Skin conditions: dehydration & sensitivity

Skin Conditions: Demystifying Dehydration & Sensitivity

There are an endless number of ways to categorise your unique skin. The three more important by far are your skin type, skin condition and skin issues. If you’ve already read my post about how to determine your skin type, you should already know whether you’re dry, normal, oily or combination.

Next to figure out is the condition of your skin, which impacts how your skin is currently responding to the products you use. We use this to see whether you should adjust your routine to counteract any of these imbalances and prevent skin issues from developing.

Let’s talk about your skin condition.

What is a “skin condition”?

Think of a skin condition as a temporary state or issue your skin is experiencing at a certain time, on top of your regular skin type. It’s how it feels and looks in the medium-term.

The two most common skin conditions I see are dehydration and sensitivity.

These are both skin conditions, which are temporary skin concerns that are treatable. They’re usually in response to an incompatible product or routine you’re using every day. You’re taking your skin away from a state of homeostasis and into some form of reaction or response that isn’t how it’s naturally supposed to be.

Recognising dehydrated skin

Dehydrated skin lacks water (as opposed to dry skin which lacks oil, remember?). Deep down, the skin cells absorb water from the rest of our body and blood. As we reach closer to the surface, water keeps skin looking plump and feeling flexible.

It’s the job of our skin’s natural oils and other natural moisturising factors that live between our skin cells to trap water deep in the skin. As oil and water don’t mix, they can effectively block the water’s escape as it tries to evaporate. Done right, your natural oils or the humectants, emollients and occlusives you use to supplement them should keep your skin sufficiently hydrated.

Done wrong, the skin is lacking in water and often becomes intensely parched and flaky. Dehydration makes fine lines and pores more pronounced, and your skin will not feel smooth or supple.

The distinction between natural dry and temporarily dehydrated skin gets confusing because the dry skin type and dehydrated skin condition co-exist a lot of the time.

For those with dry skin and less natural oils to lock in the water, you’re more likely to lose necessary moisture to evaporation unless you’re using sufficiently rich skin products. These dry and dehydrated people might suffer from eczema and dermatitis, rough, peeling and cracking skin, and a tight burning sensation, especially in the winter months. 

However many people, myself included, experience dehydration as overly oily skin. When I suffered from this, my skin felt rough, tight and dry but illogically would get greasy really quickly. Once I started to treat my skin with moisture and gentle care instead of stripping it dry, the oil production quickly settled down. I now have a far more balanced skin type. I believe many people are experiencing a dehydrated skin condition and mistaking it for a very oily skin type. Do you see excess oil during the day, but have a rough or irritated skin texture and it seems that light moisturisers and foaming or gel cleansers are only making your skin feel drier and look shinier faster? Consider going against your instincts and treating your skin for dehydration.

Identifying sensitive skin

If your skin stings when you apply products, itches, or has blotchy patches or diffuse (general) redness, it may be sensitised.

Sensitive skin (apart from actual allergies) is often very dehydrated skin, rather than a skin type in its own right. Such sensitivity is caused by long-term dehydration from harsh skin care or irritation from potent products. This can include habits like over-cleansing and using products containing irritating plant extracts or alcohol.

Repeated irritation and dehydration in this way can sensitise the skin to the most bland moisturisers – even plain water! Things that are normally fine will begin to sting.

Are you are using bar soap or body wash on your face, washing more than twice daily, standing under very hot shower water, or not using a moisturiser? If so, and you believe that your skin is ‘sensitive’, it could be that it just needs to be treated with a little more care.

Let’s recap

If you feel like your skin has issues beyond skin type, like rough texture or irritation, you might suffer from a skin condition. 

The two most common skin conditions are dehydrated and sensitive skin, both of which can be caused by harsh treatment (such as using products like baking soda), irritating ingredients and improper moisturisation.

To learn how to change your routine to fix dehydration and sensitivity, read my guide to tackling these stubborn skin conditions here.

I hope you learnt something new about the real causes of troublesome ‘skin types’. If you’re hungry for more, you can also check out everything you need to know to build a skin care routine here.

Essie