Can Oily Skin Be Dehydrated Too?

Oily skin -

It sure can! Oily is a skin type, dehydration is a skin condition. Dehydrated skin can mimic the symptoms of dry skin and therefore cause confusion. Let’s discuss the difference between the two, how best to tackle the symptoms and keep them at bay.

a) What is dehydrated skin?

Our skin has 3 layers; the epidermis, dermis and subcutaneous. The epidermis is the layer of skin visible to the naked eye. Within it are five further layers; the outermost is called the stratum corneum. This layer, also known as the moisture barrier, has a brick-and-mortar structure that if you look close up, you’ll notice as a grid-like pattern. It’s made up of corneocytes (i.e. keratin) and lipids (i.e. cholesterol, fatty acids, and ceramides).

Our skin has many functions, one of the main being protection from bacteria and pollutants. It’s designed to keep things out; something to think about. If our skin is designed to keep things out, how much of the skincare products that we use are actually getting in? See a guide to cosmeceuticals.

Beyond protection, our skin preserves hydration levels (i.e. moisture) and our skin’s moisturising factors (i.e. natural oils). We need both to keep our skin supple and bright. When the brick-and-mortar structure is compromised, our natural barrier function becomes impaired. In this case, it’s not able to keep the bad stuff out (bacteria) and the good stuff in (water). Our skin becomes dehydrated.

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b) What are the common causes of dehydration in an oily skin type?

Many things can cause dehydration. When we refer to dehydration, we refer to the lack of water. As oily skins, we have the ability to produce abundant oil. Oily skin is easily unbalanced which can lead to a lack of water retention.

#1 Cause: Harsh skincare products

It’s often believed oily skin requires scrubbing. Scrubbing does more harm than good. Over stripping the skin will only temporarily rid our oil problem. The water loss in the process causes a compromised natural barrier function of the skin. Disturbing the skin in such a way can make it angry. Yep, you’ve guessed it.. more oil. More shine than we can manage, more than previously. It’s a lose, lose situation.

The solution? Cleanse often and gently. Mix up clarity washes with moisturising washes. 2x a day should be max. When we think about oily skin, we thing about buildup, spots, greasy or unclean skin. Exfoliation is our friend.

Along with our AHA, BHA, retinoids and other skin-clearing agents, we should have a gentle cleanser, a humectant toner and a light moisturiser. Things we can use as often as we want without distressing the skin.

Tips -

Tip: Cleanse in the morning with a moisturising or foaming wash. Humectants and ceramides are key ingredients. If the product is right, we will not feel tight or uncomfortable. Consider incorporating or replacing a moisturiser with a toner during the summer months. Specific toners can aid in rehydration and rebalance the skin.

Exfoliation products are great at night. They remove the days grime. And if we feel slightly stripped afterwards, a heavier or soothing cream will feel much more acceptable just before bed.

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c) How do I prevent dehydrated skin conditions?

  • Incorporate gentle cleanses within exfoliation routines. Switch it up.
  • Avoid skipping the moisturiser. Choose something light with higher water content. An exception to this may be summer months or if applying specific makeup such as BB creams.
  • Choose chemical exfoliation (i.e salicylic products) over manual (i.e beads/gloves).
  • Be aware of how the environment can affect the skin. The seasons, as well as devices such as air conditioning and blow-dry heaters, can cause problems.
  • Correctly identify symptoms like dehydration and not dry.
  • Use humectants.

Drinking excessive water will not prevent or fix dehydrated skin. It will not fix dry skin either contrary to popular belief. Daily water intake is very important for skin health but dehydrated skin is approached from the outside.

The skin is a very clever organ. If it’s happy, it will retain water. If skin becomes compromised or unbalanced, we lose the ability to retain water. This is regardless of how much we consume.

Diet plays a role. Coffee and alcohol are diuretics; they increase urine which in turn can make us dehydrated as a whole. Having a poor diet can affect our skin overtime. See – the acceleration of ageing.

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d) What are the key ingredients for dehydrated skin?

Humectants. They pull moisture from the air into the upper layer of the skin. There are synthetic and natural humectants.

Synthetic humectants

Humectants most commonly found in skincare products are synthetic. Synthetic humectants often cost less money. They work by pulling water from within the skins deeper layers. This can help the surface for a while but the water is prone to evaporate unless the environment is very humid. As a result, dehydration can occur quickly. Some examples include:


Polyethylene glycols (PEGs), like propylene glycol, are petroleum-based compounds that soften the skin but may be contaminated with carcinogens like ethylene oxide and 1,4-dioxane. These pull moisture from the lower layers of skin but give none back.


You may have come across silicones in the past. They’re extremely popular in skin ranges as they can leave a desirable feeling on the skin. They are however, man-made chemicals that form a film over the skin’s surface, keeping it from ‘breathing’ normally. Results may include increased irritation and possibly acne, as well as future dryness.

Natural humectants

Natural humectants draw moisture from the air. They help attract water to the surface of the skin, but also deliver hydration and nutrients to the deeper layers. This helps skin to keep itself hydrated on a regular basis. Some examples of natural humectants include –

Hyaluronic acid

Hyaluronic acid has the ability to attract and retain more than 1,000 times its weight in water. It’s a natural molecule present throughout the body that helps hydrate and cushion joints, eyeballs, and skin.

Seek hyaluronic containing toners and serums. You’ll most often find them successfully in cosmeceutical brands. Hyaluronic acid is a key ingredient in skin ageing ranges.

Aloe vera

Aloe is a wonderful humectant. It is possibly the most inexpensive and accessible natural humectant available. It penetrates skin deeply and quickly, hydrating at the surface and at the deeper layers. It is particularly helpful in oily skin.

Aloe vera is light and fast absorbing.. will not leave residue or bog you down. It’s cool & refreshing naturally uplifting, calming and locks in moisture. Try applying after a cleanse while the skin is still damp.

There are other humectants out there. I’ve included the 2 that are good choices for oily skin. You may also come across emollients. Emollients are oils that help smooth the skin. For healthy skin, both oil (lipids) and water are necessary. As true oily skins, we produce abundant lipids. The key is creating a balance as we often produce too much.

Emollients as skincare products are beneficial in dry skins. However, not something we should hide from, particularly natural oils and ceramides. Instead, opt to use these products occasionally at night. Seek them in moisturising cleansing products when you are not exfoliating.

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