Most trips to our favourite facialists result in a diagnosis of the dreaded dehydration. However much you look after your skin, it’s a common problem to be faced with. In fact, recent consumer research shows searches for “hydrating skincare” are up 86 per cent on last year.
“Dehydrated skin is skin lacking water or that which has reduced ability to hold onto water, and it can feel tight, dry and, in more severe cases, you could see scaling and irritation,” says Dr Ifeoma Ejikeme, general medicine consultant and expert aesthetic physician. Many of us know from personal experience that dry skin also often looks dull and sallow, and fine lines can appear more pronounced. It immediately – and devastatingly – puts paid to any trace of a luminous glow.
Aside from the luminosity factor, Pamela Marshall, clinical aesthetician and co-founder of Mortar & Milk, says it’s important for skin to be well hydrated and moisturised because it makes it less likely to exhibit inflammatory markers, like acne breakouts or flushing. “Dehydrated skin will send messages to the sebaceous glands to produce more sebum,” she explains. “This excess sebum goes into the pilosebaceous unit, causing it to swell and inflame. The capillary network will also expand when skin is dehydrated [causing increased redness].” Hydrating the skin properly will calm these inflammatory markers down.
But how? Here British Vogue finds the simplest ways – with some help from the experts.
It all starts with your diet
Unsurprisingly, drinking water is top of the list of things to do when it comes to hydrating the skin, but it’s also important to combine it with a healthy dose of essential fatty acids. “Internally, our skin is both hydrophilic [has a tendency to mix with water], and lipophilic [attracted to lipids], meaning we need both water and lipids to keep it hydrated,” says Marshall. “Foods like nuts, seeds, avocados and oily fish can have a positive effect on the overall hydration levels of the skin, as well as the dermal levels.” She also advises taking an omega supplement. We love Artah’s Essential Omegas.
Step away from the actives
“For really hydrated skin, we must also look at the ingredients we are using that could be causing dehydration (or transepidermal water loss). You can use all the hydrators in the world, but if you are overusing ingredients like alpha-hydroxy acids (AHAs), you’ll always find yourself suffering the effects of dehydration,” says Marshall. While actives like acids and retinol are brilliant ingredients that can work wonders on the skin, Marshall says that most consumers don’t know how to use them properly. “Actives are like a piece of cake – wonderful to have now and then but, used daily, they can wreak havoc on the health of your skin. It’s about finding a balance between actives, antioxidants and protectors.
For those who’d like a foolproof way to reap the benefits of exfoliation without stripping the skin, she is a big fan of incorporating polyhydroxy acids (or PHAs) into a skincare routine, as they do everything an AHA does – from exfoliating to smoothing – in a way that’s more sustainable in the long term. Since they are higher in molecular weight than an AHA, they don’t irritate the skin and help to reduce inflammation, while exfoliating. They also work as antioxidants and humectants, which help to protect and hold hydration in the skin, respectively.
Meanwhile, Dr Ejikeme advises listening to your skin. If it is feeling dehydrated or especially irritated, stop or at least drastically reduce any exfoliation, and use ingredients that help reduce transepidermal water loss by fortifying the skin barrier (like ceramides and niacinamide), as they can help support collagen production and the skin’s barrier function. Also ensure you use a gentle cleanser to clean the skin, rather than anything too harsh.
Fill your skincare routine with hydrators
While hyaluronic acid is the ingredient everyone raves about – quite rightly – for its hydrating abilities (it can famously hold up to a thousand times its own weight in water), there are other hydration heroes to look out for on skincare ingredient labels. “Glycerin very much acts as the natural moisturising factor of the skin,” says Dr Ejikeme. “It’s inexpensive but we rarely hear about it because it is overshadowed by hyaluronic acid.” Glycerin can be found in a number of excellent products and, as a smaller molecule, has the ability to penetrate much deeper into the skin than HA, as well as help to prevent irritation. It can be used by all skin types and is non-comedogenic, so the oily and acne-prone can also reap the benefits.
Dr Ejikeme also highlights other humectants to incorporate into a routine, including hyaluronic acid, panthenol and aloe vera. “Ingredients like ceramides, sphingosine and fatty acids also help to lock in moisture,” she says. Serums are the way forward in terms of delivering hydrating ingredients to the skin, while moisturisers serve as a “protective blanket” and lock ingredients in, which is also useful in preventing dehydration.
As with all skincare, Marshall says consistency and long-term use is key if you want to see results. “With topical products, we need to understand that most skincare products deal mostly with the outer layer (or stratum corneum) of the skin, which is made up of mature or dead cells, due to cosmetics regulations for safety,” she says. “That means that most products we use only initially affect the outer layer, which in the short term doesn’t affect the functionality of the skin.” In the long run, however, it has a positive effect.
From British Vogue