Dehydrated skin means that your skin is lacking water. It can be dry and itchy and perhaps dull looking, too. Your overall tone and complexion may appear uneven, and fine lines are more noticeable.

While dehydrated skin can be a nuisance, it’s relatively easy to treat with the right lifestyle changes. Treatment begins from the inside out to replenish and maintain hydration throughout your body.

Dehydrated skin can appear dry, but it’s not the same has having a dry skin type.

Severe dehydration and dry skin should be addressed with a doctor.

Dehydrated skin is sometimes discussed synonymously with dry skin. However, these are two different phenomena.

While dehydrated skin lacks water, dry skin lacks natural oils (also called sebum). Also, dry skin is a skin type, while dehydration is considered a condition.

Skin types are classified as normal, dry, combination, and oily. You’re usually born with one type of skin, but it can change with age and season. When you have dry skin, your sebaceous glands don’t produce enough natural oils.

Your skin usually needs help with added hydration via an emollient cream to protect from further moisture loss. Dry skin may also be caused by underlying health conditions, such as hypothyroidism.

Hormonal conditions such as these don’t cause dehydrated skin.

Signs of dry skin include:

  • scaly skin
  • white flakes
  • redness
  • irritation

Dry skin is sometimes associated with skin diseases such as psoriasis, eczema, and even post-acne breakouts. However, these aren’t the same as having this dry skin type, nor are they the same as dehydrated skin.

At its definition, dehydration means that your body is losing more water than it’s taking in. Aside from not drinking enough water, this can be related to increased urination from caffeine or diuretics. It may also occur from lots of sweating from exercise.

Unlike dry skin, dehydration can cause the following symptoms:

  • itchiness
  • dullness
  • darker under-eye circles
  • sunken eyes
  • “shadows” around the face (especially under the eyes and around your nose)
  • increased incidence or appearance of fine lines and surface wrinkles

Severe dehydration can go beyond your skin and cause symptoms such as:

  • dizziness
  • dry mouth
  • faintness
  • lightheadedness
  • overall weakness
  • urination that is darker and less frequent

Dehydration can become a medical emergency in these cases. See your doctor immediately if symptoms of severe dehydration don’t improve.

You can do a simple pinch test at home to determine your skin’s hydration levels.

Take a small portion of your skin around the cheek area and squeeze lightly. If you notice any wrinkling and if the skin doesn’t bounce back after you let go, then your skin may be dehydrated.

Your dermatologist or aesthetician can also help you figure out if your skin is dehydrated or dry.

Unlike dry skin, dehydration is treatable with lifestyle changes. Replenishing your hydration is the first major step, so it’s important to drink plenty of water. You can start with the old rule of eight glasses of water per day if you don’t drink enough water already.

Depending on your body weight and activity levels, you may need to drink more than this. Ask your doctor what amount is appropriate for you.

It’s also important not to drink too much water, as this can lead to a loss in minerals. Eating water-rich veggies and fruits can also help increase your intake (think celery, watermelon, and the like).

You can also treat dehydrated skin with the following diet and lifestyle changes:

  • Drink alcohol in moderation only (if at all).
  • Drink less coffee and other sources of caffeine.
  • Stop smoking.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Drink water while you work out (the Nemours Foundation recommends taking a few sips every 20 minutes at minimum).
  • Replenish fluids after you work out.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Eat more plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and legumes.

If you’ve had a recent illness, dehydration may be related to a loss of fluids from being sick. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water, electrolyte beverages, and broth-based soups.

Severe dehydration may be treatable via intravenous fluids at the doctor’s office or hospital.

Dry skin, on the other hand, is more difficult to treat. If your skin has always naturally been on the dry side, you’ll likely need to take extra care to keep it moist during cold and dry weather.

A moisturizer made for dry skin is key to hydrating your skin without making it too oily. An oily moisturizer won’t treat dry skin — in fact, it can make you break out. Drinking more water doesn’t fix dry skin, but it’s still good for your overall health.

Dehydrated skin can be complex, but it’s treatable once you diagnose it correctly. Dry skin has similar symptoms, but it can’t be treated through diet and lifestyle changes.

If your skin dehydration fails to improve after making these types of changes, you may actually have dry skin. See your dermatologist for further advice on how to properly treat dry skin.