Dry vs. Dehydrated Skin: How to Tell the Difference

Mother Dirt

Ever feel like no matter how much moisturizer you apply your skin still feels or looks dry? 

Dry skin happens to everyone on occasion, but if your uncomfortable, flaky skin seems to be a permanent fixture, you might be suffering from dehydrated skin. 

The differences between dry skin and dehydrated skin are subtle yet distinct. Skin that is dehydrated will often have the same surface symptoms of dry skin, but there are ways to determine if your missing moisture problem is due to dry skin or dehydration. 

We’ll explain the differences between a dehydrated skin condition, and a dry skin type

What is Dry Skin?

Dry skin is a skin type. This means you may have dry skin your entire lifetime. While dry skin is normally very treatable and common, chronic dry skin can be very uncomfortable, causing:

  • Tightness and feelings of stretchiness, especially after exposure to water;
  • Uneven skin tone;
  • Rough, irritated patches of skin;
  • Flaking, peeling, or shedding of skin;
  • Dull, lackluster complexion; and
  • Cracks in the skin can bleed.

Dry skin types usually rely heavily on moisturizers to keep their skin comfortable. 

People with dry skin may develop fine lines and wrinkles more quickly than their oily-skinned counterparts. They may also notice that their skin seems more susceptible to sun damage and is more sensitive to certain products. 

What Causes Dry Skin

Dry skin has several different causes, and your dry skin may have more than one cause. Here are some of the most common causes of dry skin. 


Our genes play a major role in the type of skin we have. The size of our sebaceous glands, which are responsible for producing sebum, our skin’s natural oil, is determined by our genetics. 

If your parents had dry skin and small, barely visible pores, you’ll likely have skin that’s a bit drier than it is oily. 


You may experience dry skin more when you’re in a climate that lacks humidity and is cold. Your skin may be more comfortable during hot, humid summer months. 

Indoor heating and cooling systems can wreak havoc on dry skin, removing moisture from the skin and leaving your skin feeling dry and chapped. 


Your sebaceous glands don’t produce as much oil as you age, which can explain the cause of your skin becoming drier the older you get. If you had oily skin as a teenager, the decrease in oil production may be enough to balance your skin in your thirties and forties. 

Bad Skin Habits and Products

If you aren’t taking proper care of your skin, you could be causing skin dryness. Washing your skin too much, not using moisturizer, and using products that are too harsh can all negatively impact your skin, leave it feeling dry, and cause irritation. 

Imbalanced Skin Microbiome

The skin has an entire ecosystem living on its surface. Your skin’s microbiome is home to trillions of good, healthy bacteria that keep your skin functioning as it should and help strengthen your skin’s protective barrier capabilities. 

When the microbiome is unbalanced, levels of good bacteria are lower, leaving your skin susceptible to pathogens and decreased functionality. This decrease can lead to chronic skin conditions like oiliness, blemishes, and even dryness. 

What is Dehydrated Skin?

Unlike dry skin, dehydrated skin isn’t a skin type, it’s a skin condition. This means it’s something that can happen to any type of skin. Even oily skin types, therefore, can have skin that is dehydrated. 

Dehydrated skin is skin that lacks water. Your skin cells need water to carry out vital processes and stay healthy. Dehydrated skin is characterized by:

  • Lack of elasticity;
  • Dark circles or hollows under the eyes;
  • Sunken areas of skin on the cheeks;
  • Dull complexion; and
  • Deeper lines and wrinkles

Dehydration can accompany dry skin, but dehydration is a deeper skin issue.

Causes of Dehydrated Skin

Dehydrated skin can happen even if you drink a lot of water. Here are some of the most common causes of developing dehydrated skin. 

Lack of Water

You may think you drink a lot of water, but if you aren’t drinking enough, your skin can end up dehydrated. When you drink water, your body triages the water needs of your organs and systems, and sometimes, your skin doesn’t get enough. 

If you’re especially physically active, you’ll need to increase your water intake to compensate for the loss of water you experience due to sweating. While you don’t need to consume 64 ounces of water a day as was once thought, you do need to consume enough water to ensure your urine is clear. 

Seasonal Changes

Seasonal and climate changes can also impact skin hydration levels, however, the biggest culprit in terms of dehydration are indoor heating and cooling systems. 

If you work in an office that runs the AC or heater regularly, you’re more susceptible to skin dehydration than someone who works outside or has access to regulate the indoor temperature. 


Just as your sebaceous glands begin producing less sebum as you get older, your skin begins to lose some of its ability to properly retain water which can lead to dehydration and dryness. You may find that you need more water to stay hydrated and better moisturizers and emollients to keep your skin feeling comfortable. 

Dehydration and the Skin Microbiome

There is a definite link between skin microbiome health and dehydration. In fact, studies show that the more hydrated your skin, the more diverse the levels of microbiota in your skin microbiome. The diversity of bacteria is essential for keeping your microbiome balanced and healthy. 

If your skin is dehydrated, your skin’s microbiome can become unbalanced. This imbalance can lead to: 

  • Dryness;
  • Oily skin or combination skin;
  • Chronic skin conditions like dermatitis;
  • Decrease in skin function;
  • Dull complexion; and
  • The appearance of fine lines and wrinkles.

Your skin microbiome is crucial to maintaining healthy, vibrant skin. 

The Difference Between Dehydration and Dryness

While dry skin can be dehydrated, the main difference between these two skin issues is that dryness happens on the upper levels of your skin, while dehydration is a skin condition that affects the deepest layers of your skin.

You can perform a simple test to determine if your skin is dehydrated. Your skin’s elasticity or “turgor” can be measured by simply pinching a small portion of your skin and holding it for a few seconds. 

Upon releasing the skin, healthy, hydrated skin will snap back instantly, while dehydrated skin will stay in the pinched position, slowly returning to its original place. The longer your skin takes to return to its normal state is the measure of the level of dehydration you are experiencing. 

Maintaining the Skin Microbiome for Optimum Level Skin Health

You can improve your skin health and improve moisture levels by reestablishing a strong, healthy microbiome. Your skin’s microbiome does a good job of staying balanced on its own, but external stressors can leave it damaged and unbalanced. 

Sun damage, pollution and even traditional skin care can strip, peel and wash away our skin’s healthy bacteria, leaving our skin’s microbiome unbalanced and vulnerable. Thankfully, restoring order is pretty simple. 

Probiotics and Your Skin

You might take a daily probiotic to help maintain your gut health and support your gut flora. Just like probiotics help your gut microbiome, they can help your skin’s microbiome, too. 

Probiotic skin care helps your skin by sending in “boots on the ground,” in the form of healthy bacteria to support the population of healthy microbiota in your skin’s ecosystem. Increasing the level of good bacteria on your skin helps to fortify your skin’s microbiome and increase its ability to maintain your skin health. 

How to Use Probiotic Skin Care

The PeaceKeeper Probiotic Starter kit makes probiotic skin care easy to use by combining powerful probiotics with gentle yet effective ingredients that are usable for every skin type, even if your skin is dry or dehydrated. 

  • Cleanse. Our Probiotic Foaming Cleanser contains a blend of probiotics and mild surfactants to help remove impurities and restore balance to your skin microbiome. Our cleanser also combines prebiotics from chicory root and rose water to help nourish existing levels of healthy bacteria.
  • Moisturize. Mother Dirt Probiotic Moisturizing Serum works by combining moisturizing squalane and linoleic acid with a healthy dose of probiotics to keep your skin feeling soft, smooth and deeply nourished. 
  • Restore. Formulated by MIT scientists, the active probiotic ingredient in our AO+ Restorative Mist combines with ammonia on your skin and in sweat to produce compounds that keep your skin microbiome healthy and balanced, replenishing what modern hygiene has stripped away. 

Three easy steps are all it takes to experience happier, healthier skin. You can improve your skin health and restore balance to your skin’s microbiome with probiotic products from Mother Dirt. 


Dry Skin - Symptoms and Causes|Mayo Clinic 

Water, Hydration and Health|NCBI 

Characteristics of the Aging Skin|NCBI 

Sebum and Hydration Levels in Specific Regions of Human Face Significantly Predict the Nature and Diversity of Facial Skin Microbiome|Nature 

Perceived Age and LifeStyle. The Specific Contributions of Seven Factors Involved in Health and Beauty | NIH 

Share Article