Dry vs. Dehydrated Skin: How to Tell the Difference

Dry and dehydrated skin are terms often used interchangeably but in reality, are descriptors of different issues and different skin needs.


Dry Skin:

Dry skin is a skin type (the other types being oily, combination and normal). Dry skin can be caused by genetics - i.e you can be born with it, but it can also develop over time with ageing or hormonal changes. If you have dry skin, it means it isn’t producing enough oil. Your skin may appear flakey, or scaly. Having dry skin is also characterised by an increased incidence of having psoriasis, eczema or dermatitis. When you put on moisturiser, it’s likely soaking up in your skin immediately. If that’s you, replenishing those lipids should be your main goal. Look for products that are rich on omega fatty acids.


Dehydrated skin:

It’s often used as a synonym of dry skin but as you already found out it’s a different phenomenon. While dry skin is a type you are born with, dehydrated skin is a condition. It can happen to people with all skin types - people with oily, normal and combination skin can still experience dehydration. As the name suggests, it is characterised by lack of water. Dehydrated skin typically looks dull and can show premature signs of ageing, like surface wrinkles and loss of elasticity.

So which one do you have?
Here are the key characteristics of both:



  • Feels rough
  • Appears dry
  • Can be flaky
  • Increased incidence of psoriasis, eczema, or dermatitis


  • Looks dull
  • Feels tight
  • Feels rough
  • Is sensitive
  • Shows fine lines
  • Shows accelerated signs of ageing, like sagging skin and deep wrinkles

The pinch test:

Another way to test which one is you, is the pinch test. Pinch the skin on your cheek, chest, abdomen, or the back of your hand and hold for a few seconds. If the skin bounces back immediately, it’s likely not dehydrated. If it takes some time to return back to normal, it might be lacking water.


If you want your skin to look and feel its best, you need to both hydration and moisture. However, if you have dehydrated skin you may be able to skip moisturizers while those with dry skin type may find their skin getting worse by only hydrating.


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