How to Tell the Difference Between Dry and Dehydrated Skin, According to an Esthetician

close up of a woman's face

Knowing the differences between skin types is important for treating your skin’s needs. But the distinctions between different skin types are not always as straightforward as they appear. Oily versus dry seems rather self-explanatory. You see oil on your skin, so you must have oily skin, right? Not always, since oil production can be a bit more complex. To help us sort through some of the finer points, we enlisted celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau.

Meet the Expert

Renée Rouleau is a celebrity esthetician based in Austin, TX. She is also the founder and creator of her eponymous skincare line.

Keep scrolling to find out if the oil you’re dealing with is actually a side effect of your skin’s dehydration.

Oily Skin vs. Dry Skin

First, let’s do a little refresher on the basics. “Dry skin produces little to no oil, which causes the skin to be dry and flaky,” Rouleau says. “Oily skin is skin that produces oil, and generally it will have large pores and look shiny or greasy.” That much probably makes plenty of sense to you, but the dehydrated skin distinction gets a little trickier. 

Dehydrated Skin

Dehydrated skin isn’t necessarily overly dry skin. “Dehydrated skin is oily, combination, or normal skin that is lacking water and feels tight,” Rouleau says. It's a skin condition, not a skin type. “Having tight skin doesn’t necessarily mean it’s dry. Dehydrated skin, as a skin condition, lacks water content, but may still produce oil.” In fact, it’s probably over-producing oil to compensate for the lack of moisture in the skin. “Dehydrated skin is common among those with oily and acne-prone skin who use harsh products that strip the skin of water,” Rouleau says. If this sounds familiar, keep reading for Rouleau’s tips on how to get your skin back to a healthy state. 

Renée Rouleau Skin Drink $45
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Cleanse Smarter

It all starts with cleansing. Rouleau recommends using sulfate-free cleansers to prevent unnecessary dehydration when washing. Try Philosophy Purity Made Simple ($24), and go easy on exfoliation. “Using a lot of acids and scrubs too often or too aggressively can cause surface dehydration and inflammation.”

Never Go Bare

“Never leave the skin bare for more than 60 seconds after washing,” Rouleau says. “Immediately apply alcohol-free toner, serum, and moisturizer.” When your skin is left bare, the air instantly starts sucking moisture right out of it. Move onto your non-drying skincare products like Boscia Balancing Facial Tonic ($26) right away.

Add a Serum

“Add a serum under moisturizer for additional hydration,” Rouleau says. Just a few drops of a lightweight serum like Renée Rouleau Skin Drink ($41) under an oil-free moisturizer provides an extra boost of moisture, without adding heavy layers of products. 

Use Humectants

When shopping for skincare, look out for products with humectants like glycerin, hyaluronic acid, sodium PCA, sorbitol, allantoin, and propylene glycol. “These are ingredients that help attract water from the environment into the skin to keep it soft and supple,” Rouleau says. Try Clinique Dramatically Different Moisturizing Lotion ($28).

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