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What’s the difference between dry and dehydrated skin?

As we emerge from winter, a common concern among our patients is dry or dehydrated skin. There is an uptick in the number of people seeing us for these problems during (or shortly after) the cooler months, often due to the cold, dry or windy weather.

But is there a difference between dry skin and dehydrated skin? The short answer is yes. There are different symptoms, causes and treatments relating to the two skin conditions, so let’s unpack those.

Dry skin

Our skin has several layers. The outer layer (called the epidermis) is a kind of barrier that protects against bacteria and viruses, chemicals, sun damage, and pollutants. With dry skin, this outer layer is damaged. This is usually caused by an irritant, which could include skincare products, medications, or some other environmental factor.

Typically, the first step to resolving dry skin is to look at your skincare routine and identify if any of the products may dry out your skin or harm the epidermis. Your dermal clinician will also look at your medications and the pollutants to which you’re exposed, and develop a plan for removing the cause of your dry skin and introducing moisture back into it.

Note: Never stop taking any prescribed medications without consulting your doctor first.

Dehydrated skin

Dehydration is related to water loss through the skin. Typically, people with dehydrated skin aren’t drinking enough water to replace the fluids they lose. All organs rely on regular water intake to be at their best, and the skin (the largest organ of the human body) is no different.

Drinking plenty of water is a simple first step to treating dehydrated skin. Some people forget to drink as much water when the weather is cooler because they're not so hot and thirsty. However, some irritants can stop the skin from holding onto water, so identifying and removing these irritants is also important.

What next?

If you are experiencing dry or dehydrated skin, some simple changes to your skincare routine or lifestyle may significantly help.

If you would like to speak to a dermal clinician about your skin concerns, please call us or book your appointment online.

Written by National Skin Cancer Centres