It can be difficult to know the difference between dry skin and dehydration. But it’s important to understand so you know if you need hydration or moisturization.

And how that affects your skin care

One Google into products and you might start to wonder: Are hydration and moisturization two different things? The answer is yes — but how do you know which is best for your complexion? To find out, it’s important to make the distinction between dehydrated skin and dry skin.

Dehydrated skin is a skin condition that occurs when there’s a lack of water in the skin. This can happen to anyone, regardless of skin type — people with oily or combination skin can still experience dehydration. Dehydrated skin typically looks dull and can show premature signs of aging, like surface wrinkles and loss of elasticity.

A great way to tell if your skin is dehydrated is the pinch test. While this test isn’t definitive, it’s a good way to start thinking about your skin from the inside out. With dehydrated skin, you might also notice:

  • darker under-eye circles, or tired
    eye appearance
  • itchiness
  • skin dullness
  • more sensitive fine lines and

Try the pinch test

  1. Pinch a small amount of skin on your cheek, abdomen, chest, or the back of your hand and hold for a few seconds.
  2. If your skin snaps back, you’re likely not dehydrated.
  3. If it takes a few moments to bounce back, you’re likely dehydrated.
  4. Repeat in other areas if you’d like.
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In dry skin, on the other hand, water isn’t the problem. Dry skin is a skin type, like oily or combination skin, where the complexion lacks oils, or lipids, so it takes on a more flaky, dry appearance.

You may also see:

  • scaly appearance
  • white flakes
  • redness or irritation
  • increased incidence of psoriasis,
    eczema, or dermatitis

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

If you’re hydrating and moisturizing, use hydrating ingredients first and then take the steps necessary to seal that moisture in.

Take a look at our table below for an ingredient breakdown by skin type or condition.

IngredientBest for dry or dehydrated skin?
hyaluronic acidboth: be sure to apply an oil or moisturizers to lock it in
nut or seed oil, such as coconut, almond, hempdry
shea butterdry
plant oils, such as squalene, jojoba, rose hip, tea treedry
snail mucindehydrated
mineral oildry
lactic aciddehydrated
citric aciddehydrated
ceramideboth: ceramides strengthen the skin’s barrier to help prevent moisture loss

For dehydrated skin, oral hydration is a must because it’s adding water into complexion from the inside. You can also incorporate water-rich foods into your diet, such as watermelon, strawberries, cucumber, and celery. Another easy tip? Carry around a water mist, like rose water.

For dry skin, keep on moisturizing. This process helps dry skin better retain water and maintain a proper level of hydration. The key to addressing dry skin is finding products that help you lock in moisture, especially overnight. Try using a humidifier, especially during winter months, and wear a gel sleeping mask for an extra boost.

Deanna deBara is a freelance writer who recently made the move from sunny Los Angeles to Portland, Oregon. When she’s not obsessing over her dog, waffles, or all things Harry Potter, you can follow her journeys on Instagram.