that say gentle or formulated for sensitive skin. While your face is still damp after cleansing, seal in skin hydration with an occlusive moisturizer — that is, one that slows down water loss with non-comedogenic oils. For best results, seek out creams and ointments over lotions. Another option is a moisturizer that contains ceramides, a normally occurring component of our skin’s moisture barrier.

There have never been more moisturizing skincare products available, but here’s a small sample of our picks when it comes to the best moisturizers for your unique skin.

Moisturizing for dry, mature skin

If you’re treating fine lines or sunspots with vitamin A-derived ingredients (a.k.a. retinoids), you may be aggravating your dry skin — the opposite of what you want if you’ve got flaky skin! When using a vitamin-A-derived product, whether it contains OTC retinol or a stronger, more effective prescription retinoid such as tretinoin, it’s even more important to have a good moisturizing skincare routine to mitigate any potential side effects.

Our custom Curology cream with tretinoin is formulated with a moisturizing base, so using your Curology cream at night will help reduce potential drying side effects from age-defying ingredients. After a full night of treating your skin, don’t forget to use a sunscreen with at least an SPF of 50 in the morning — retinol creams and the sun don’t mix.

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Beat dry skin with the Curology moisturizer

The best face moisturizer for normal-to-oily skin

Not to toot our own horn, but Curology’s in-house dermatologists developed a nourishing gel-cream hybrid with sensitive skin in mind that recently received a Teen Vogue Acne Award for Best for Dry Skin. Our moisturizer’s formula features hyaluronic acid (a.k.a. sodium hyaluronate) as a key ingredient to lock water into the skin while restoring your face’s protective moisture barrier. Our non-comedogenic formula is free of parabens, common allergens, sulfates, fragrances, dyes, and other common skin irritants. The Curology gel moisturizer locks in hydration, and it’s a more lightweight formula that can be used day or night.

The best moisturizer for dry or dehydrated skin

The rich moisturizer by Curology is formulated with 6 research-backed ingredients to lock hydration back into the skin. Hyaluronic acid plumps the skin for a dewy, baby-soft face while shea butter fills in tiny cracks in the skin. The texture of our rich moisturizer is thicker and creamier than our gel moisturizer, making it ideal for dry skin and aging skin. Layer up as much as you like — the rich moisturizer won’t clog pores, and it’s fragrance-free, making it ideal for those with dry, sensitive skin.

The best moisturizer for dry skin with SPF

It’s no secret that proper sun protection is the key to pretty much all skin concerns. CeraVe AM Facial Moisturizing Lotion with SPF 30 offers UVA/UVB protection while fighting your dry skin. In addition to hyaluronic acid and water, ceramides are key ingredients. Ceramide lipids occur naturally in the skin and, like hyaluronic acid, they act as reinforcement troops for your moisture barrier. Ceramides help your skin retain the water it needs to look and feel hydrated.

Important to note that this product contains chemical sunscreen ingredients and must be applied 20 minutes before going outside. We also recommend re-applying your SPF at least every 2 hours.

These tips don’t ring a bell? Brush up on our Guide to Sunscreen.

Both summer heat and subzero freezes can cause even the most hydrated person’s skin to dry out. Good ol’ petroleum jelly may feel too heavy for everyday use, but if your skin in cracked, flaky, or has other symptoms of extreme dryness, a thin layer of Vaseline will help soothe and protect skin.

The dream team

At Curology, we have one goal: to celebrate everyone’s unique skin. Nothing feels more celebratory than luscious, hydrated skin that glows from within. That’s why the Curology cream is customized to each of our patients to help you out no matter where you are in your skincare journey. Together, our 3-step set has everything you need to restore balance and radiance to your skin. Sign up for a free trial to see for yourself.

Stephanie Papanikolas Avatar

Stephanie Papanikolas

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