ELLE reveals the tools you need to recognise when your skin is thirsty, plus how to repair and replenish it whatever your skin type.
What causes skin dehydration?
First of all it’s important to understand that dehydration is a temporary skin condition; it can affect any skin type, at any time. Whereas dry skin, caused by a lack of oil production, is a skin type and is permanent, although diet, lifestyle and skincare can all help improve it.
Your body contains 80% water, but struggles to retain it on the skin’s surface; a healthy, efficient epidermis should hold 13.5% of water, yet if it loses just 3.5% of that then it becomes dehydrated.
Una Brennan, facialist for Skinceuticals, suggests, ‘If the air is moist then the moisture in your skin is more likely to stay put than be sucked out of your skin into the atmosphere, so use a humidifier, especially during cold winter months when the skin is exposed to central heating. And if you have electric heaters, which are a key culprit, always pop a bowl of water beneath them to ensure there is still moisture in the room.’
Your skincare regime can also cause problems. ‘Chronic dehydration can be caused by skin damage from cosmetics: eg. using too harsh or too frequent skin treatments like glycolic acid, hydrogen peroxide, retinoic acid and benzoyl peroxide for example. These substances alter the transfer of moisture within the skin to the epidermis. Skin takes on a withered look and hydration is difficult. Daily or very frequent scrubbing of the skin can also break down cell bonding in the skin reducing its ability to hold water and placing the capilliaries of the skin at risk,’ explains Una Brennan. So go gently with your skincare regime.
Does drinking water make a difference?
From experts the answer is a resounding no. Dermatologist Dr Sam Bunting says ‘Drinking water to rehydrate dry skin is a bit like sitting in the bath and expecting it to quench your thirst.’ While Dr Murad says, ‘There is little scientific evidence; for most people, more water just means more trips to the bathroom. Not only is this a waste of time, and water, but the constant flushing of water through your body can mean a loss of vital minerals as well.’
We’re not saying, however, that you shouldn’t be drinking water – it’s excellent for your health and will keep your internal body parts functioning efficiently, but the results of guzzling back your eight glasses a day won’t make a difference to your complexion.
So what will?
Eat your way to hydrated skin.
Your skincare regime will make the utmost difference to your skin’s health and appearance; however the right diet is important to keep your skin functioning at its best. You need to look to foods ‘which help provide essential nutrients, like omega-3 fatty acids, which are necessary to enable the skin to manufacture key elements that help it hold on to water and stay hydrated,’ says Dr Sam Bunting.
Emma Schulz adds that, ‘A well balanced diet and plenty of sleep will help to reduce dehydration’. We know that as we sleep skin regenerates itself and cell turnover (the ridding of dead skin cells) is at its most productive. ‘A lot of what we eat effects the skin also, therefore avoid drinking alcohol, caffeine or eating salty foods as these cause puffing, swelling, and dehydrate your skin,’ adds Emma. Dr Brandt agrees, ‘As soon as you cut down on sugar you’ll see an improvement in your skin,’ he says.
Dr Murad, who champions the idea of eating your water, recommends you replace one of your eight glasses of water with a serving of raw fruits or vegetables. ‘Eating foods that are rich in structured water, especially raw fruits and vegetables, will not only help your body hold onto water longer, you’ll get the added boost of important antioxidants, fibre and other nutrients.’
You should be getting all the nutrients you need for your skin from a well-rounded diet, but we all go through phases where our food intake leaves a lot to be desired. If you’re going through an unhealthy phase make sure you supplement your diet with a couple of skin hydrating and conditioning supplements.
Oily fish is a must for keeping your complexion looking its best – it’s anti-inflammatory and ensures your skin is working optimally. ‘Oily Fish will make your skin glow and give you the healthiest skin and hair ever. The flesh of fish – especially salmon contains DMAE, a powerful antioxidant. This chemical stimulates nerve function and the muscles to contact and tighten under the skin,’ says Dr Perricone. If you don’t like fish or you’re not getting enough in your diet then stock up on DMAE supplements, £25 (perriconemd.co.uk)
Neal’s Yard Remedies Organic Beauty Oil, £11.95, can be used as you would a regular olive oil and contains a combination of hemp, flax, avocado and evening primrose oil to nourish the skin from the inside-out.
Keep a bottle of NHS Labs Hyaluronic Acid capsules, £35 (victoriahealth.com) to hand. Found naturally in our cells this protein can hold 1000 times its weight in water and attracts moisture to the cells throughout our body, plumping them out; a must for dehydrated skin.
The all important Moisture Barrier.
Our skin is clever. The outermost layer, the stratum corneum, is made up of dead skin cells held together by lipids and sebum, which is nature’s way of preventing moisture loss. Unfortunately it’s not that robust and simply cleansing your skin twice daily can affect the functionality of the layer. It’s not just cleansing that has an effect, ‘This barrier is impaired as we age. Skin thins. Sebum production decreases. The effects of cumulative sun damage further decrease barrier function,’ explains Dr Tom Mammone, Executive Director of Skin Physiology and Pharmacology, Clinique. The key to healthy, hydrated, smooth skin is protecting your moisture barrier, and choosing the right skincare products for you is imperative.
Is my skin dehydrated?
First up you need to find out whether your skin is dehydrated, as you can’t always see or feel the effects. Luckily it isn’t a guessing game: it can be measured at many beauty counters and spas using a skin analysis machine (Shiseido and Elemis offer the service). If your skin is crying out for moisture here are the products you need, depending on your skin type...
Normal Skin that’s dehydrated
Top Tip: Those with a normal skin type need to be mindful of dehydration, especially in winter when moisture levels are compromised by the weather. ‘You don’t just need moisture when your skin is dry. Skin is constantly working and in constant need of moisture. In fact, 90% of the time your skin is in need of moisturisation. So, people with normal skin do need to be concerned about skin moisture levels,’ says Dove Skin Expert, Andrew Saynor.
Essential Skincare: Look to hydrating products that are for normal – dry skin; a normal skin type can handle a slightly richer formula especially if it’s dehydrated. Dior Hydra Life Pro-Youth Comfort Crème, £41 (boots.com), is light in consistency and should be used when skin is dehydrated or looking lacklustre.
Use L’Occitane Fabulous Serum, £28 (uk.loccitane.com) daily to protect against harsh weather conditions. The shea butter helps to restore the skin’s barrier function allowing your complexion to protect itself more effectively from the cold.
At night use YSL Top Secrets Beauty Sleep Palette, £43 (houseoffraser.co.uk), a clever dual purpose face cream and lip balm. Rice bran butter soothes and moisturises the skin leaving it able to concentrate on the important task of renewing itself.
Each week boost moisture levels with [comfort zone] hydramemory hydramask, £20.50 (comfortzone.it)
Body product: Try Caudalie Vine Body Butter, £19 (caudalie.com), it’s buttery but sinks in fast. With grape seed and shea butter, skin is soothed and healthy looking instantly.
Sensitive Skin that’s dehydrated
Top Tip: Stay away from products containing alcohol or fragrance (they are super drying for sensitive skin types), especially if they’re mentioned high up on the ingredients list.
Essential Skincare: Keep things simple; don’t overload your complexion with too many products.
Use a cleanser created especially for dry/sensitive skin like Clarins Gentle Foaming Cleanser with Shea Butter for Dry/ Sensitive Skin, £17 (boots.com). The shea butter and pro-vitamin B5 counteract the drying effect of tap water.
Daily, use Olay’s new Total Effects 7 in One Sensitive Protection, £12.35 (boots.com), which is a fragrance-free daily moisturiser that combines SPF 15 with anti-ageing benefits.
At night keep things simple with Ren’s Max Moisture Concentrate, £32 (renskincare.com), it contains a high level of hyaluronic acid so it’s super moisturising while being as light in texture as a serum.
If you have sensitive skin don’t be afraid of exfoliating. Once per week use Ole Henriksen New Beginning Scrub, £26 (feelunique.com), with smooth jojoba wax beads. This gently and effectively sloughs away dead skin cells, while aloe vera, avocado and sesame oil calm, nourish and hydrate the skin.
Body product: Try Mini Naked My First Butter, £4 (boots.com). Formulated for babies it’s super delicate, yet the shea butter and glycerine leaves even adult skin hydrated. As with any new product, make sure you patch test first!
Oily skin that’s dehydrated
Top Tip: ‘Many women with oily and/or combination skin are afraid to use any kind of moisturiser, fearful that they might clog their pores and intensify their tendency toward shine. Don’t starve your skin of hydration, though, you still need to use a lightweight moisturiser,’ says Dr Brandt.
Essential Skincare: To cleanse, morning and night use Avene Cleanance Soapless Gel Cleanser, £8.25 (boots.com), it removes make-up and dirt but won’t disrupt skin’s healthy pH balance.
Follow with Dr Brandt Lineless Infinite Moisture, £56 (spacenk.co.uk), a lightweight lotion that contains Kola Nut (to stimulate the cells), Hyaluronic Acid and Vitamin E to hydrate and nourish. It’s not so heavy that it will clog pores or too light that it will cause your skin to overproduce sebum – this should be perfectly balancing.
At night use Clinique’s new Moisture Surge Intense Skin Fortifying Hydrator (Type 2 Dry Combination), £32 (launches 1 January), which strengthens and repairs the skin’s moisture barrier preventing water loss.
If skin starts to feel dry or oily during the day, spritz with Benefit’s Ultra Radiance Facial Re-Hydrating Mist, £19.50 (benefitcosmetics.co.uk), with sodium hyaluronate. This mist attracts water into the skin.
Body product: Strip the skin of oil and it will go into overdrive to produce more. Meet the problem with an oil-based body lotion like Dove Pro Age Nourishment Body Cream Oil, £5.99 (boots.com).
Dry Skin that’s dehydrated
Top Tip: Look to products with fatty acids, lipids, omega 3 oils and humectants like hyaluronic acid and glycerin – attracting moisture to the skin, but also protecting the moisture barrier is key.
Essential Skincare: If you suffer with really dry, dehydrated skin you should avoid cleansing with tap water. Instead use Dr Nick Lowe Secret is Out Lifting Cream Cleanser, £13.27 (drnicklowe.com), a water-less cleanser that contains hyaluronic acid and soya bean to deliver moisture while removing make-up and dirt.
Follow with a layer of Bobbi Brown’s new Repair Moisturising Balm (out January) with Argirilene (a peptide that boosts collagen production), and Clary Sage ferment which helps the skin hold on to moisture by working to repair the skin’s barrier function. It also contains lipids such as Linoleic Acid and Wheat bran which instantly boost the skin’s moisture levels.
Use SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Masque, £45 (HQhair.com), twice weekly to boost hydration thanks to the potent blend of hyaluronic acid and vitamin B5. Alternatively, Origins Drink Up Intensive Overnight Mask, £20 (origins.co.uk), can be used in place of night cream twice per week and contains a potent dose of hydrating ingredients. It smells lovely, fresh and citrusy, too.
Also, keep Eucerin’s cult Aquaphor in your handbag. A thick scent-free balm, it protects, repairs and hydrates even the most sore, cracked patches.
Body product: From the makers of Lanolips, try Lovely Lanolin Triple Buttermilk Body Balm, with lanolin (a powerful emollient), vitamin E and milk to nourish and hydrate the driest of skins.