We're told that drinking plenty of water is the key to youthful, plump, clear skin, but is this really the case? Most celebrities we interview here at Byrdie maintain that drinking water is their "skincare secret" (see: Kendall, Gabrielle, and J.Lo). While we'd like to think we're intaking our required amount of H2O every day, we wonder if this is actually contributing to better skin health, or if it's just a widespread myth we've come to accept as gospel.
To find out the verdict on this hydration conundrum, we turned to the pros: Caroline Cederquist, MD, author of The MD Factor Diet; dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD; and board-certified dermatologist and surgeon Margarita Lolis, MD.
Read on to see what drinking water really does for our skin.
Meet the Expert
- Caroline Cederquist, MD, is a physician and founder of Cederquist Medical Center in Naples, Florida. She is one of only about 250 doctors in the country who is board-certified in bariatrics and is the author of The MD Factor Diet.
- Joshua Zeichner, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and the director of Cosmetic & Clinical Research in Dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
- Margarita Lolis, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at Schweiger Dermatology Group in Hackensack, New Jersey. She specializes in cosmetic and medical dermatology as well as the removal of skin cancers with Mohs Micrographic Surgery.
Does Drinking Water Actually Hydrate Your Skin?
First, the hard truth. "While everyone says drinking water is important for overall health and doctors across the board recommend more water and less caffeinated or sugar-packed beverages, there's a lack of research proving water consumption impacts skin hydration or overall appearance in people who are healthy," says Lolis. The issue is the actual physics behind how water flows throughout our systems; drinking water is necessary for our bodies to run optimally, and to help nutrients reach the skin through proper blood flow, but not necessarily the be-all and end-all we need for dewy skin. "The truth is that when you drink water, it doesn't automatically go to the skin—it hydrates cells once absorbed into the bloodstream and filtered by the kidneys," Lolis explains. "So, at the cellular level, drinking water is great as it flushes the system and hydrates our bodies overall."
The Benefits of Drinking Water for Skin
Zeichner agrees that there isn't enough research to support the idea that drinking water will make a huge difference in your skin's appearance. "It's a myth that drinking water will help keep your skin hydrated," he says. "There's no data to support the idea that drinking a glass of water helps hydrate the skin. On the other hand, there's no data to show that drinking fewer than eight glasses of water per day is harmful. The only caveat is that if you are severely dehydrated, it will take a toll on your skin." Research shows that skin might lose some of its elasticity or take on a "tenting" effect, but only in extreme cases of dehydration.
While there's no hard evidence that drinking water will make a difference in the skin (water will head straight for all your other essential organs first), many people have reported more radiant or clear skin after increasing their water intake. The bottom line is that it can't hurt to drink plenty of water and you will be at the very least preventing signs of severe hydration like dry, tight, or itchy skin.
How to Keep Your Skin Hydrated
Rather than relying heavily on water to boost your complexion, Lolis recommends exerting your efforts topically and atmospherically, incorporating the following habits into your routine regularly to keep your skin hydrated:
- Use a gentle cleanser as opposed to soap.
- Steer clear of skincare products that contain alcohol.
- Avoid exposure to dry air, perhaps using a humidifier.
- Avoid long, hot showers or washing dishes without gloves, limiting exposure to heavily chlorinated water.
- Apply a body cream after a shower or a hand cream after washing hands.
- Incorporate a hyaluronic acid in your skincare routine.
Similarly, Zeichner says hydration is best fed to the skin on the surface. "In terms of hydration, topical moisturizers can be much more effective than drinking water," he explains. "Moisturizers contain three types of ingredients that work together to help the skin. Occlusive, such as white petrolatum, form a protective seal over the skin; humectants, such as glycerin, act as a sponge to pull in hydration to the outer skin layers; and emollients, such as natural oils, smooth the rough edges between cells in the outer layer." In other words, a proper moisturizer (or overall routine) will have all three components to help bring in water and keep it locked in.
Apply moisturizer within two minutes after a shower for the best absorption.
How Much Water Should We Drink to Stay Hydrated?
A simple way to calculate how much water you need is to divide your weight in half and drink that amount in ounces. In other words, if you weigh 140 pounds, you’ll want to drink around 70 ounces of water each day.
If you're averse to drinking water, know that you can also hydrate through water-rich foods. "According to the Institute of Medicine, the recommendation is 104 ounces or 13 cups of water for men and at least 72 ounces or 9 cups for women," says Lolis. "However, these numbers are referring to the overall fluid intake per day and includes anything you ingest containing water, such as fruits and vegetables." She also suggests infusing a water bottle with fruits (we're partial to lemon water) or veggies for your own homemade spa water or adding a shot glass of juice to a 10-ounce water bottle for a hint of flavor that will have significantly less sugar than drinking that juice alone.
What More Should We Be Doing to Stay Hydrated Within?
Cederquist suggests avoiding processed foods and foods high in saturated fat. "I also suggest getting a nice water bottle and make it a habit of bringing it with you everywhere," she adds.
Speaking of diet, Zeichner is a proponent of digesting healthy eats for glowing skin. "A well-balanced diet full of antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids help provide the necessary building blocks for healthy skin cell function," he explains.
For Lolis, in addition to what you eat, glowing skin is attributed to a multitude of benefactors: "When it comes to skin looking supple and glowing, things like good overall nutrition, exercise, limiting alcohol consumption, not smoking, getting a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night, eliminating or at least significantly limiting processed foods and sugars, plus having a great skincare regimen are key factors." If you're unclear whether you're getting enough water, there's a simple way to test for this: "Do the urine check," urges Lolis. "When you're properly hydrated, your urine will be pale and clear."
The Final Takeaway
While there aren't exactly direct benefits of drinking water for the skin, experts agree that maintaining optimal hydration is important for the body's overall health and keeps everything functioning properly. When you're not getting enough water, that's where the difference in your skin will be most likely to show—and not in a good way. The best (and proven) way to keep your skin hydrated is through a little topical and environmental TLC—but drinking an extra glass or two of water won't hurt.
Popkin BM, D'Anci KE, Rosenberg IH. Water, hydration, and health. Nutr Rev. 2010;68(8):439-458. doi:10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x