Dehydrated vs. Dry Skin: How To Tell the Difference

Want to know if you’re dealing with dehydrated or dry skin? Atolla has more about how to tell the difference, and what your treatment options may be.



7 MIN READ | JUNE 1, 2021


Dylan Mustapich is a NYC-based lead esthetician who has been featured in New Beauty, Teen Vogue, Wired, and The Huffington Post. With a lifelong love of all things skin, he is incredibly knowledgeable about skincare ingredients, routine refinement, and personalized skincare, and follows emerging technology closely.

When you move past the outdated concept that there are just four skin types, you gain more flexibility in understanding exactly how your unique skin works. Your skin isn’t just oily or just dry, and combination is too simple of a term to really describe how diverse the skin can be. 

Learning to understand your skin attributes (oil, moisture, pH levels) versus a skin type, you find the right products to increase the health of your skin, and Atolla is right here with you to help. 

Let’s discuss dehydrated and dry skin, and how you can tell the difference. 

Dehydrated Skin Basics

When it comes to dehydrated skin, you may already be able to conjure up a visual versus a description — most people think of dehydrated food, which is food that has had all of the water removed. 

That’s the main issue with dehydrated skin, too. It’s lacking the natural hydration that it needs to function at its best, which also impacts the way that it looks, too. 

While dry skin can be a major symptom of dehydrated skin, it is so much more than that. 

Here are a few of the main symptoms of dehydrated skin:

  • Under-eye circles that look darker than normal
  • “Sunken” looking eyes
  • Increasingly visible fine lines and wrinkles

Dehydrated Skin Fixes

When you’re considering ways to help combat your dehydrated skin, it all starts from the inside. Dehydrated skin doesn’t happen in isolation, and it needs a whole body approach to really fix. If you have truly systemic dehydration, you should visit your doctor to address it. There may be deeper issues at play, and dehydration should always be taken seriously. 

It’s also important to take a look at what, if any, lifestyle factors may be contributing to your dehydrated skin. While dry skin can be a predisposition that comes from factors out of your control like genetics, dehydrated skin is often triggered by the types of stress that your skin is under.

For instance, here are just a few of the things that may be creating the increasing dehydrated skin that you’re dealing with:

  • Dry air in the home (especially when the air conditioner or central heating is running all day long)
  • Extreme weather/temperature
  • Drinking too much caffeine
  • Poor diet
  • Poor sleep quality or schedule 
  • Smoking

Once you’ve been able to identify what is potentially triggering your dehydrated skin, you can work to make lifestyle changes to address and counteract them. In addition, focusing on making sure to drink plenty of water daily can be a massive help, not just for your skin but for every body system — your kidneys will thank you! If you get tired of drinking water, add fresh fruit or vegetables to help mix it up a little bit and encourage you to drink more; cucumber or strawberries are a good option.

Humidifiers can also really help, especially during extremely hot or extremely cold temperatures, times when we rely heavily on climate control. Since we’re all spending a lot more time at home than usual, our skin is also more impacted by what is going on inside the house. Purchasing a humidifier, which naturally adds water to the air, can help give your skin back the moisture that it needs to heal.

Dry Skin Basics

When comparing dehydrated versus dry skin, it’s important to really take both into consideration so that you can figure out which one you are more likely dealing with. 

While you can definitely have symptoms of both, it’s more about which one sounds most like you; when you’re unsure, you can always defer to the professional opinion of a dermatologist.

While dehydrated skin is lacking water, dry skin is missing a different component: sebum, the skin’s natural oils. 

Here are a few symptoms of dry skin:

  • Patches of itchy skin
  • Dull and/or uneven skin appearance
  • Scaliness
  • Flaky, dry, white patches
  • Redness
  • Irritation
  • Rough patches

Dry skin is also the type of skin, or skin concern, that people with various skin conditions deal with — eczema and psoriasis, specifically. In those cases, dry skin is just one of the side effects of the health condition. Both may need separate treatment; treating the dry skin doesn’t actually help to treat the condition itself. 

Dry Skin Fixes

Instead of environmental or lifestyle triggers, dry skin is usually caused by genetics or even hormonal conditions like hypothyroidism. If you have experienced any sudden changes in your skin, visiting a doctor to rule out any medical conditions is also important.

When looking at dehydrated versus dry skin, dry skin is often a little trickier to deal with because there aren’t any quick fixes that can help you treat dry skin — it involves finding and sticking with a consistent, skin-healthy routine over time. 

However, there are a few things that you can do to help support your skin while you’re developing that routine. These are also things that can help anyone’s skin, in general, but are especially helpful for those with dryer skin.

For instance, when you shower, how hot is the water? Do you regularly get out of the shower with your skin feeling tight and looking red? 

While long, hot showers may feel great, they definitely don’t do your skin any favors. 

Hot water not only dries out your skin, but also strips it of the natural oils it needs to maintain its moisture barrier. To help combat that, try to limit your showers to no more than five to ten minutes, and turn the temperature down a few degrees. 

Then, once you get out of the shower, moisturize right away. You can briefly pat your skin dry, but it’s a common misconception that you need to make sure your skin is fully dry before you moisturize. 

Because of how moisturizers work, keeping a little extra water on the skin can actually increase your hydration even more. Plus, right after a shower or bath, even though you’ve turned the temperature down, your pores are more open than usual so they can accept and trap in more moisture.

How To Know If Your Skin Is Dry or Dehydrated

In addition to working with a dermatologist to determine what issues your skin may be having, there is a quick and easy way to quickly check by yourself at home, and you don’t even need any special equipment

Referred to as the “pinch test,” all you need is a mirror and your own fingers. Using your thumb and pointer finger, take a small area of your skin and gently pinch. It doesn’t have to be firm or hurt to be helpful — all you’re looking for is if it wrinkles or not, and if it is able to quickly “bounce back” and be reabsorbed into the rest of the skin.

If you remove your fingers and your skin stays in a “tent,” it’s a sign that you are likely dealing with dehydrated skin and should contact a medical professional for further assessment. 

While that’s of course not the only way to diagnose dehydrated skin, it is definitely one of the easier ways to tell if there could be a problem. 

Custom Skincare Can Help

Instead of just taking a wild guess and buying product after product hoping that it helps your skin, consider investing in your skin and trying a custom skincare routine. 

At Atolla, we’ve helped plenty of people with their dry skin. Assessing your skin, and then choosing products that work with your unique skin type, is the best way to make sure that you’re using the right products for your skin. 

With our Boost plan, we offer a serum and moisturizer “super combo” that can help to both lock in and activate hydration. This essentially doubles down on the moisture, in ways that are as effective as possible. 

Both formulas are fast absorbing, which means you can easily layer them under your makeup and still feel confident that they are continuing to work throughout the day. And, as always, our formulas are made with ingredients that are vegan, cruelty-free, and responsibly farmed.

In Summary

When you’re trying to determine whether you are dealing with dehydrated or dry skin, a dermatologist is your best asset to helping you decide what the next steps may be. 

At Atolla, we create custom skincare routines for all different types of skin, so that you can live your best skin starting right now. We don’t buy into the concept of there only being four types of skin; everyone’s skin is special and deserves to be treated that way. 

Whether dry, dehydrated, oily, or any combination of that, our customized skincare formulas can get your unique skin nourished and moisturized. 


Five reasons water is so important to your health | UCHealth Today

The skin: an indispensable barrier | Experimental Dermatology

Research | National Eczema Society

Simplify your skincare with a custom, complementary routine.

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