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What to Do About Dull, Dry, Dehydrated Skin

Woman touching her face in front of bathroom mirror

First, you may start to notice that your skin has a tight feeling after cleansing or showering.

But this tight feeling often starts to turn into a more itchy, uncomfortable situation.

And before you know it, you’ve got visible patches of flaky, peeling skin.

Despite rubbing and scrubbing at these areas, they just keep coming back.

And it’s not just rough-textured, dry skin. You may be noticing that your skin looks more than a little lackluster these days. Instead of a smooth, plump surface, you begin to see traces of lines and wrinkles appear in the light. Your complexion starts to resemble a cracked desert ground, lifeless and dull.

If this sounds like your skin, you may be at a loss for what to do next. Despite doubling up on lotions and creams, your skin never seems to maintain a sense of hydration.

So what can you do to escape this dry, dehydrated condition?

Know the Difference Between Dry and Dehydrated

Some people are simply born with a dry skin type. This is in contrast to the other skin types: oily, combination, and normal. Those who have dry skin don’t produce enough natural skin oils to keep skin at its optimal level.

You can’t change the type of skin you have. Sometimes skin types do change throughout your life, but it’s not something you can control. Even if you naturally have the dry skin type, you don’t have to suffer the symptoms. Usually, you can keep your skin happy and balanced by simply choosing cleansers and other products that are formulated for your dry skin. A gentle cleansing routine followed by a hydrating and emollient moisturizer is often all that is needed to help dry skin maintain a healthy condition.

Of course, sometimes your skin will need extra care. Your skin can become extra dry for a number of different reasons. These include diseases like eczema and problems with hormone levels. In addition, environmental conditions play a role in our skin’s moisture levels. Things like low humidity and cold, windy weather can cause the skin to become dry. So even if you don’t have the dry skin type, your skin could become dry due to a number of different factors.

Contrast dry skin with dehydrated skin. Dehydration is a condition, not a skin type. And unlike dry skin which can happen when pores don’t produce enough oil, dehydration is a lack of water. In fact, dehydration can affect not only the skin but all other systems in the body.

Let’s take a look at the different symptoms of dryness and dehydration in the skin.

Dry skin:

  • often looks red or inflamed
  • may flake off or peel
  • can look scaly or patchy

On the other hand, dehydrated skin:

  • appears dull
  • can make your eyes appear sunken or dark underneath
  • may be itchy
  • reveals fine lines and shallow wrinkles on the surface of the skin

Dehydration usually happens because our body is losing more water than it can replace. Your body may not be replacing water fast enough due to a number of reasons. It could be from excessive sweating or simply not drinking enough water. Sometimes certain medications or other substances cause frequent urination, which can make it hard for you to stay hydrated. Regardless of the reason, dehydration affects your entire body but can become very evident in your skin.

Dehydration can happen to you no matter what skin type you have. This is why it is very important to think of your skin condition as a result of not only what you put on top of your skin, but what you take into your body.

Start from the Inside

There is some debate as to what degree if any, drinking lots of water can improve the way your skin looks and feels. But the reality is that water is essential for every function of the human body, so this not an area you would want to neglect.

Every organ in the body is composed of cells, and cells require water. Consider also, that your skin is actually the largest organ in the body! The cells that make up your skin require water to complete their various functions, and if they are deprived of water they will not be very efficient, to say the least.

The functions of the skin include such important tasks as keeping bacteria, viruses, and other external irritants from entering the body and causing disease or injury. Your skin is your first line of defense against the outside world! With such an important role in your health, it is vital that you nourish this hard-working organ in every way. This starts with the basics—H2O.

Illustration of ideal daily water intake

Eight glasses of water a day is the starting point that is most recommended when increasing your water intake. But you will need more than this when you are sweating a lot or using the bathroom more often. Keep in mind that the other beverages you may drink can also affect your hydration levels; namely, caffeinated drinks like coffee, soda, and tea. Alcohol is also very dehydrating, so you will need to be vigilant to drink extra water when enjoying a cocktail or glass of wine.

Keep in mind that when you drink water, it will nourish all of your body and organs and not just your skin. In fact, your skin is the last organ that will benefit from the water you drink, after all, other organs and body systems. This makes it all the more important to be consistent with your daily water intake. Any results you may see in your skin from drinking more water will not be instant.

For this same reason, you will also need to help the water that gets int your skin topically to stay there. This is where what products you apply play a direct role in how hydrated your skin is.

Lock Moisture In

Every time you wash your face or take a shower, your skin has an opportunity to take water from the outside, in. This is the fastest and most direct route for our skin to get the moisture it needs to maintain a smooth, radiant and resilient quality.

But almost always, this contact with water is not enough, as water often quickly evaporates from the skin’s surface and is lost. If we do nothing to prevent this moisture loss, skin often feels tight and uncomfortable. And if this pattern of moisture loss continues, the natural moisture barrier of the skin can suffer, making it prone to cracking, flaking, and even wrinkling in the future.

This is why moisturizing is an essential step for every skin type, but especially those who are prone to dry skin. If your skin has an adequate amount of naturally occurring oil, it will be better able to hold onto water without the aid of skincare products. But since dry skin lacks enough natural sebum, it needs a moisturizer that can take on this role and lock in water below the surface.

To truly achieve this “locking in” of moisture, timing is everything. After washing your skin, you want to use a moisturizer immediately within the next two minutes. Not only does this allow very little time for water to evaporate, but your freshly cleansed pores will also be more open and available to soak in any active ingredients.

There is another important factor in keeping water in the skin with the aid of moisturizers, and that is the quality of the ingredients contained in the products you use. For the best results, there are some types of ingredients that do better than others when it comes to sealing in hydration and keeping the skin barrier strong.

There are actually three categories of ingredients that skin experts recommend that you look for when choosing a moisturizer that holds water inside your skin.

1) Emollients

The first type is called emollients. This is a type of skin concoction that is a mix of oil, water, and an ingredient called an “emulsifier” that is used to keep the water and oil blended together in the product. Many people like emollient products because they are smooth, light, and easy to spread onto the skin. They come in many different forms such as lotions, creams, and ointments.

2) Humectants

Next, you can look for humectants. The cool thing about humectant ingredients is that they actually attract moisture to your skin. In fact, they have the ability to do this in two different ways. Primarily, a humectant ingredient will draw water from the deeper layer of skin (known as the dermis) up to your top layer of skin (known as the epidermis). When this happens, moisture is more available to the skin barrier and your skin will look smooth and hydrated.

But this is not all. Humectants are also able to take water vapor from the environment if it is available! This means that moisture in the air can be added to your skin in humid conditions, further helping you maintain hydration throughout the day and night.

Some common humectants to look for are aloe vera, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin.

3) Occlusives

The third category recommended are called occlusives. These ingredients include such common ingredients as petroleum jelly and plant oils like argan and jojoba oils.

Spilled bottle of jojoba oil, with loose jojoba nuts

These are often sought after when dealing with dry weather conditions. This is because occlusives can act as a barrier on top of your skin to prevent water loss. For this reason, occlusives are often combined with humectants, in order to keep the water drawn up from the dermis from escaping.

Because occlusives are usually oily or waxy, some people may not like how they look on the skin. And those with combination or acne prone skin may feel that these are too heavy for their needs. But, if your skin’s barrier needs help, you can often find that a product that combines occlusives with other ingredients are much easier to handle.

Finally, you will want to be careful with the products you use to cleanse your skin. Many soaps are harsh and actively strip your skin’s moisture barrier and natural oils away. This is the opposite of what you want, especially if you are struggling with dry skin.

Instead, look for gentle cleansing agents that are designed for dry skin. These are often lotion or cream cleansers that don’t foam or lather but instead help to carefully massage away any dirt accumulated on your skin’s surface. They may also contain moisturizing ingredients that help to set up your skin to receive and maintain moisture after cleansing.

Banish Dullness

A dull look to the skin can be caused by many things. But if you have already determined that your skin is dry or dehydrated, then dullness usually comes right along with those issues.

This is because when your skin lacks hydration in any layer—from the dermis to the epidermis— it won’t look as plump or thick as it should. This lack of fullness often translates to a lack of radiance. Skin that is healthy will look the opposite: plump and bright.

On top of this, dry skin is often flaky, with dry patches that give your skin a rough-looking texture. When skin isn’t smooth it won’t reflect light well, and you are left with a lackluster, tired complexion.

There are two ways to combat this dullness. The first is to follow the hydrating, cleansing, and moisturizing tips for dry and dehydrated skin outlined above. Try a moisturizer like the Cabernet High-Potency Moisture Day Cream to really help prevent water loss. This will help address the inner moisture problems that contribute to dullness from below the skin’s surface.

The next step is to gently exfoliate the dull and dry areas of skin in a way that also allows the moisture barrier to thrive. One of the best ways to accomplish this is through the use of some natural ingredients found in the humectants category.

As mentioned before, humectants draw moisture to your skin and help it look hydrated. But they can also prompt dead skin cells to shed. They do this by breaking down the protein “glue” between skin cells as part of the process called desquamation. In fact, some of the best humectants for exfoliating dry skin are alpha hydroxy acids.

As a naturally occurring group of humectants, alpha hydroxy acids are great ingredients to use for renewing your skin’s glow. Not only will they slough off dead skin cells and allow fresh, new skin to come to the surface, but they will help your skin maintain hydration.

Simply add a gentle alpha hydroxy treatment to your routine once or twice a week, and follow up with a protective moisturizer. After a few weeks, your skin should be fully hydrated and bright!

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