When facial skin is well-hydrated, it looks smooth, young and luminous, and is strong enough to prevent water going out and external irritants going in. A lack of hydration, seen in dry or dehydrated skin, causes facial skin to become less elastic, look rough and dull and be more prone to lines and wrinkles.
“Hydration is as important for your skin’s cells as it is for the rest of your body,” says Dr Nadine Pernodet, executive director of Skin Biology, Research and Development for Estée Lauder. “Not only does water help the metabolic functions of cells and tissues, but it also helps maintain the physical properties of the stratum corneum (the topmost layer of your skin).”
And according to Dr Colin D’Silva, principal scientist at P&G Beauty, in the absence of water, the stratum corneum is stiff and brittle and tends to crack and split. “However, in the presence of water, its unique properties give skin its suppleness and fluidity of movement.”
DRY OR DEHYDRATED?
While the terms are generally used interchangeably, dry skin and dehydrated skin are different skin problems, despite both leaving skin feeling tight, rough and uncomfortable. Dry skin refers to skin that is lacking in oil (sebum) and characterises a certain skin type, whereas dehydrated skin refers to a skin condition where the skin is lacking moisture (water).
The amount of sebum that the skin naturally produces varies from person to person. “Dry skin is primarily genetic,” says Caroline Parker, head of education in New Zealand for Dermalogica. “That is, you inherit the tendency to have insufficient oil produced in your skin. However the normal process of ageing also causes a natural decline in the production of oil – particularly post menopause when estrogen levels decline.”
Dr Pernodet says women with a dry skin type typically describe their skin as having some dry, flaky patches with little to no oil in the T-zone area. Generally, dry skin has small pores, even across the nose and chin areas. Over the cheeks, the skin is thin and may be transparent and delicate, revealing the small blood vessels that lie beneath.
Dry facial skin also worsens the appearance of other facial skin flaws, such as fine lines and wrinkles, uneven texture and a dull appearance. It may even feel tight and uncomfortable without the use of a moisturiser.
According to Kim Larsen, True Solutions business development manager and trainer, dryness can also be caused by things such as harsh environments, genetic conditions (diabetes or an underactive thyroid, for example), poor diet (lacking in vitamins, minerals and nutrients), and harsh cosmetics, chemicals or detergents.
Dr D’Silva says a common cause of dry facial skin is simply through the use of soap and water, especially hot water. “This strips the facial skin of natural oils, which weakens the skin barrier and can result in dryness or irritation.”
“Dehydration can either be a chronic condition or an occasional event that occurs at a particular moment in time because of, for example, stress or seasonal changes,” she says.
All skin types can experience dehydration, even oily skin. Having a healthy oil flow in your skin will help to maintain the moisture levels. “When the skin is dehydrated it leads to gaps or minute cracks in the protective barrier of the skin,” says Parker.
“These gaps allow for a loss of moisture from the deeper layers of the skin, ultimately affecting the healthy functioning of skin cells. When skin cells are well-hydrated, their functionality, healing and renewal processes are efficient and the skin barrier function is kept intact. Therefore, when the skin is hydrated and the epidermal barrier is strong, skin looks and feels smooth, supple and luminous,” she adds.
IT’S ONLY NATURAL
According to Clare Dickens, business manager for More Than Skin, most skin has a degree of dehydration. “This is dependent on diet, lifestyle, air-conditioning, weather and sun exposure,” she says. “While these contributing factors are within our control, age also has a direct impact on dehydrated skin. As we age, the sebaceous secretions or natural oil flow slows down and we require this oil to lock in the moisture.”
Our facial skin loses its ability to retain water the older we get. This inability to hold on to the water weakens cells, leaving them less effective so skin becomes dry, thin and rough. This is worsened by sun exposure and environmental aggressors that damage the skin and decrease its ability to stay soft and supple.
In today’s busy world, there are other factors that cause dehydration, such as exposure to dry or cold air (especially heaters and air-conditioning), UV rays, lack of sleep, environmental assaults, travelling, stress, excess bathing, and low humidity levels.
“Skin starts to lose its moisture when the humidity levels drop below 60 per cent,” says Parker. “The humidity levels in an air-conditioned office building are about 40 per cent and on an aeroplane 10-15 per cent.” Dehydrated skin can also be caused by exposure to some detergents, hot water and friction from clothing. Internal factors that cause dehydration include illness, stress and improper functioning of the skin cells that produce lipids.
When your skin becomes dehydrated, you may feel some itchiness and tightness – especially after bathing or taking a shower. Dehydrated skin can appear to be shrunken or shrivelled, with little elasticity. Visibly, dehydrated skin appears rough and there may be some flaking, peeling or scaling of the skin. Both dry and dehydrated skin may also develop fine lines and an overall dull appearance.
“The areas of the face most commonly affected by dehydration are the cheek and eye area due to these areas generally having less active oil glands so the moisture is more easily lost from the skin. The forehead can be affected as well and is commonly an area that will feel taut when dehydrated,” says Parker.
CAUSES OF DRY OR DEHYDRATED SKIN
1. Poor cleansing – using harsh products that strip away the skin’s natural moisturising film.
2. Washing your skin in hot water. Always use lukewarm water instead.
3. Ageing process. As you get older your skin’s hydration levels reduce.
4. Skin damage – through sun exposure; harsh chemical products used in some acne treatments; and air-conditioning.
5. Neglect: by not caring for the skin and having a good skincare regime.
6. Failure to take in enough fluid. Increase your daily water intake.
7. Smoking: constricts the blood flow to the capillary network which reduces moisture flow and nutrition to the cells.
8. Overscrubbing the skin: while we need to exfoliate, it’s important to note that over-zealous scrubbing can break down cell cohesion which reduces the capacity of the cells to retain essential moisture.
9. Medications and illness: some cold remedies and diuretics can cause internal dehydration. The long term use of cortisone induces dehydration and may produce permanent effects as it acts in the dermal of the skin.
10. Environmental assaults: air-conditioning, heating, cold weather, low humidity.
11. Diet: consuming excessive sugar and caffeine.
EXPERT TIPS TO KEEP YOUR SKIN HYDRATED
Use a hydrating spritz toner throughout the day and moisturisers that contain occlusive emollients (shea butter, olive oil, algae) and humectant ingredients (hyaluronic acid, honey and lactic acid), which will prevent the evaporation of water.
– Caroline Parker, Dermalogica.
Use the right skincare regimen: cleanse, moisturise and protect. This has both immediate and long-term benefits.
– Dr Colin D’Silva, P&G Beauty.
Double cleanse the skin with a gentle, lactic acid cleanser to remove make-up and impurities.
– Kim Larsen, True Solutions.
Use a hydrating mask at least three times a week. Adjust this routine as your skin’s moisture levels change.
– Karen Barlow, Lancôme.
Moisturiser should be used in conjunction with SPF sun protection rich in anti-oxidants and anti-irritants to help minimise the effects of daily exposure to environmental aggressors.
– Dr Nadine Pernodet, Estée Lauder.
Increasing one’s water intake can help skin to retain moisture from within, as does reducing caffeine and alcohol.
– Sylvie Wallington, Murad
Essential fatty acids in oily fish, flaxseeds, avocados and nuts are essential for radiant skin.
– Clare Dickens, More Than Skin.