how to fix dehydrated skin

Is your skin dry and oily at the same time?

Or maybe it has lost all its glow – and those fine lines have become oh so noticeable all of a sudden?

You may have dehydrated skin. It’s a common condition that most of us will get at some point – especially when we go overboard with skincare.

It’s also tricky to treat. Dehydrated skin looks a lot like dry skin and that can send you down the wrong treatment path.

What’s the right way to fix dehydrated skin? Read on to find out.

(P.S. I’ll give you a hint now: less is more.)

What’s Dehydrated Skin?

Dehydrated skin lacks water. It doesn’t have enough to function properly.

To confuse you even more, dehydrated skin is often accompanied by excess oil production. Your skin feels greasy, yet dry at the same time.

Dehydrated skin isn’t a skin type. It’s a skin condition anyone can get. You can have dry and dehydrated skin. Oily and dehydrated skin. No one is safe.

Related: How To Determine Your Real Skin Type

What Causes Dehydrated Skin?

Dehydrated skin happens when your skin’s protective barrier is damaged.

A healthy barrier keeps water in, so everything is hydrated, supple, and working as it should.

But, when this protective barrier gets damaged, all hell breaks loose:

  • Skin cells stick and clump together (instead of shedding), causing flaky, dull, and rough skin – and increasing your chances of acne!
  • Water evaporates out of the skin, leaving it feeling tight and dry.
  • Germs and other nasties get into your skin, possibly causing infections and all kinds of trouble.

What damages your skin’s protective barrier so much to cause dehydrated skin? All the usual culprits:

  • Harsh (both dry and cold) weather
  • Medical conditions
  • Natural aging
  • Over-cleansing (especially with soap)
  • Over-exfoliation
  • Overuse of harsh skincare ingredients (like Tretinoin and Glycolic Acid)
  • Some medication
  • Unprotected sun exposure

Related: 4 Skincare Treatments That Can Damage Skin If Abused

Dry VS Dehydrated Skin

Dry and dehydrated skin often feel the same, but there’s a key difference between them:

  • Dry skin lacks water AND oil.
  • Dehydrated skin lacks water and overproduces oil.

If your skin feels dry in the morning and becomes slick with oil a few hours later, or if you feel like you’ve got a slick of oil on top of a brittle, dry surface, then you’ve got dehydrated skin.

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that banishes dryness and makes your skin supple and dewy? Download your FREE “Best Skincare Routine For Dry Skin” to get started (it features product recommendations + right application order):

Related: The Best Skincare Routine For Dry Skin

Oily/Acne-Prone And Dehydrated Skin

Oily skin can be dehydrated too. But it’s hard to tell when the overproduction of sebum coexists with flakiness and feelings of tightness. It’s like your skin can’t make its mind up what to be, driving you crazy in the process.

If your skin is oily and acne-prone, you’re even more prone to dehydration. Why?

  1. Studies show that acne-prone skin produces more oil and has fewer ceramides and fatty acids (the building blocks of your skin’s protective barrier), leaving you more prone to TEWL (Trans-Epidermal Water Loss).
  2. You damage your protective barrier even more with harsh anti-acne treatments.

Struggling to put together a skincare routine that banishes excess oil, acne, and blackheads? Download your FREE “Best Skincare Routine For Oily Skin” cheatsheet to find out. It features product recommendations and right application order:

Related: The Best Skincare Routine For Oily Skin

Dehydrated Skin Symptoms: How Can You Tell If You Have It?

If dehydrated skin looks a lot like dry skin, how can you tell if you have it? Here are the most common symptoms:

  • Your skin feels dry and oily at the same time – and it’s driving you crazy.
  • Your skin feels tight (especially on the upper cheeks) – even though you have excess oil.
  • Your skin feels paper-thin and wrinkles easily.
  • Your skin is flaking like crazy all over the place.
  • Your skin is so dull, you look like you’re tired all the time (even though you’re not).

If you have all or most of these symptoms, your skin IS dehydrated.

What Should You Avoid When You Have Dehydrated Skin?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: when it comes to fixing dehydrated skin, less is more.

Often, just getting rid of the wrong skincare products goes a long way in healing a damaged protective barrier and getting your glow back.

Here’s what to avoid when you have dehydrated skin:

cerave hydrating cleanser

1. Avoid Harsh Cleansers

No matter how gentle it is, the cleansing process is always a bit traumatic for skin.

Soaps and surfactants-based cleansers are the worst culprits. They have a high pH that disrupts the skin’s protective barrier, leading to dehydration and even acne in the long run.

As a rule, everything that works too well at removing dirt and grime can compromise your skin’s barrier. If a cleanser leaves your skin feeling squeaky clean and tight, ditch it immediately!


Opt for gentle, pH-balanced cleansers (if it’s higher than 6, you’re in trouble) that cleanse skin without disrupting your skin’s protective barrier. If your skin is dry, oil-based cleansers are your best bet.

If even that is too much for your skin, use your cleanser only in the evening and wash your face with water only in the morning.

Best Picks:

Related: Why You Need To Avoid High-pH Cleansers At All Costs

2. Harsh Actives

The most effective anti-aging and anti-acne ingredients are HARSH. They can easily cause dryness and flakiness even in the most resistant skin.

When your skin’s all dehydrated and its protective barrier broken down, they’re an absolute no-no. Using them doesn’t help you treat wrinkles and acne. It just inflicts more damage.

Here’s what you need to stop using immediately:

  • AHAs (glycolic acid, lactic acid, mandelic acid, etc)
  • Ascorbic acid (vitamin C)
  • Azelaic Acid
  • Benzoyl Peroxide
  • BHA (salicylic acid, betaine salicylate)
  • Retinoids (tretinoin, adapalene, retinol, retinaldehyde, etc)
  • Scrubs

It’s not forever. Give your skin a few weeks to recover and then you can start to slowly re-introduce them.

Related: AHAs VS BHA: Which One Is Right For You?

3. Irritants

Some skincare ingredients are irritating even when your skin is 100% healthy. When it’s damaged, it’s even more important to avoid them.

Here’s what you need to steer clear of:

  • Alcohol Denat
  • Citrus oils and extracts
  • Essential oils
  • Fragrance
  • Mint and peppermint

Related: 7 Natural Ingredients That Can Irritate Sensitive Skin

the inkey list niacinamide

How to Fix Dehydrated Skin

Now you know what to avoid to make dehydrated skin worse and slow down the healing process, let’s talk about how to fix it.

As dehydrated skin is characterised by a broken protective barrier and lack of water, the cure is simple. Let’s patch up that protective barrier so that water stays in and helps skin function its best.

How? By using moisturisers with skin-identical actives.

Skin-identical actives are substances that make up your skin’s protective barrier. Add them back in and you can patch up any holes in it.

Here are the best skin-identical actives to look out for:

Best Picks:

The Bottom Line

Anyone can have dehydrated skin. It happens when your skin’s protective barrier is damaged and your skin starts losing too much water – yet, oil production often confusingly stays the same or increases. The fix is simple: repair your protective barrier and your skin will heal within a few short weeks.