Celebrities swear by drinking water to hydrate dry skin, extolling the benefits of extra hydration for both internal health and external glow. But can six to eight cups a day actually have an impact on skin health? And, more specifically, can quenching your thirst help moisturize your face?
To determine whether drinking water can actually impact dry skin, we turned to the pros: Caroline Cederquist, MD, physician and author of The MD Factor Diet; board-certified 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.
Does Drinking Water Actually Hydrate Dry Skin?
Unfortunately, staying well-hydrated by drinking water doesn't equate to hydrated, dewy skin. "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 the skin's appearance, but he says there are still plenty of benefits. "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 may be no hard evidence that drinking water will make a difference in the skin (water will head straight for all the body's other essential organs first, according to Lolis), 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 staying well-hydrated will, at the very least, help prevent signs of severe dehydration like the previously mentioned dry, tight, or itchy skin.
How to Keep Dry Skin Hydrated
Rather than relying heavily on water to boost the complexion, Lolis recommends that those with dry skin exert their efforts topically and atmospherically, incorporating the following habits into a routine regularly to keep 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 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 to try to help maximize absorption.
In addition to the tips listed above, dry skin can reap a lot of rewards from products that help "lock in" moisture. While moisturizer alone can certainly help, serums can help amp up the hydrating qualities, especially when applied to damp skin. Others swear by slugging, in which layers of moisturizing products are sealed in with a top layer of Vaseline. Some find that it helps protect the skin barrier, though others may find the product a bit too occlusive.
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 via water-rich foods. According to the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, the recommendation is 125 ounces for men and 91 ounces for women. "However, these numbers are referring to the overall fluid intake per day and include anything you ingest containing water, such as fruits and vegetables," adds Lolis. She also suggests infusing a water bottle with fruits (we're partial to lemon water) or veggies for homemade spa water or adding a shot glass of juice to a 10-ounce water bottle for a hint of flavor that will contain 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 making 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 helps 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 factors: "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."
Can the Environment Affect How Much Water Those With Dry Skin Need?
The short answer is yes. Those who live in a hot and humid climate likely lose more water every day—and therefore may need to ingest more than those in cooler areas. Harsh winds and high altitudes can also play a role, so be sure to take into account the weather and your local climate when determining how much water you need to drink daily. The same environmental factors can also impact dry skin, meaning those in dry clients might need more moisture (in the form of topical products) as well as more water itself.
The Final Takeaway
While there may not be direct a link between drinking and hydrating dry skin, our 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, your skin is likely to show it—and not in a good way. According to Zeichner, 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
Cleveland Clinic. How much water do you need daily? Updated November 23, 2021.