Do you have dehydrated skin? We explain how to tell if your skin’s dehydrated, what the causes may be, and how to restore your skin to hydrated suppleness.

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Dehydrated Skin: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment

04/18/20238 min read

Does it seem like your complexion has started to become dull? Are you getting dark circles under your eyes or noticing more fine lines on your face? Symptoms like these could be signs of dehydrated skin.

Dehydrated skin can be caused by some factors you might not expect. Let’s cover everything you need to know about skin dehydration so you can restore your skin to its normal, natural beauty and suppleness as soon as possible.

Table Of Contents

Dry Versus Dehydrated

Woman opening her water bottle

Have you heard the saying, “Oil and water don’t mix”? That adage can be useful to keep dry skin and dehydrated skin from getting “mixed up” because while one is related to oil, the other is related to water.

Dehydration is defined as the absence or removal of water from something. Based on this definition, it might seem like dry skin and dehydrated skin are the same thing. After all, doesn’t taking water out of something make it drier?

While dry-feeling skin can be a symptom of skin dehydration, dry skin and dehydrated skin are two very different things from the perspective of skin care. And not everyone’s skin type is the same.

There are several different types of skin, varying from person to person, and what type you have is largely determined by genetics. While having a certain type might make you more prone to certain skin conditions, many common conditions can affect people with any skin type.

The commonly recognized skin types are: normal, dry, oily, combination, and sensitive. One of the main features that define your skin type is the amount of an oil called sebum.

Dry skin produces comparatively less sebum, while oily skin produces more. And people with combination skin may have both dry and oily areas. Sensitive skin isn’t defined by sebum production.

While dry skin is caused by a lack of or a lower amount of natural skin oil, dehydrated skin occurs because of a lack of water. This means that it’s possible for someone with any skin type to suffer from the condition of dehydrated skin.

This also means that while dry skin is simply a fact of life for many people because it’s the type of skin they were born with, dehydrated skin is a temporary condition with specific causes and specific treatments.

Now that you understand what dehydrated skin is, let’s look at how to identify it and distinguish it from other skin conditions.

Symptoms Of Dehydrated Skin

Dehydrated skin can manifest itself in a variety of ways. The specific symptoms you have can help you determine if you’re actually suffering from skin dehydration or a different condition.

Dehydrated skin often results in a noticeable change in your complexion. You may notice that your skin looks dull or uneven. You may also find that your skin has become itchy, even without any redness, irritation, or other obvious visual sign that would account for it.

Sunken eyes, dark circles under your eyes, and “shadows” under the eyes or around the nose are other common signs of dehydrated skin.

The Pinch Test

Woman pinching skin on her arm to check for dehydrated skin

One of the simplest and best ways to tell if your skin is dehydrated is by performing the “pinch test” on yourself. Pinch a small portion of your skin between your thumb and index finger, and then look at it closely.

If the pinched skin becomes wrinkled, or if it doesn’t quickly “bounce back” after you let go, there’s a good chance that your skin is dehydrated. This is because dehydrated skin loses its natural suppleness and elasticity.

Effects Of Dehydrated Skin

Closeup of fine lines on woman’s face from dehydrated skin

While dehydrated skin is not a major health concern by itself, if your skin isn’t looking its best, it can be depressing and damaging to your self-confidence. Chronically dehydrated skin can also lead to premature signs of aging, like fine lines and wrinkles.

It’s also important to note that if your skin is dehydrated, there is a chance that your body may be dehydrated in general, and severe dehydration can become a medical emergency. Signs of severe dehydration may include dizziness or lightheadedness, dry mouth, and feeling faint.

Distinguishing Dehydrated Skin From Other Conditions

In contrast to dehydrated skin, dry skin (whether because of your skin type or because of some other condition causing a lack of moisture) is more likely to show up as scaliness or flakiness, or as itchy areas that are obviously red and irritated.

Dry skin can appear in the wake of an acne breakout, or because of a condition like eczema or psoriasis. In these cases, treating dry skin depends on treating the underlying condition.

If you’re not sure whether you have dehydrated skin, dry skin, or another skin condition, a doctor or aesthetician can help you figure it out and develop a game plan.

And at any point if you’re concerned about what’s going on with your skin, seek help from a medical professional.

Causes Of Dehydrated Skin

Of course, the simplest cause of dehydrated skin is simply that your daily water intake is insufficient. Even if you think you drink enough water, other things you eat and drink may be diuretics, which increase the amount of water expelled from your body.

Psychological Factors

Young woman looking stressed out in the office

There are other possible reasons why your skin is dehydrated, though. And one major cause is stress.

Normally, your skin does a good job of keeping moisture in and keeping irritants, pollutants, and allergens out. But stress can cause your body to overproduce a hormone called cortisol that throws off the balance of your skin’s natural oils, inhibiting your skin’s crucial barrier function

The result can be irritated skin, rough skin, acne breakouts, and dehydration because your skin can’t seal in the hydration it needs.

The Wrong Skincare Regime

Another possible culprit in dehydrating your skin is skincare products. If you’re using the wrong skincare products for your skin type, they can end up doing more harm than good.

Aggravating ingredients (denatured alcohol, for example), synthetic fragrances, or overly abrasive scrubs can throw off your skin’s balance and weaken its barrier.


Young woman applying sunscreen

It’s no secret that UV rays from the sun can have a damaging effect on your skin, and this includes dehydration. If you’re a frequent swimmer, chlorine in pools and salt in the ocean can also negatively impact hydration.

Treatment For Dehydrated Skin

Young woman drinking a glass of water after exercising

Effectively treating dehydrated skin depends on correctly identifying the factors that caused your skin to become dehydrated in the first place.

If you’re suffering from dehydrated skin for the first time or only have a problem with it occasionally, it probably won’t take long to get it rehydrated. But if dehydrated skin is a recurring problem, then it may take some lifestyle changes to put an end to the problem once and for all.

1) Drink Plenty Of Water

Drinking more water is an easy first step. Generally, six to eight eight-ounce glasses per day are a great place to start.

2) Cut Back On Diuretics

Cutting down on diuretics, like caffeine and alcohol, will help your body maintain an optimal level of hydration as well. And eating more naturally hydrating foods, like cucumber and watermelon, can help with your overall water intake.

3) Keep Baths And Showers Short And Warm (Not Hot)

Bathing too long or in water that’s too hot can damage your skin and lead to dehydration. If you have sensitive skin, consider using a product specially designed for sensitive skin to gently cleanse and lock in moisture.

To protect your skin from the dehydrating and damaging effects of UV rays, consider using a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 every day.

4) Choose Skincare Products Carefully

Be cautious when using new skincare products. Look for those with hydrating ingredients from trusted brands, like Bodewell.

And any time you introduce a new product, apply a tiny amount to one area first, and wait a day to see how your skin reacts.

5) Manage Your Stress

If you think that psychological stress may be part of what’s causing your dehydrated skin, then figuring out what the big sources of stress are in your life can help you address your skin woes.

All we can say is that if stress is hurting the health of your skin, it’s probably having other health impacts as well, and you owe it to yourself to find a path to better psychological and emotional well-being. You are worth it!

Better Skin Days Ahead!

Woman applying moisturizer to dehydrated skin on her face

Dehydrated skin can be concerning when it first appears, but, thankfully, it’s a temporary condition.

Pay attention to your water intake and diet, protect your skin from dehydrating environmental factors, and use skincare products with gentle, nourishing ingredients.

Once you identify what’s causing the changes in your skin, you can make the necessary changes to restore your skin to its natural healthy beauty!


Cedars-Sinai Medical Center
The Cleveland Clinic
The New York Times

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