Dry vs. Dehydrated Skin – What Are The Differences?

by Natalia Munoz on March 18, 2022


You know that sinking feeling when you invest in an expensive, super hyped product everyone seems to love, and it does nothing for your skin? You went with a rich, thick lotion hoping it would moisturize and brighten your dry complexion, but it turned out your skin prefers quite a different kind of approach.

Maybe your skin wasn’t dry after all? Maybe instead of oils and butter, it needed a different kind of hydration?

This actually happens a lot. Many women think they know their skin type, but there are so many small similarities between different types it is quite easy to overlook some really important signs.



What is the Difference between Dry Skin and Dehydrated Skin?

Fun fact – dry skin is a skin type, while dehydrated skin is a skin condition. That means that dry skin is something you are (or are not) born with and is likely to follow you your whole life. 

Dehydrated skin, on the other hand, shows up temporarily, comes and goes depending on your lifestyle choices and it can appear no matter which skin type you have. In fact, oily skin can often get very dehydrated.

Now, to understand the difference between dry and dehydrated skin, we need to talk about how normal skin works. Our skin needs water, and it works hard to keep the hydration on an optimal level. 

First, the skin has a system that attracts water from the surrounding air and into the skin cells. Second, the skin produces sebum, whose role is to create a barrier on the surface of the skin. This barrier prevents water evaporation and keeps moisture inside the skin.

Both dry and dehydrated skin are signs that your skin lacks moisture. However, if your skin is dry, the problem is that your barrier doesn’t have enough lipids, and it doesn’t retain water well. Whilst if your skin is dehydrated, it doesn’t get enough water molecules in the first place.



Symptoms and Signs of Dry and Dehydrated Skin

If you are not sure whether your skin is dry or dehydrated, here are some telltale signs that can help you figure it out.

Dry skin feels rough to touch. It feels itchy, easily cracks, and it can be flaky. Dry skin is usually prone to redness and irritation. It easily develops aging signs as it lacks elasticity and suppleness.

The main characteristic of dehydrated skin is that it looks dull and lifeless. It appears thin and fragile, and it is often sensitive. Thick moisturizers don’t help – the skin often feels uncomfortable even under the oily layer.




How you are going to treat your skin depends on what it needs the most. A general rule says that dry skin prefers thicker, oilier moisturizers to soften dry patches and reinforce the skin’s lipid barrier. On the other hand, dehydrated skin needs thinner, lightweight products, such as serums and mists based on hyaluronic acid or glycerin.

In either case, just be patient and listen to your skincare. It will tell you itself what it needs and how it likes to be treated.