7 minute read

Here at The Sunday Issue, we’ve got issues. We put it right out there. And like many a celebrity, We’ve recently had a slight run-in with a bout of dehydration (and tbh, a side of “exhaustion” as well).  But we’ve downed 8 glasses of water, had a nice, long nap and are ready to share our this journey back to rehydration with you.

I can endure a lot: an uncontrollably frizzy mane, body hair that repeatedly resists laser removal sessions despite being of “ideal” coloring and even a fleeting but traumatic bout of keratosis pilaris. Yet, never have I made peace with my oily skin. No oil-free primer, moisturizer, or special foundation help prevent the makeup slide. If you’re oily you know the real Forbidden Dance - your foundation and setting powder mix with your facial oil and shimmy straight off your face. Everyone has an opinion on combating the oiliness from miracle blotting papers, to magical foundations, to putting oil on oil to negate oil. For me, none of it works.

A bout with cystic acne a few years ago sent me running into my dermatologist’s arms where he banned all oil use. I began using antibiotics, a salicylic foaming cleanser and gel face and eye moisturizers to help sanitize my skin and minimize the oil and sebum production clogging my pores. Eventually my skin calmed and breakouts became less severe and less frequent. But after the proverbial smoke cleared, I no longer understood my skin.

One day my skin was oilier than it had ever been and the next it was red, tight and dull in appearance. I was hesitant to add oil back into my skincare routine but my skin was crying out for a product oasis. I experimented with tons of things with no luck until one day, while getting a facial, the technician said something to me I’d never heard before: “You have dehydrated skin.”

It made no sense - my face was a little-known Exxon Oil Spill site! I didn’t discuss it further with the technician because she was pushing creams and serums that started at $300 a jar. I knew whatever I needed to do, I was going this path alone. But, let’s be real,  I am not an esthetician, dermatologist or skin care-trained specialist. I am just a girl, standing in front of a mirror, asking her skin to love her.

Image via Pinterest

At the most elementary of explanations, dry skin lacks oil and dehydrated skin lacks water. Dry skin lacks naturally-occurring sebum and oil and is usually flaky, rough itchy and sensitive. Those with dry skin are at risk of developing fine lines and wrinkles earlier in life. Dehydrated skin lacks moisture and is usually tight, flaky and deflated or limp rather than plump. Many with acneic skin types have dehydrated skin because the products used to prevent or eradicate acne also deplete skin of moisture.

Dry skin and oily skin are skin types. Dehydrated skin is a skin condition. Therefore you can have dry or oily skin and still be dehydrated. Whoa! (in a Joey Tribbiani from Friend’s voice)

Still, I was confused. How could my skin be dehydrated? I cleansed and moisturized and am obsessive about drinking 10 to 12 glasses of water a day. I don’t drink alcohol (ok, fine, a glass of wine once in a while. SUE ME.) and while I do enjoy coffee, I have a cup in the morning, which certainly shouldn’t be enough caffeine to cause a skin drought. That’s when I realized I had two problems: I had dehydrated skin and a damaged moisture barrier. In short, my skin needed hydration (a product that binds water molecules to the skin) and moisturization (products that strengthen skin’s moisture barrier which prevents moisture from leaving the skin).

Once I understood what needed to be done my routine and skin changed. Here’s what happened.

  • I needed a good humectant which draws and binds water already in the air to the skin.. A strong humectant can hold 600 to 1000 times its own weight in water. Look for hydrating products containing natural humectants like: honey, aloe, hyaluronic acid, alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and glycerin. The humectant I use is in the form of a serum, The Ordinary Buffet , which works wonders because it contains glycerin, sucrose, fructose and urea, all of which are humectants.
  • I needed a moisturizer to seal in all of the hydration with a rich texture that wouldn’t cause breakouts. Moisturizers also fill in the lines of the skin and smooth the flakiness which helps when applying makeup. Choose a moisturizer based on your SKIN TYPE (dry, normal or oily). Because I have oily skin in the summer I use a gel-based, lighter moisturizer.Ceramides are also amazing moisturizers and the Dr. Jart+ Ceramidin line is the gold standard.
  • If you have dry skin or, like me, need a heavier moisturizer during dry months, one containing oils or emollients like marula, argan, avocado or sunflower oils are great. If you have severely dry skin, you may want to try applying an occlusive product after applying your moisturizer. An occlusive moisturizer or balm is a heavy product that forms a film on top of the skin or a barrier preventing all of the moisture and oil from escaping. Most occlusives include ingredients such as: petroleum jelly, beeswax, lanolin and silicones. People swear by Aquaphor Healing Ointment or Egyptian Magic All Purpose Skin Cream.
  • Whether you prefer a sheet mask or mud mask, choose one that addresses the skin condition you are currently….facing (I can’t resist a pun). A clay mask will help detox congested skin, a sleep mask will usually add moisture to dry skin.
  • Toning is tricky and I will say it:  I am not into physical exfoliation. If like me, you prefer chemical exfoliation, a milder one should be used for dry or sensitive skin - think of an AHA that has a lower concentration, like a 5% Lactic Acid. For skin that needs help with cell turnover and can take a stronger concentration, there are two cult favorites: Sunday Riley Good Genes and Biologique Recherche Lotion P50 1970. Start slowly and get ready for a stench only someone with glowing skin could love.

Image via Pinterest

Of course, I left the best for last. You’re probably wondering, “How do I know whether or not my skin is dehydrated?” and the test for this is super easy. Gently pinch the skin on the top of your hand. If the tiny pyramid of skin instantly bounces back into place, your skin is hydrated. If it stays in place or doesn’t bounce back quickly, you’ve probably got dehydrated skin.

I am not sure why it took so long for an esthetician to whisper this secret in my ear but if it, was meant to be kept secret, I will not be complicit. Do the test, adjust your routine accordingly and prepare yourself for some supernatural skin. And - pay it forward, please.

And please know, while you’re recovering from “dehydration” we will certainly respect your privacy.

 Catherine Spinley is a sometimes-writer and photographer based in New York. When not stalking other people’s dogs or yelling at people who refuse to walk up the left side of the escalator, she works in the beauty industry and practices yoga. You can read more from her at

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