In today’s article I’m going to talk about drinking water for skin health and for reducing dry skin.
This is a common comment that I see: “I’m drinking a ton of water, I don’t know why I have dry skin?”
In the winter time dry skin can really be a major problem.
Drinking water is critical to our health and we rely on water for survival. When we drink water, it is taken up and it is absorbed through the blood into our cells and whatever is left over is filtered through our kidneys and excreted as urine.
Does drinking a lot of water improve hydration of the skin?
To be honest we don’t have studies looking at skin hydration, skin health, skin appearance as a function of water consumption.
We really don’t have any studies to support this idea that people have that they should be drinking a ton of water to make their skin look good. We really don’t have that kind of information.
The medical community at large definitely agrees that drinking water is a smart choice, particularly in lieu of sugary beverages, like soda or juice. They definitely advocate for drinking water, it’s good for health and much better choice in comparison to those beverages.
But whether or not it actually is going to change your skin, the amount of water that you consume is not likely to drastically alter the appearance of your skin.
That being said, in rare situations of profound dehydration, for example you’re out in a desert with no food or water, your skin is not gonna look great, definitely not gonna look good.
Water does constitute the bulk of our skin total weight but lots of water from the skin has very little to do with the amount of water that you’re drinking. It more has to do with external things, like your environment, things that your coming into contact with and whether or not you’re using moisturizer.
We lose a lot of water through our skin every day. This is something called trans epidermal water loss. It is inversely correlated to skin barrier function.
If your skin barrier is impaired, you are more likely to be losing more water and your skin is dry, parched. When your skin is dry and parched and more dehydrated, as many people describe it, this will exacerbate the appearance of wrinkles and fine lines, of skin sagging and discoloration.
Skin hydration is really more of a function of skin barrier rather than how much water you are drinking.
Skin barrier function can be addressed by using a moisturizer. This is a critical part of everyone’s skincare routine.
Moisturizers include three ingredients. They include occlusive ingredients that seal water into the skin. They also include humectants that helps you pull water from the deeper layers of the skin into the top layers of the skin and plump it up and make it appear hydrated.
And lastly they include emollients, which are things like oils that soften the edges of skin cells and smooth out the appearance of rough skin.
A basic moisturizer will contain all three of those ingredients. Basic moisturizers don’t need to be expensive. You can find a fragrance free moisturizer for two dollars that has all of these ingredients.
But using a moisturizer will do more for hydration of your skin and preventing trans epidermal water loss then merely drinking more water.
Drinking more water will really just result in you having more trips to the bathroom.
How much water should you actually be drinking?
The Institute of Medicine recommends that men drink 104 ounces a day, which is about 13 cups of water, but for women, it’s 72 ounces, which is roughly 9 cups of water.
But here’s the thing!
That is that is total water consumption. That’s not just drinking water. It also includes foods, vegetables, fruits. They have a high water content, so there’s a very good chance that you’re meeting the majority of your daily water needs and there’s really no need to be drinking a ton of water.
There’s a good chance that if you’re eating a balanced diet that you are meeting your total water needs for the day.
Diet and lifestyle factors do play a role though in skin barrier function. I don’t want to underestimate that.
Really important things that everyone should focus on in terms of ensuring good skin barrier function and ultimate skin hydration include eating a balanced diet, rich in fruits and vegetables that contain antioxidants, which will help to ward off some inflammatory damage that can compromise the skin’s ability to hold on to water.
That’s really an important part of total body health as well as skin health.
Also getting enough sleep is really important. You need to be getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night to allow your total body to recover. When we get poor sleep that results in an increase in something called cortisol and cortisol definitely can’t impair the skin barrier and result in more water loss from the skin.
That’s why when you’re sleep-deprived you your skin does not look as radiant as you might like. It’s really an important part in the appearance of your skin, but more for your total health.
You need to limit processed foods. These are foods that have a lot of added sugar. Added sugars in the diet can show up in your skin.
Sugars can culminate in something called advanced glycation end-products, which basically are a little inflammatory compounds that can glom on to some of the structural support in your skin and contribute to aging and sagging in the skin and impairment of the skin barrier and subsequent loss of water out of the skin.
When I say sugary foods I don’t mean fruits and vegetables, which have natural sugars in them. I’m talking specifically about sweetened foods and juices.
A moderate and a reasonable amount of fruits and vegetables a day is necessary for good health. They are rich in antioxidants and fiber and water.
Other lifestyle things that make a huge difference are in terms of addressing the ambient humidity in your environment.
In the wintertime the humidity drops and when the humidity drops, there is a pull for more water to exit your skin to equilibrate across that difference.
By being aware of that, you can begin to put steps into place to address that. One is at nighttime, when you sleep or throughout your home during the day to have a mist humidifier. This puts more moisture into the air and that will cut down on some of that pull for water to leave your skin.
The other thing is to protect your skin when you go outdoors in the cold winter air by using physical modalities, like a scarf or gloves to protect your skin. This will create a physical barrier to trans epidermal water loss and protect the skin.
If you have to have areas of the skin exposed to that cold dry air, make sure you cover those areas with a really heavy, thick moisturizing sunscreen, if it’s during the daytime. Or with a moisturizing ointment if you’re going out at night and there’s no sun exposure.
Those are really more important parts about keeping the skin hydrated.
When you go into an airplane, the humidity drops, the air is very dry in an airplane and you can experience dry skin shortly after an airplane flight.
Making sure that you are wearing your sunscreen during the day of travel and reapplying it, is a good way to make sure that you’re continuously strengthening that skin barrier and also protecting your skin from sun exposure during your day of travel.
The other thing that’s really important is going to be your bathing practices.
You want to avoid prolonged exposure to hot water or to water in general. Water dissolves the lipid barrier and hot water does it really quickly. So keep your shower short, no more than 10 minutes and use lukewarm water and make sure you’re not bathing too many times a day. Some people bathe multiple times a day and they can really dry out their skin.
Choose a non soap cleanser. Soaps, particularly bar soaps that have a higher ph, really strip the lipids from the surface of your skin and when the lipids are stripped, there’s very poor barrier function and a lot more water is lost from the skin.
You want to put your moisturizer on immediately after you get out of the shower while the skin is still damp, so you can really capitalize on that water that’s on the surface of the skin. The humectants in the moisturizer will glom on to that and then the occlusives will make a nice seal that will prevent water from evaporating out of the skin.
It is also important to reapply it several times throughout the day. In winter you may need to do that a little bit more frequently than in the summer.
Your skin care products can play a role in barrier function and disrupt barrier function if you use a lot of exfoliants, whether they be physical exfoliants or chemical exfoliants. This will disrupt your skin barrier inevitably and you can lose more water out of the skin as a result.
Be sure you’re not going overboard with the exfoliation. It is really an important part to skin hydration.
And of course wearing everyday a broad-spectrum sunscreen is really important.
Sunscreens are in a moisturizing vehicle. They have sunscreen ingredients in them, but at the base they are a moisturizer.
Using your sunscreen daily to sun exposed areas is great because not only do you protect your skin from ultraviolet radiation that ages the skin, contributes to skin cancer and can compromise skin barrier function, you also are getting the nice occlusives on there that will put the brakes on water loss.
In summary, the major driving force for dry skin is going to be trans epidermal water loss, but you really can’t remedy that just by drinking more water. It’s really just going to go through and be filtered out of your kidneys and excreted as urine.
A lot of skin hydration has to do with your lifestyle factors and the environment and what you’re doing to your skin.
If you’re not using a moisturizer or moisturizing sunscreen then you’re setting yourself up for increased water loss out of the skin and no amount of water drinking is going to rectify that.
Rebecca is a licensed aesthetician and certified laser technician with almost 15 years experience in the dermatology. Her life-long passion is making people look good and happy.