H2O – your skin’s friend or foe?
Without getting too technical, we need to begin by getting our terminology straight; Though they are often used as synonyms, there is a fundamental difference between ‘dry’ and ‘dehydrated’; Dehydrated skin lacks in water and dry skin lacks in oil. Typically, dehydrated skin presents as dull and feels tight, whilst dry skin can be flaky, rough or itchy.
What causes the skin to dehydrate?
Basically, anything that causes water to leave the body or evaporate from the skin:
- Humidity: (or rather lack of) can affect the skin’s hydration levels. When the air around us is low in humidity, it lacks moisture and will ‘draw out’ water.
- Sun: powerful UV rays can weaken the skin barrier, allowing water to escape.
- Temperature: the colder it gets, the lower the skin hydration levels. Also, when temperatures drop, we typically ramp up the heating indoors which, you guessed it, leads to dehydration.
- Sweating: whilst exercising is always good for you, the water leaving your body when sweating is not great news for your skin. (Note, this is NOT an excuse not to exercise, it simply means you need to rehydrate and moisturise after, but we will get to that).
What causes dry skin?
Well, pretty much anything that removes the skin’s natural oils, including cleansing. Ironically, the water we are trying so desperately to retain in the skin, to maintain our hydration levels, can (and often is) part of a cleansing routine. This is where water goes from being the skin’s best friend, to antagonist.
Keeping the skin hydrated and healthy.
We are not here to spread despair. We like to approach life with a ‘glass half full’ (of water) attitude. So let’s stop talking problems and look at the solutions! We know that we have to get more water in the skin and keep it there. The single most efficient, and simplest, way to get water into the skin is to drink it. It will then start to spread in the body, doing several different tasks, and that which hasn’t been used for other purposes, will reach the skin. Now it’s crucial to retain it there. This is achieved by ‘locking it in’, with the help of humectants (often found in serums), natural oils, and topically applied creams that contain either oils or active ingredients that mimic the characteristics of oils.
So, how do we feel about water now?
Definitely our friend, but like with any relationship, we need to set some boundaries. In this case, a physical boundary: the skin. Water should go predominantly inside the skin, and be used sparingly on the outside. This will lead to properly hydrated and moisturised skin, which means keeping the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles at bay.
Top tips for healthy, hydrated skin
- Drink plenty of water
- Use hydrating serums containing eg hyaluronic acid, sodium hyaluronate, glycerine, or other humectants (ingredients which help to bind and retain the water) before moisturising
- Use a moisturiser suitable for your skin type to lock in water and humectants
- Look for treatments rich in active rehydrating and moisturising ingredients, that don’t require rinsing off
- Don’t use excessive water when cleansing your face (look for lotion based or micellar cleansers)
- Use sun protection