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Dry vs. Dehydrated Skin: Causes and Treatments

By: Erin Ferrill
Posted: May 30, 2014, from the June 2014 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.
Dry vs. Dehydrated Skin: Causes and Treatments

Dry skin may be one of the most common client complaints, especially when working with mature clients. The first step in addressing this problem is to differentiate between dryness and dehydration. It is important to separate these two issues initially in order to determine potential causes. Once this has been done, the whole picture can be evaluated to develop an effective treatment plan. There will often be overlap, and the two issues usually impact one another directly. Fortunately, there are a range of modalities available from traditional treatments to cutting-edge technologies to help comfort and treat both dry and dehydrated skin.

Indications and appearance of dry skin

Dry skin is a skin type that is related to oil production. Skin is genetically predisposed to inadequate oil production, which leads to chronic dryness, or skin may become dry as oil production decreases with age. Skin with normal oil production will have a light hydrolipid film composed of oil, as well as perspiration and moisture from the air. The t-zone may produce more oil than other areas. Commonly, clients observe oil in the t-zone and believe that they have overactive oil production. Many believe that skin with no oil whatsoever is the healthiest and so, even those with normal oil production may resort to stripping their skin with harsh cleansers in order to remove all traces of it. It must be explained that they need this film to keep skin properly protected and hydrated.1

Dry skin presents with a lacking or nonexistent hydrolipid film. It may appear tight, dull or may show signs of premature aging.1 This dryness and lack of barrier function is a leading cause of dehydration because, with no protective barrier, skin is susceptible to transepidermal water loss (TEWL). In this case, even if enough water is being taken in, the skin will be unable to retain that hydration. According to international esthetic educator, Florence Barrett-Hill: “There is a simple law of physics that can be applied to TEWL and that is: Oil sits on top of water. Logically, if we wanted to retain water within the epidermis or to slow down water movement, the oil phases of the skin are the key to achieving this.2

Potential causes. Because dryness is a skin type, those afflicted are simply genetically predisposed to inadequate oil production. However, several factors can worsen this type of skin or make otherwise normal skin feel dry by reducing surface oil. Some of these factors include powdery makeup that absorbs the oil, using harsh products that strip away oil instead of those that are additive and protective, as well as certain medications.1

Indications and appearance of dehydrated skin

Dehydration is a skin condition that is related to the water content of the skin.1 Dehydrated skin can include epidermal dehydration, dermal dehydration or both. Each has different causes and treatments and, much like dryness and dehydration, these two conditions often overlap and closely impact one another. Well-hydrated skin will appear smooth and dewy on the surface. The epidermis will be plump, supple and bounce back easily, indicating good elasticity. Epidermal dehydration is indicated by crepiness or small lines that form when the skin is manipulated during skin analysis. Scales may form in the case of more severe, chronic surface dehydration. Dermal dehydration causes depletion of the dermis and will ultimately result in deeper wrinkles that are visible on the surface of the skin, as well as elastosis and sagging skin.1