Call it dry skin, cracked skin, or being ashy — when your skin gets dehydrated, you notice.
While dehydrated skin can happen all year round, most of us notice it more when the temperatures drop outside. The good news is that you can do plenty to hydrate your skin at home with a few common products and a commitment to healthy skin habits.
Many of the strategies for skin hydration are also great skincare for aging skin. You can stave off pesky wrinkles and dry patches that occur naturally over time using these same tips. Let’s dive into how to hydrate your skin, from head to toe.
What causes dehydrated skin?
To understand hydration, you should understand how this skin condition happens. The short answer is: dehydrated skin results from a lack of water in the skin. Your face, legs, and arms are particularly vulnerable since they tend to be the most exposed.
When the moisture drops in the atmosphere (either outdoors or indoors), your air can’t provide much-needed natural hydration to your body. Dry air can even pull the moisture that your body naturally creates out of your skin.
Aside from dry air, other causes of dehydrated skin include: manufactured heat (including fireplaces and central air), long exposure to hot water, certain soaps, and (more rarely) medical skin conditions.
While dry skin and dehydrated skin are often used interchangeably, they are technically different skin conditions. Dry skin is considered a skin type that lacks oil. Dehydrated skin simply lacks adequate moisture.
To tell if your skin is dehydrated, conduct a simple pinch test. Pinch your skin between two fingers and then release it. Skin that does not immediately bounce back is likely dehydrated. You can also identify dehydrated skin via dark circles under your eyes, dull skin appearance, and fine lines.
Using the right products to hydrate skin
The key to unlocking hydrated skin is using the right products. Or, at least that’s half the battle. Not all skincare products are created equally. Here are some things to look for when you’re updating your moisturizers and other skincare products.
- Switch to a cream. Thicker, moisturizing cream may more quickly lock in hydration. Keep in mind that creams can feel a bit greasier, so use a small amount.
- Use a moisturizing soap. Most experts will tell you that soap can really dry out your skin. When you notice a need to hydrate, stick to a soap with a built-in moisturizing ingredient. Harvard Medical School mentions Dove, Olay, and Basis as brands to consider for dry skin, excluding the face.
- Stick to fragrance-free products. Fragrances and dyes are more irritating to the skin than you may realize. If you’re working with dry skin, you’ll want to avoid them for now.
- Try adding a serum. Serums can repair the protective barrier of your skin. This helps your body to better lock in moisture. Try adding a serum to your moisturizing regimen, especially if you have seriously dry skin.
- Avoid charcoal. Some popular skincare ingredients will exacerbate hydration issues. Avoid charcoal and certain oils (like tea tree oil) that will further draw moisture out of your skin.
Which products are the best at locking in moisture? The Mayo Clinic explains that there are three main types of ingredients that can hydrate your skin.
1. Humectants. This type of ingredient attracts moisture to your skin. You’ll notice them under names like glycerin, sorbitol, and hyaluronic acid.
2. Occlusives. These substances help seal moisture in your skin, keeping it smooth and hydrated.
3. Emollients. This type of product combines oil, water, and an ingredient that separates the two.
No matter which product you select, you want to make sure you apply moisturizer
Changing environmental factors
In addition to using the right products from an over-the-counter (OTC) source or high-end skincare box, you can change some of the things you do around the house. Believe it or not, just a few small changes to your morning routine can hydrate the heck out of your skin all day long.
- Use a humidifier. These small, affordable machines can be run all night. They pump moisture into the air in your home, which, in turn, helps keep your skin hydrated. Keep your machine set to at least 60% to make sure you’re maximizing the benefits.
- Limit your time in the shower. A long, hot shower feels great after a day in the cold. But it’s wreaking havoc on your skin. Stick to a 10 minute shower at most. And try to pat yourself down when you get out, as opposed to rubbing your skin with a towel.
- Lower the temperature of water. Super hot water can also dry out skin. A lukewarm shower is better for keeping skin healthy and hydrated.
- Stop wearing wool. Certain materials will irritate your dry skin and make it more difficult to turn dry skin around. Stick with soft, breathable materials and see what happens.
When you’re in the process of hydrating your skin, be as gentle as possible. Moisturize your hands after every wash, and avoid scratching at all costs. The better you can be to your body’s largest organ in general, the faster it will become hydrated and healthy.
When to see a doctor
Sometimes, despite your best efforts, your efforts can’t completely fix your dry or dehydrated skin. This often indicates a larger issue at hand. If you change your skincare routine and humidify your home and still have really dehydrated skin after about two weeks — it might be time to call your dermatologist.
If your dehydrated or chronically dry skin also includes open sores, redness, or other serious issues, your doctor should also get involved.
Dehydrated skin represents a lack of water in the skin. This condition is especially common during colder months. You can often fix the issue at home with a humidifier, thicker moisturizer, and colder showers. If you start to see redness or breaks in the skin — call in a professional. Doctors can tell you if your issues are greater than temporary dehydration.