The difference between dry and dehydrated skin

Well folks, it’s officially sweater weather. That means flaky, tight, itchy and dull skin is just around the corner. As you reach for that creamy moisturizer you may be interested to know that your dry skin may not actually be dry—it could just be dehydrated. And yes, these are two different things. So, what’s the difference between dry and dehydrated skin and how can you find the right products to kick that dull winter skin and get your glow on? We’ve got answers.

Dry Skin

While both dry and dehydrated skin can cause red, flaky, and itchy skin, dry skin is a genetics-based “skin type.” Some people have oily skin while others have dry skin coded into our DNA.

If you have dry skin, it means that your skin lacks oil. Oftentimes, it means that there’s little or no visible oil on the surface, and that leaves your skin feeling tight—like your skin’s just a little too small for your face.

Many of us grew up thinking of oil as the enemy, but when skin lacks it, it can lead to your cracking, flaking, itching, and redness. The truth is, proper oil production is important to hold hydration in and keep environmental stressors out.

Dehydrated Skin

As a reminder, dry skin is something that’s in your genes. On the other hand, dehydrated skin is a condition caused by external factors.

As you might infer from the name, dehydrated skin is thirsty. It needs water. And while we all know that drinking plenty of water is a must for healthy bodies and healthy skin, this alone won’t fix the problem.

The interesting thing about dehydrated skin is that you don’t need to have dry skin to have dehydrated skin. Even oily skin can become dehydrated. We’re all vulnerable to dehydration when the top layers of skin become damaged. Low temperatures, dry weather, sun exposure, and washing with products that are too harsh or that contain skin-stripping ingredients can all cause skin to lose too much water (p.s. the fancy name for this is transepidermal water loss).1

In a nutshell, dehydrated skin is off-balance. So let’s make sure we can identify it so we can fix it.

Do I have Dry or Dehydrated Skin?

There are a few ways to tell the difference between dry and dehydrated skin:

Dry skin typically has small pores with little to no visible oil or shine. When we apply moisturizer, it will gulp it up, but makeup will tend to gather in fine lines or around flakes. Also, look for the cracking, flaking, and rough red patches.

Dehydrated skin is not as intuitive. Dehydrated skin typically does feel dry, brittle, and tight, but it typically looks a bit oily skin. That’s because our oil production ramps up in an attempt to compensate for lack of water. So if your skin looks oily but still feels tight, inflexible, maybe a little papery, chances are your skin has become dehydrated.

How to soothe dry and dehydrated skin

When you have dry skin, it’s about oil. Be sure to apply moisturizer, especially after washing. Look for products with occlusive and emollient ingredients such as plant oils, shea butter, and fatty acids, These will help lock in moisture and soften the skin.

Since dry skin is also usually sensitive skin, it’s necessary to avoid scented products and skin-stripping ingredients. Tending to your environment can also help, so when the dry weather arrives, a humidifier can help balance your skin by adding moisture to the air.

Dehydrated skin needs water, so moisturizers with humectants are a must. A humectant is a fancy name for a substance that attracts and bonds to water. Good examples are honey, vegetable glycerin, sodium PCA, and aloe vera liquid. Pro tip: apply humectants while your skin is still damp, like right after a bath or shower. Without that added hydration a humectant won’t have any moisture to bind to your skin.

For both dry and dehydrated skin, occlusives such as a sleeping mask, can help to seal in moisture, and it’s always smart to avoid harsh cleansers (no high pH), rough exfoliants, and astringents.2

Hello, glow

Now for some good news: with proper care you can easily manage dry or dehydrated skin. All it takes is the right mix of ingredients. But if teasing apart humectants and emollients is not really your thing, we can help. At Kura, we use a simple quiz and a smart algorithm to match you to the right skincare. Complete a 5 minute Skin Profile and and you’ll be on your way to getting that glow.

Get started at

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