Skin Dehydration: Real or Misdiagnosed?

Florence Barrett-Hill
Dehydration has perhaps been the most bandied about terminology used to describe a variety of skin conditions where lack of moisture is evident.

makeup application
The buzz word ‘dehydration’ earned it’s fame in the 60’s & 70’s after cosmetic chemists discovered humectants made your makeup go on easier!

The buzz word ‘dehydration” earned it’s fame in the 60’s & 70’s after cosmetic chemists discovered humectants. These had the ability to attract water in the skin and from the atmosphere and made the skin appear plumper, moisturised and makeup application easier. It did not take long for the marketing people of the cosmetic houses to convince the consumer that their skin was dehydrated unless they used a moisturiser. They smelt nice, felt nice, and made the application of makeup easier, becoming part of a womans daily skin care routine.

Because a skin feels dry or looks taut does not necessarily mean its dehydrated. It is here that the misdiagnosis of dehydration most often occurs.

Aestheticians and Beauty Therapists were also easy to convince, and because few therapists could correctly diagnose true dehydration, any skin condition lacking moisture was fair game for the label “dehydration”. If we told our client her skin was dehydrated, she would book in for a treatment to correct the problem and buy take home care.

To be truthful, did we really know how dehydrated our clients skin was, or did we guess? If we guessed correctly, we sold product and satisfied a client, if we were wrong we often created another skin condition or wasted the clients money. I’ll be honest and say that until I understood what caused dehydration, I guessed.

Correct hydration is dependent on a number of factors, including the quantity and type of fluids ingested. Exposure to chemical or medical aggression, individual body chemistry, the relevant ambient humidity, a well formed acid mantle and the health of the keratinocyte cell membrane.

Many therapists still do. Until recently, beauty therapy schools did not teach in advanced skills of this nature, consequently few therapists correctly diagnosed dehydration. Because a skin feels dry or looks taut does not necessarily mean it is dehydrated, and it is here that the misdiagnosis of dehydration most often occurs.

If the skin does not have well-formed acid mantle (hydrolipic film) and epidermal lipids, evaporation and fast TEWL will occur. These epidermal lipids play an important role in transdermal water flow and retention.

Epidermal lipids
 help trap water in the microscopic bilayers between the corneocytes, while the skin surface lipids (acid mantle or hydrolipic film) help occlude (or seal) the surface. We would be correct to conclude that if there is a deficiency of epidermal and surface lipids, the water retention powers of the epidermis will be drastically reduced. A dehydrated condition or evaporation generally follows.

Conditions of lipid dryness, impaired acid mantle and essential fatty acid deficiency are too often confused with dehydration. By treating dehydration instead of repairing the retention powers of the epidermal skin conditions, will not only waste the clients time and money, but will challenge the credibility of the beauty professional.
Results are achievable when treating a dehydrated skin externally, but long-term effective results can only come from within.

Epidermal lipids help trap water in the microscopic bilayers between the corneocytes, while the skin surface lipids (acid mantle or hydrolipic film) help occlude (or seal) the surface.

Simply applying moisture to the skin surface with humectant and hydrating masks will have an immediate but temporary effect on the skin. However, it will be ineffective long term if the client takes no other measures to prevent further water loss.
Two steps go towards effectively slowing TEWL and prevent evaporation (dehydration).

Introducing water to the tissue by internal means and reducing the chemical and physical dehydrating factors. (Alcohol, coffee, sun, air-conditioning and medications like diuretics etc).
The other most serious established cause, the “fat free diet” (resulting in essential fatty acid deficiency) will compromise the health of the keratinocyte cell membrane thus resulting in low epidermal lipids. Corrections are made of these extrinsic (developed) causes by changes in the clients work/play lifestyle. This can begin with supplements like evening primrose oil or 2 tablespoons of safflower oil a day.

The product used to carry out these treatments must have a number of cosmetic ingredients in them that are compatible with the skins’s structure and function

dehydrated skin
Typical misdiagnosis of superficial dehydration. This is actually elastin and collagen loss, with an established cause of GAG’s loss. (dermal dehydration)

The products used to do these treatments must have a number of cosmetic ingredients in them that will be compatible with the skin structure and function.
These are essential fatty acids, amino acids and glycosaminoglycans.
The essential fatty acids known as Vit F, linoleic, linolenic & arachidonic acids or Omega 3 & 6. A wide number of sources of these essential ingredients are available, evening primrose oil, flax seed oil, borage oil, safflower, spirulina, and ceramides that are ester linked to linoleic acid.

It is the application of these oils rich in essential fatty acids that is required for optimum maintenance of the skin cutaneous barrier function. The human body cannot metabolise EFAs and is entirely dependent on ingesting them from our diet. The skin however can metabolise them from surface application, making them the ideal massage medium or as an active in a cream or mask. All will result in improving the liposoluble phase (oil phase) of the acid mantle.

The hydrosoluble phase (water phase of the epidermis) made up by the NMF (natural moisturising factor), is essential in maintaining hydration of the epidermal horny layer. Forty percent of this water phase is made up of amino acids, amino acids are the basic building blocks of proteins.

Remember that collagen, elastin and keratin are the predominant proteins of the skin. Amino acids help to build, maintain, and repair the body. Without dietary protein, growth and all bodily functions would cease.

apply face creamSources of these amino acids within the cosmetic industry are wide and varied; most are plant based, the algaes being the most widely used. They will be available in toners, moisturisers, serums and masks.

The dermal reserve consists of glycosaminoglycans (interstitial fluid or GAGs). The main function of glycosaminoglycans is the maintenance of turgidity (bounce in the cellular space and the support of the collagen and elastin fibres in balance and proportion. There are three known support fluids of the connective tissue in the dermis they are hyaluronic acid (HA), mucopolysacharides (MPS) and chondroiton sulphates.

Seventy percent of all GAGs are hyaluronic acids, often referred to as a molecular sponge allowing for intensive saturation (thus hydration). HA also can function as a transdermal delivery system for other “actives since it forms a matrix on the skin, allowing increased skin penetration due to skin saturation and hydration. It works best when internal hydration is at optimum levels.

All of these actives will make a significant improvement in the clients skin, a series of weekly treatments spread over six weeks. In addition, the improvement in the clients work/play lifestyle and take home care will add up to a very happy client and your professional satisfaction.


drink water
90mls of water mixed with 10mls of apple juice is a popular fluid to rehydrate the body


The term “dehydration” used to label a variety of skin conditions ranging from lipid dryness to early elastin & collagen loss, occurs because of lack of training to correctly diagnose a true dehydrated condition.
The cause of true dehydration, is the skins inability to retain its limited moisture in the epidermis. As we have discussed, this will be due to a EFA fat free diet and a number of physical, chemical and environmental factors.

When all the negative factors causing the condition have been eliminated effective treatments can proceed.The first step in combating dehydration will always begin with restoring the acid mantle and ensuring the keratinocyte cell membrane is in optimum condition. Do this with dietary supplements like evening primrose oil and topically applied treatments. using oil based (w/o) or wter based (o/w) creams that contain the actives that are compatible wor will enhance the skin structure and function.

To correct hydration levels of the body. Water is the perfect fluid to rehydrate the body, and 10% apple juice or 15% Spirulina in water can increase the absorption rate dramatically. To assist absorption, the temperature of the water should be as close to body temperature as possible.

In addition, remember if you massage during your facial treatment, do it after the mask not before. Here’s another article for you to look forward to reading.

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