Dry vs Dehydrated Skin: How to Tell the Difference

Have you ever noticed dry, flaky skin on your face or another area of the body? You likely threw on some moisturizer and called it a day. While moisturizing is undoubtedly essential for maintaining healthy skin, that might not always be the real fix to your “dry skin” problem.

It might not be that your skin is dry. Instead, it might be dehydrated. Despite looking similar, dehydrated skin and dry skin are different, and how you address them is different.

So let’s dive in and check out how you can tell the difference between both of these so you can achieve plump, voluptuous, and elastic skin faster.

What Is Dry Skin?

Everyone has a different “skin type.” Some people have oily skin that glistens and shines, while others might have combination skin that tends to vary. However, many people have dry skin, which is a skin type that tends to look dull and feel tight.

Your skin produces an oil called sebum, which reduces water loss on the skin surface and protects the skin from bacterial or fungal infections. People with oily skin produce too much sebum, while those with dry skin don’t produce enough.

People with dry skin don’t have the necessary moisture on the skin’s surface to help protect against flakiness, wrinkles, or fine lines. It’s something you’re born with and can’t necessarily “cure.” 

However, there are ways to moisturize and cleanse dry skin to make it look healthier in appearance.

What Is Dehydrated Skin?

Dehydrated skin is a condition that occurs when there is a lack of water in the skin. Even people with oily or combination skin can get dehydrated skin for a number of reasons.

As opposed to dry skin types, dehydrated skin is not something you’re born with. Instead, it’s caused by environmental factors such as not drinking enough water, cold weather or air conditioning, hot showers, or harsh skincare products.

Dehydrated skin typically looks dull and can show signs of premature aging, like wrinkles or fine lines.

How to Tell the Difference

The best way to tell if your skin is dehydrated or if you have a dry skin type is through the pinch test

To do the pinch test, pinch a small amount of skin on your cheek, abdomen, or back of your hand and hold for three to five seconds.

After you let go, if your skin instantly snaps back, you’re likely not dehydrated. However, if it takes a few moments to return to its normal position, your skin might not have enough water in it. 

Even dry skin types that are well hydrated will bounce back into its normal shape during the pinch test.

There are also some distinct visual differences between the two as well. In dehydrated skin, you may also notice dark under-eye circles, itchiness, or more sensitive fine lines and wrinkles. In dry skin, you may notice white flakes, redness or irritation, or a scaly appearance. 

If you’re still struggling to tell the difference, it never hurts to take a trip to the dermatologist. They’ll be able to paint a better picture of what’s causing your dull-looking skin while also helping to craft a treatment plan that works best.

Figuring out if your skin is dry or dehydrated is an essential first step for determining the best course of treatment.

Treating Dry and Dehydrated Skin

It’s always important to hydrate and moisturize. However, people with dehydrated skin might not notice improvements if they just moisturize, whereas people with dry skin might notice worsened conditions if they only hydrate.

For Dehydrated Skin

If your skin is hydrated, you’ll want to focus on rehydration or adding more water. Things like aloe or glycerin are great ways to add more moisture to the skin to make it look healthier.

Additionally, it’s important to hydrate orally if your skin is dehydrated. This means increasing your water intake or eating water-rich foods like cucumbers, watermelon, or celery. It’s recommended that women get a total of 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day. For men, it’s 15.5 cups (3.7 liters).

If you frequently experience dehydrated skin, you may need to increase your water intake even if you don’t feel thirsty. Try using large, insulated water bottles that can stay cold for longer to make it easier to get the necessary amount.

For Dry Skin

If you have a dry skin type, it’s less about adding water and more about adding oil. You can use things like coconut oil, mineral oil, or Ultra Hydrating Algae Oil to lock in hydration and protect against pollution.

Additionally, you can use moisturizers to help replenish dry skin and make it look more firm. Our Replenishing Deep Sea Moisturizer brightens the complexion and reduces inflammation to turn your dry skin into firm, healthy skin.

For Both Skin Types

The symptoms of dry or dehydrated skin might also be due to a normal part of aging-related to the loss of collagen.

Collagen is a structural protein that your body makes on its own. It makes up your skin, hair, nails, bones, and ligaments. As you’ve probably guessed, it’s extremely important.

However, after age 20, you start to produce about 1% less collagen every year. This is why wrinkles and fine lines tend to become more apparent with age.

You can help increase its production by taking collagen supplements made with collagen peptides. These molecules help foster collagen production to reduce the appearance of fine lines and make your skin look healthier regardless of how dry or dehydrated you might be.

Tips for Preventing Dry or Dehydrated Skin

No matter what state your skin is in, there are some all-around healthy skincare practices that you can start to deploy that might be able to prevent problems down the road. 

For one, you should always carry around a hydrating mist for those times when you need some hydration in a pinch. These quickly repair damage and restore the skin’s natural barrier to prevent further damage in the future. Plus, it’s small enough to fit in a purse, backpack, or fanny pack.

Also, you’ll want to take preventative measures to avoid pollutants such as excessive sun exposure whenever you can. UV rays can dry out the skin and lead to dark spots or wrinkles. 

Be sure to use sunblock, stay out of direct sunlight when possible, and definitely steer clear of the skin-killing tanning beds.

Not to mention, if you’re active and like to exercise, make sure you’re drinking extra water to make up for the fluids your body is getting rid of through sweat.

Finally, you definitely want to start incorporating exfoliation into your routine. 

Exfoliation gently removes surface skin cells and helps it to retain moisture for a more glowing, revitalized complexion. It also helps draw out surface impurities to leave you with soft, supple skin that doesn’t feel dry or dehydrated in the slightest.

In Conclusion

Dry and dehydrated skin are often used interchangeably, but they’re not the same thing. Dry skin is a skin type that you’re born with. It’s caused by a lack of sebum production that leads to flakiness, redness, or dull-looking skin.

Dehydrated skin is a temporary condition that’s caused by a lack of moisture in the skin. It’s caused by not drinking enough water or excessive drying from weather or other factors.

You can spot the difference between the two by doing the pinch test. Even dry skin types will bounce back to their normal shape quickly if they're hydrated properly.

Treating dehydrated skin is mostly focused on increasing oral water intake as well as adding water-based compounds to the surface. For dry skin, it’s important to add oils like coconut oil as well as moisturizers to lock in the oils.

Collagen supplements can serve to enhance the vibrance of either skin condition by protecting the skin and helping to restore moisture. Also, exfoliation, avoiding sun exposure, and using hydrating mists can prevent problems from occurring in the first place.



Sebum | DermNet NZ

​​"Water: How much should you drink every day?" | The Mayo Clinic

Collagen: The Fibrous Proteins of the Matrix | NCBI Bookshelf