Dehydrated skin

Dehydrated skin appears in varying levels, but most commonly it’s recognised as dry, sometimes flaky skin on the face, with persistent and uncomfortable tightness that causes the complexion to lack a healthy, glowing radiance. Another tell-tale sign of dehydration is if the skin begins to feel uncomfortable, particularly in cold weather or when the seasons and temperature changes. In fact, itchy skin is also a sign of dehydration, with the skin often left feeling itchy, scaly and flaky, especially after you have washed it. As the damaged skin barrier lets moisture out, it also welcomes irritants in, and the cycle continues. This is an unusual, temporary state that is not necessarily related to a “dry” skin type, meaning that even oily skin can go through phases where it is dehydrated.

Woman drinking water

If you’re wondering “why is my skin dehydrated?”, there are a number of factors that could be causing your symptoms. Read on to learn more from BIODERMA’s experts.  

  • Water, just like air, is an element essential to life.
  • Water accounts for approximately 65% of an adult’s total body weight.
  • Thus, a person weighing 70 kg is made up of around 49 litres of water, 15% of which are concentrated in the skin.
  • Water plays an essential role in the skin and acts as a reservoir that the other organs tap into. It facilitates exchanges with the exterior environment: water moves from the dermis to the surface by impregnating the various layers by diffusion.
  • This flow of water is called Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL). Naturally protected by a hydrolipidic film on its surface, the horny layer (outer layer of the epidermis) curbs this evaporation process.
  • If this physiological barrier is impaired, TEWL speeds up, thus dehydrating the skin. Water in the dermis no longer circulates to the epidermis; the hydrolipidic film stops functioning properly.

All sorts of factors can cause dehydration

Environmental factors Cold, winter, wind, pollution, UV rays, etc.
External factors Such as tobacco or alcohol
Emotional factors Stress or fatigue
Certain medical treatments Such as anti-acne or cholesterol medications
Essential oils
Cosmetic products That are too aggressive, detergent, stripping or drying

The skin is very sensitive to water deficiencies, that’s why it has a hydroregulation mechanism.

1) Skin hydroregulation

The skin is 70% water. Nearly 75% of this is located deep down in the dermis where it plays an important role in the skin’s resistance.

2 elements moisturise the epidermis:

  • static water, which is fixed,
  • and dynamic water, which circulates.

Hydroregulation achieves a balance between these two aqueous components and it alone guarantees the skin’s physical and functional integrity. Three main factors contribute to hydroregulation: NMFs (Natural Moisturising Factors), lipids in the horny layer, and aquaporins.

Water drops

2) NMFs (Natural Moisturising Factors), hydroregulation factors

NMFs are molecules that can bind water within the horny layer; they are called humectants. The most commonly known NMFs are urea and lactic acid.

Other substances used in cosmetics have the same properties; these include glycerine and xylitol


The horny layer is made of cells without nuclei that are “cemented” by lipids called intercorneocyte lipids. The right quantity and quality of these lipids are necessary for the horny layer’s integrity and therefore its “barrier” function. When they are lacking or deteriorating, cellular cohesion is no longer guaranteed. The result is an increase in perspiration, also called Transepidermal Water Loss (TEWL: permanent, light, and natural evaporation of the water found in the body). Well-hydrated skin should be capable of retaining its water, hence the importance of the inter-corneocyte lipids.

What are aquaporins?

Aquaporins are the channels through which water moves in the epidermis. These proteins are made by the keratinocytes (epidermal generating cells) and inserted in their membrane to allow water molecules to pass through. This movement is essential to the skin as the epidermis is not vascularised. All elements required for cellular life (mineral salts, vitamins, nutritional elements, etc.) are carried by the blood to the dermis and reach the surface layers of the skin thanks to aquaporins. Without aquaporins, the epidermis would not be able to “feed” itself.


How can you tell the difference between dry and dehydrated skin?

Dehydrated skin is always a temporary condition that can be reversed with appropriate products and hydration.

It is an alteration in the superficial layer of the epidermis that lacks water. This lack of hydration disturbs the skin’s barrier function and leads to discomfort.

On the other hand, dry or very dry skin is a long-term condition that describes a particular skin type that is lacking both water and lipids.

Who is affected?

All skin types can become dehydrated in certain circumstances or during particular seasons. Luckily, dehydrated skin symptoms can be rectified with a targeted skincare routine.

A dermatologist will confirm your skin type and help you identify potential dehydrating factors, such as a change in the work environment, swimming in a swimming pool, using an aggressive soap or shower gel, recent illness, or a medicated treatment (cholesterol medications, etc.).

If you are able to identify the factor responsible for dehydration, it is easy to correct and essential to do so as soon as possible.

Doctor with patient - Prescription
  • Although skin dehydration is linked to poor water movement in the skin, you should still be sure to stay hydrated by drinking at least 1.5 litres of water per day (unless your doctor tells you otherwise).
  • Try to maintain a healthy indoor atmosphere by avoiding overheated or air conditioned rooms that accelerate evaporation. It is also important to choose non-aggressive cleansing and skincare products.
  • Use rehydrating, non-detergent and, if necessary, superfatting cleansing products (in the form of milks, creams, balms, ointments and oils depending on the area and degree of dryness).

The aim is to reduce water evaporation, maintain a sufficient amount of water in the epidermis and repair the impaired skin barrier.

Woman doing sport

On you face and body, use products with a suitable pH that do not contain aggressive surfactants, such as a soap-free cleanser or an emollient cleansing balm.

Woman washing her face with water

Twice a day after washing, remember to always gently apply a hydrating emollient product to repair the skin barrier and reduce tightness.

Protect yourself if you will be exposed to intense cold or UV rays and remember to hydrate your skin after bathing, showering and swimming.

Bioderma - woman applying cream on the face