Is Water Really a Skin-Saving Hero? The Answer Isn’t Crystal Clear

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Many believe water is to wellness what avocados are to toast: Being coupled with the former drastically improves the latter. And considering that without your daily servings of H2O, brain health, workouts, and all of your other favorite things (including survival in general) are an impossibility, it reasons to say wellness needs water just like that slice of sourdough needs that creamy green smash. But when it comes to the question "Does drinking water help your skin?", the—er—waters are a bit murky.

"Adequate hydration is crucial for all aspects of health—skin health included," says New York City dermatologist Dendy Engelman, MD, "That said, oral ingestion of water doesn’t correlate with skin hydration. That is more a factor of sebaceous gland density and skin-barrier function." In other words, you can sip out of your S'well 24/7 and still have dry skin, and you can also slack on your daily ounces and still have skin that looks relatively moisturized.

There's no need to fret, however. Drinking water still sets your body up to function at its best, which benefits not only your body's largest organ (skin! skin! skin!), but so, so much more. Below, Dr. Engelman shares the more subtle ways that water gives your complexion a boost. Plus, what you can do to skin-care-wise to make sure your outer shell matches your stellar hydration status.

Does drinking water help your skin? A derm explains the benefits

While we've already caveated that good hydration doesn't necessarily guarantee you great skin, here's where things get tricky. Water does help your entire body effectively carry out the functions that flush toxins and keep fluids moving through your capillaries. "Adequate hydration helps the skin to optimize circulation to the skin and toxin removal from the skin, but only in extreme cases does it correlate with skin hydration levels," Dr. Engelman explains.

Staying scrupulous with your hydration also keeps inflammation at bay, which is a huge deal, since the condition can spark a host of other unwanted topical issues. "Increased inflammation in the body disrupts its ability to regulate the immune system and can, therefore, lead to flares of skin conditions like acne, eczema, and psoriasis," the expert says.

The takeaway? Winning the gold medal in hydration doesn't necessarily mean that the skin will appear hydrated. That being said, when you're hydrated, your body performs its functions more optimally, and while plain-old H2O will do the trick, you can score bonus points (and glowing skin) using several topical and ingestible strategies.

Just make sure you're hitting your Mayo Clinic-approved baseline of 11.5 cups of water daily, or sticking to the eight ounces of water rule can help to be a good baseline for how much water to drink per day. Then, add on whatever you like.

How to keep your skin hydrated

1. Snack on water-dense fruits like watermelon, cucumbers, and strawberries

"Water-dense fruits are a great way to hydrate and protect your skin," Dr. Engelman says. Plus, since produce like cantaloupe and avocado pack in vitamins as well as water, your fruit salad is basically nutrition for y our skin. "Most fruits contain high levels of vitamins A and C and powerful antioxidants that replenish nutrients in skin, promote collagen production, and help keep your skin supple and firm."

2. Top off your water bottle with collagen-boosting ingredients, like lemons

Enzymes in lemons have been found to boost collagen levels, so why not add a squeeze to plain old water? Other vitamin C-rich options like oranges will too. So, if you're planning to host a brunch party, you can add a splashy pop of colorful fruit to your pitcher for a pretty piece of table decor that doubles as a skin savior. To keep things on the simple side, boost your glass with standard collagen powder. "Verisol collagen powder is great to add to water as well to help stimulate dermal collagen production. It’s tasteless and odorless, and one scoop a day does the trick," she says.

3. Apply moisturizers and oils to your skin while you're still (almost) sopping wet

Board-certified dermatopathologist Gretchen Frieling, MD, previously told Well+Good that slathering oil on your face directly after exiting the shower mimics the natural oils of your skin. So drop that towel (right now!) and massage your favorite oil directly onto wet skin for hydration that stays long after you've left the bathroom. The same goes for lotion and hyaluronic acid, by the way.

4. Stock up on aqueous skin-care

Some of LeRoux's favorite products for dry and dehydrated skin alike have H2O, aloe juice, or coconut water listed as the first ingredient. Juice Beauty’s Oil-Free Moisturizer ($29), French Girl’s Creme Fraiche Moisturizer ($50), and One Love Organics’ Skin Dew ($58) all fit the bill.

5. Skip long showers

While it may seem like staying in the shower is a way that you can soak up the water and make your skin more hydrated, it actually works the opposite way. Too much hot water in the shower can leech water from your skin, making skin dryer than it was before.

6. Consider a water purifier

If you live in a place where there is hard water, you might want to consider adding a water purifier to your faucet. This can help because free radicals and trace amounts of minerals can be lurking in your water, and can cause irritation in some cases.

So what dehydrates your skin?

Suzanne LeRoux, founder of One Love Organics, previously told Well+Good to look out for a few key behaviors that may be dehydrating your complexion.  “Your skin gets dehydrated based on your stress levels,” LeRoux said. “The environment affects it, too—whenever I’m in New York City, my skin gets wacky because I live in an island in rural Georgia.” So if you're switching climates, make sure to give your skin some extra tender loving care.

Yet another possibility? You may simply be going over-the-top with your beauty routine. You're over-exfoliating or using a cleanser that's too harsh for your complexion.  “All of these factors can actually cause your skin to lose water, which is called transepidermal water loss,” said LeRoux. Any combination of these three factors is stripping the hydration from your skin, but fear not: you can alter your skin-care regimen right now.

This story was originally published on September 21, 2018. Updated with additional reporting on January 6, 2020.

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