Dry vs Dehydrated Skin: Key Differences

When your skin feels tight, dry and possibly a little itchy, it’s natural to think that you’ve got a dry skin type - right? The truth is, there could be two possible reasons why your skin is feeling this way. Other than the most simple answer - it’s true that you have dry skin - your skin might actually be dehydrated. That’s right, they’re actually two very different things.

Dry Skin or Dehydrated Skin Graphic

I know what you’re thinking - how am I supposed to tell the difference? While yes, they can first appear as super similar to each other, there are a few signs to look for. First, let's talk about the differences between dry skin and dehydrated skin.

SK-II Facial treatment lotion image on white background

SK-II Facial Treatment Essence
This Essence from SK-II contains Pitera, an ingredient scientifically proven to improve hydration retention in skin.

How to Tell If You Have Dry Skin

First off, it’s important to note that dry skin is a skin type - we can think of it as the baseline for how your skin is going to act. Dry skin is usually classified as skin that doesn’t have enough lipids - if you find that your skin hardly ever produces any oil, always looks super matte and your pores are invisible, it’s likely that you have dry skin

Other tell-tale signs of dry skin can include skin patches, especially ones that become more apparent with makeup. Another way to tell that you have dry skin has to do with understanding what causes dry skin - since these causes are quite different from what causes dehydrated skin.

Skin types are mostly determined by genetics, age and hormones - and are not really changeable by using certain products. If your other family members have dry skin, it’s likely that you’ll have dry skin too.

Another factor to consider is age. Most people find that their skin starts to lean on the dry side over time, and that’s due to the fact that skin becomes less effective at producing sebum over time. 

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Grown Alchemist Instant Smoothing Serum
Formulated with three weights of highly effective Hyaluronic Acid, this serum from Grown Alchemist hydrates skin incredibly efficiently for super smooth, radiant skin.

How to Treat Dry Skin

Since dry skin is a skin type - and not a temporary concern - it’s technically impossible to get rid of dry skin. However, knowing how to manage your skin type properly is key to preventing issues such as dehydrated skin. 

If you have dry skin, it’s important to reach for skincare products that help replenish your natural lipid levels. Key skincare ingredients to look for are ceramides, natural plant oils, and panthenol to help lock moisture into your skin.

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Elizabeth Arden Advanced Ceramide Youth Restoring Capsules
Get the perfect dose of skin-fortifying ceramide with these revolutionary capsules from Elizabeth Arden.

How to Tell If You Have Dehydrated Skin

So, now that we know that dry skin is a skin type - what makes dehydrated skin any different? What does dehydrated skin look like?

Unfortunately, dehydrated skin can look very similar to dry skin - with a few key differences. Dehydrated skin tends to look dull, and lacks any luminosity. In extreme cases, there are significant dry skin patches and irritation at the same time.

Dehydrated skin actually pairs closely with sensitive skin, since they’re technically both big signs that something is wrong with your moisture barrierAnother telltale sign that your skin is dehydrated is the sudden appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

As in, a lot of them, especially around your under eyes. Wrinkles and fine lines appear deeper when your skin is dehydrated because there isn’t as much water in your skin to keep it looking full and plump!

The good news is that dehydrated skin is a temporary condition that your skin can be in - temporary being the keyword! That also means that you can have any skin type, and you could have dehydrated skin. So as bizarre as it may sound, you could actually have both dry and dehydrated skin or even oily and dehydrated skin.

Compared to dry skin (which lacks enough oil), dehydrated skin doesn’t have enough water. Having the perfect balance of water and oil in skin helps to support healthy function - when skin is dehydrated, it’s definitely not functioning like it should.

Chanel Hydra Beauty creme product image on white background

Chanel Hydra Beauty Crème
This lightweight gel-cream moisturiser replenishes water in skin thanks to a combination of humectants and botanical ingredients. 

Causes of Dehydrated Skin

There are multiple causes of dehydrated skin - but they ultimately have to do with hindering your skin’s ability to hold onto water. Here are some of the most common skincare mistakes that you could be doing leading to dehydrated skin.

1. You’re Over-Exfoliating

Exfoliating regularly is crucial to good skin health - it helps to clear away any dead skin cells, excess sebum and adds a radiant glow to the skin. However, if used too often, it can have the dreaded side effect of over-exfoliating skin, causing dehydration. 

When you over-exfoliate skin, you damage the moisture barrier and prevent it from holding on to water as effectively, causing skin to dehydrate and causing those pesky skin flakes. If your skin seems to be drying out just as you start your new exfoliation routine, it could be worth cutting back on your exfoliation schedule!


Murad Nutrient-Charged Water Gel
Murad Nutrient-Charged Water Gel
This lightweight moisturiser infuses your skin with the perfect balance of hydration for healthy, glowing skin.


2. You’re Skipping Moisturiser

This most commonly happens to those with combination or oily skin. There’s this funny myth that if you have oily skin, you don’t need to use any hydrating or moisturising products. That’s far from the truth!

By skipping any hydrating steps after cleansing, your skin isn’t able to grab onto any water and keep it in your skin, ensuring your skin functions normally. As a result, your skin dehydrates rather quickly - and this leads to an unpleasant, tight feeling that’s a sign of dehydration.

This feels even worse with a layer of skin’s natural oils over the top, reinforcing the myth that oily skin produces enough oil to go without moisturiser. 

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SK-II R.N.A Power Radical New Age Cream
A powerful, yet lightweight moisturiser from SK-II that’s perfect for all skin types and boosts moisture barrier health. 

3. Your Cleanser is Too Harsh

This isn’t a concern that’s exclusive to any one skin type. The truth is, not many people realise that their skin isn't supposed to feel tight, dry and squeaky right after cleansing. Opting for a gentle, non-foaming cleanser can go a long way to preventing dehydrated skin - no matter your skin type. Ideally, skin should feel clean and fresh, but never tight or uncomfortable after cleansing!

La Mer the cleansing lotion product image on white background

La Mer The Cleansing Lotion
Cleansing lotions like this one from La Mer are designed to cleanse skin without stripping hydration or moisture. 

How to Treat Dehydrated Skin

When it comes to dehydrated skin, the focus should be on upping skin hydration as much as possible. Reach for skincare with humectant ingredients such as hyaluronic acid, glycerin, and honey to boost water levels in skin. 

It’s also important to ensure that those ingredients are effective as possible, so using a facial oil or moisturiser over the top is crucial to locking in those skin-hydrating benefits! For especially dry, flaking skin a balm moisturiser can be used as a spot treatment to lock hydration in and stop any skin flaking for good.

Still trying to create the perfect skin care routine for your skin type? Try our skin quiz!

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Alexis Adrienne

Alexis Adrienne

Alexis Adrienne is a passionate beauty writer with over 10 years of experience. She’s incredibly keen on all things skincare, makeup and cosmetics, with a fingertip on the pulse of the latest global beauty trends at all times.

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jackie August 08, 2023

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