Dehydrated Skin or Dry Skin?

Dermatologists explain the nuances of each—and provide expert tips for keeping skin moisturized this winter.

With the winter months upon us, the weather is getting colder—and the air is getting dryer. Of course, the seasonal weather change has an impact on our skin, which may call for a change in our skincare routines. Let’s take a look at what this means in terms of the moisturizers your customers use and the type of moisturizers you sell.

DRY VS. DEHYDRATED SKIN
Dr. Tina Alster, director of the Washington Institute for Dermatologic Laser Surgery, provided her insights about the differences between dry and dehydrated skin. This is indeed the first conversation to have with your customers, as there is often confusion surrounding the two.

Dr. Alster says, “In a nutshell, dehydrated skin lacks water and dry skin lacks oil. To hydrate the skin, one has to increase its water content. This cannot be accomplished by simply drinking a lot of water (since most of the water passes through the kidneys and out of the body). Instead, it’s best to hydrate the skin topically in order to increase the amount of water in the skin cells.”

In order to moisturize the skin, there are a few key ingredients your customers should look to. “Topical ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, which are humectants, help to bind water and retain moisture,” Dr. Alster says. “To moisturize the skin, it is best to avoid products or activities (e.g., scrubbing) that remove excess oil. The best moisturizers are lightweight and do not block pores.”

Another key difference is that dehydrated skin is typically considered a skin condition (meaning it can be changed and improved), whereas dry skin is a skin type, and cannot be changed—but can be treated.

DIGGING DEEPER
“To understand dry versus dehydrated skin, you have to understand the stratum corneum,” says Dr. Luigi Polla, owner of Forever Institut in Geneva, Switzerland. “The stratum corneum is the topmost layer of skin, and is mostly made up of keratinocytes that are at the end of their lifecycle, known as corneocytes.” This layer is comprised of about 30-percent water.

Dr. Polla says, “Thirty percent may sound like a lot, but it is actually a low percentage compared to the rest of the skin’s layers, which are composed of 80-percent water.” Avoiding dehydrated skin partially has to do with maintaining and protecting the water content in the stratum corneum by ensuring that it does not evaporate too quickly—something known as transepidermal water loss.

“To moisturize the skin, it is best to avoid products or activities that remove excess oil. The best moisturizers are lightweight and do not block pores.”

–Dr. Tina Alster

Dehydrated skin is typically caused by the skin’s inability to maintain water content because the skin’s barrier is somehow compromised and the natural water content evaporates more quickly than it should. Dry skin, on the other hand, is typically caused by the skin’s incapacity to produce enough oil; the sebaceous glands aren’t fully doing their job.

“I usually think of dehydrated skin as affecting primarily younger skin,” Dr. Polla says. “Indeed, mature skin is rather dry than dehydrated, as sebum production naturally decreases with age, when the activity of sebaceous glands slows.” This is a particularly important point to remember when recommending products to your customers, as age may help guide the best product suggestions.

THE SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
The symptoms for both dry and dehydrated skin are similar, so making a retail recommendation can be challenging. Typical symptoms include a feeling of tightness, flakiness, itchiness, irritation and sensitivity. Overall, the look of both skin types is also similar. The skin will look lackluster, rough and lacking in suppleness.

Consumers are often confused about their skin type—not just between dry and dehydrated skin but even between dry and oily types. When a customer with a visibly dry skin type insists they have oily skin, it is often based on recollections of how their skin was in their teens or early 20s, and a fear of breakouts and acne. An easy at-home test to recommend is to ask the customers to wash and dry their face, and then describe how it feels.
Does it feel like it is right about to crack, and that they need to run to their jar of moisturizer for comfort? If this is the case, he or she has a dry or dehydrated skin type.

“In a nutshell, dehydrated skin lacks water and dry skin lacks oil.”

–Dr. Tina Alster

In addition, there are a few key facts to keep in mind when discussing this complex topic with your customers. Remember, oily skin types can be dehydrated. The look of the skin can also be deceiving, too. For example, an oily skin type can look oily, but still lack water. Our sebaceous glands also tend to slow down with age—meaning the older your customer is, the more likely it is that he or she has dry skin.

When retailing products, keep in mind that treating dehydrated or dry skin is not all about which moisturizer your customer is using. Their environment plays a role, as does the cleansing routine. Here are other factors to consider:

1. Weather: The weather has a significant impact on dehydration of the skin. Cold, wind, air conditioning and indoor heating will all increase the likeliness of dehydration.
2. Humidity: A humidifier can help with the environmental influences noted above.
3. Bathing Habits: Prolonged water submersion also strips the skin of its natural oils. Thus, long baths are not recommended.
4. Cleansing: Over-cleansing and over-exfoliating can lead to dry skin. Indeed, Dr. Susan Elliott, owner of Foxhall Dermatology, says that she always addresses dry skin beginning with her patient’s cleansing routine. “My best advice is to cleanse more gently,” she says.

MAKING RECOMMENDATIONS
Moisturizers for dehydrated skin must help prevent transepidermal water loss, help the skin replenish its moisture levels and also repair the skin’s natural barrier to prevent excessive evaporation of moisture. Look for products containing humectants, which you want to stock. Dr. Leslie Baumann, owner of Baumann Cosmetic Dermatology, says, “Humectants are agents that avidly bind water and hydrate skin by actually drawing water into themselves and onto the surface of the skin.” Key humectants to look for include propylene glycol and urea (both are synthetic and very effective) as well as hyaluronic acid, glycerin and shea butter (which are of natural origin).

In addition to humectants, for severely dehydrated skin, occlusive ingredients may also be necessary; these will help prevent moisture loss and evaporation. Dr. Baumann defines occlusive as “oily substances that coat the surface and prevent water from evaporating from the skin’s surface.”

Many of these ingredients (think mineral oil, petrolatum and silicones) have a bad reputation, as they can sometimes clog pores. Instead, look for products containing beeswax or natural oils, such as evening primrose or sunflower oil.

Moisturizers for dry skin types must also contain ingredients that will help complement the skin’s natural oils, meaning lipids. Look for moisturizers that contain ingredients such as jojoba and vitamin E.

Finally, ceramides are a key ingredient when treating dehydrated (and even dry) skin because they work on the skin’s natural barrier repair. Indeed, it is not as effective to simply replenish the skin’s water or oil reserves if the skin’s barrier is compromised.

Ceramides are naturally present in our skin, and make up the “cement” that binds our cells together in the outermost layer of our skin. As they decrease, this cement of our skin’s natural barrier begins to crumble and crack, and thus loses its efficacy. Using products containing ceramides will help to repair the skin’s natural barrier. Dr. Elliott says, “I often recommend products containing ceramides to my patients with dehydrated skin. The ceramide component of the skin is absolutely key.”

Though moisturizers are a must-have for your customers, especially during the cold winter months, there is also another product that’s crucial to everyone’s skin health: sunscreen. Dr. Polla says, “As you recommend the right moisturizer to your customers, whether they have dehydrated, dry, oily or combination skin, you must remind them that a morning cream has to contain an SFP of at least 20, January 1 through December 31.”

EVERYDAY ROUTINES
Recommend these go-to skincare regimes for those with dry or dehydrated skin.

DRY SKIN
1. Start with a gentle, creamy, non-foaming cleanser that does not contain any surfactants.
2. Use a morning hydrator containing hyaluronic acid.
3. Apply an evening cream containing lipids, such as jojoba and vitamin E.

DEHYDRATED SKIN
1. Start with a gentle, creamy, non-foaming cleanser that does not contain any surfactants.
2. Follow with a morning hydrator containing ceramides.
3. At night, apply a cream containing natural oils, such as primrose or sunflower oil.

FOR DRY LIPS AND HANDS
The winter weather can also wreck havoc on our hands and lips. Here are tips to combat the cold.

FOR HANDS
* Wear gloves when it’s cold outside; you would be surprised what that layer of protection does to keep hands soft.
* Use a rich hand cream every evening—ideally one containing some of the occlusive ingredients discussed above.

FOR LIPS
* When exfoliating your skin, rub some product very gently on chapped lips.
* Do not bite or pick at the skin on your lips if they are peeling; this will further dry out your lips and will be quite painful.
* Carry a lip balm with you at all times. Do not believe the urban myth that the more you use a lip hydrator, the more you will need one.
* If you wear lipstick, switch from a dryer pencil product to a creamier version of your favorite color.

[Photo OlgaMiltsova, gettyimages.com]