Can You Hydrate Your Way to Healthy Skin?
When asked for their secret to flawless skin, many celebrities — including Jennifer Aniston, Gabrielle Union, and Beyoncé — claim that it has to do with their water intake. And although scientific research has established that hydration is a crucial part of maintaining overall health, you may be wondering: Can you really hydrate your way to healthy skin?
The Potential Link Between Drinking Water and Improving Skin
Although you’ve probably heard that swigging H2O can give you glowing, clear skin, robust scientific evidence behind this notion is lacking. One small study published in 2015 in Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology did suggest a relationship between hydration and skin health, though. Specifically, researchers found that in individuals with low daily water consumption — that is, those who were dehydrated to begin with — increasing water intake had a positive effect on skin appearance and helped maintain skin hydration levels.
But, the study notes, if you’re already well hydrated, drinking to a point beyond a balanced level of hydration may not have any additional impact. “Excessive hydration is unlikely to benefit the skin,” says Kathleen C. Suozzi, MD, director of aesthetic dermatology at Yale Medicine and assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. The skin is “hydrated” from the inside out by pulling fluid from the capillary blood flow in the skin, she explains, but if there isn’t enough water to pull from — say, if you’re dehydrated — skin can effectively dry out.
All the same, dermatologists including Dr. Suozzi say it makes sense to feature water in your healthy-skin routine.
“Skin hydration is a reflection of total-body hydration,” Suozzi says. “If a person is dehydrated, there is less water being transferred to the skin from the circulation.”
Debra Jaliman, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in New York City, adds that getting enough water can improve blood flow in the skin and body. She notes that the body’s cells and tissues are mostly comprised of water. “It’s important to stay hydrated,” adds Dr. Jaliman, who is also an assistant professor of dermatology Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and author of the book, Skin Rules: Trade Secrets from a Top New York Dermatologist. “If you feel thirsty, that’s your body asking for water. Drink enough water throughout the day that your body doesn’t get a chance to feel dehydrated.”
How Much Water Should You Drink for Healthy Skin?
Beyoncé and Union claim a gallon of water a day keeps skin dryness away (and, as Suozzi points out, maybe you’ve spotted those huge water bottles on Instagram that seem to promote “super hydration”). But drinking this much water is likely unnecessary.
Suozzi says about 13 cups of water for men and 9 cups of water for women represents adequate fluid intake, as outlined by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. But “if a person has a lot of transepidermal water loss from sweat or heat, then this requirement increases,” she points out. Transepidermal water loss refers to water lost through the skin.
Other dietary factors, such as caffeinated beverages or water-rich foods, can also influence the body’s hydration levels. Generally, though, you want to aim for the aforementioned net intake, give or take a glass or two.
Drinking too much water may result in water intoxication, a rare effect, per a past article. When there is too much water in the body, salts and electrolytes become too diluted, causing a condition called hyponatremia, Medline Plus notes. “Excessive fluid intake can put a strain on the kidneys, which is the body’s filtration organ,” Suozzi says.
Diet and Lifestyle Tips for Keeping Skin Hydrated
To improve your body’s hydration levels (and thus your skin’s), follow these expert-backed strategies.
Eat Your Water
When it comes to crushing your hydration goals, it can help to add foods high in water to your plate. (Not sure where to start? Try cucumbers, celery, zucchini, watermelon, strawberries and cauliflower, per the Cleveland Clinic.)
Limit Alcohol and Sweets
“Alcohol dehydrates your body and skin,” Jaliman says. This can make the skin look more wrinkled and dry. Many mixed drinks that contain alcohol are also loaded with sugar, which she notes will also “wreak havoc” on your skin. “People shouldn’t indulge in too many sugary sweets,” she notes, explaining that sugar stiffens collagen via a process called glycation, which ages the skin. “Too much sugar flares inflammation if you’re prone to inflammatory skin conditions such as psoriasis and can lead to inflammation. It can aggravate conditions such as acne, rosacea, and eczema.”
“When topical products called humectants are applied to the skin, they can be absorbed and pull in water,” Suozzi explains. Hyaluronic acid, a common skin-care ingredient, is one example of a humectant. Suozzi adds that emollients like creams and ointments help retain moisture by reducing fluid loss in the protective outermost layer of the skin.
Exfoliate Your Skin
It might sound counterintuitive, but the process “gets rid of dead skin and allows skin-care products to penetrate more efficiently,” Jaliman explains. “Many think it can leave your skin too dry, but that’s only when someone exfoliates too often, which can end up irritating your skin.” The American Academy of Dermatology notes that red, irritated skin after exfoliation may suggest overexfoliation. Work with your dermatologist to identify the right type and frequency of exfoliation for your skin.
Add a Serum
Post-exfoliation, using a good serum will also help with the hydration process. She suggests trying Neutrogena Rapid Wrinkle Repair, a “great serum” boasting three active ingredients: retinol, hyaluronic acid, and glycerin. “The hyaluronic acid plumps the skin,” she explains. “It’s super hydrating and has anti-aging properties. It’s a natural humectant. Glycerin really moisturizes the skin. This serum is great for mature skin.”
Hydrate Your Air
A humidifier effectively boosts moisture to the air, so “adding a humidifier to your home is also a great idea to add more hydration to the skin,” suggests Jaliman. “As the air becomes drier and cooler, your skin will need more moisture, because the dry air sucks the moisture out of your skin,” she explains. “Anytime you add moisture to dry air it will benefit your skin and for some help alleviate other issues such as allergies.”
Optimize Your Shower Routine
Nazanin Saedi, MD, the director of the Jefferson Laser Surgery and Cosmetic Dermatology Center in Philadelphia, suggests avoiding hot showers or washing your face with hot water, as the heat “absorbs the moisture from your skin.” Lukewarm water is ideal for skin.
Finally, when you apply your products can impact skin hydration levels. “Moisturize right after coming out of the shower,” Dr. Saedi suggests. After getting out, lightly pat skin dry with your towel and apply a thick layer to increase absorption, she advises.
A Final Word on Hydration and Your Skin
If you aren’t maintaining proper hydration levels, drinking more water may be beneficial to your skin health. But if you are already drinking the recommended daily amount of water and are sufficiently hydrated, drinking additional H2O likely won’t improve the health or appearance of your skin.
That said, incorporating hydration into your skin-care routine, via exfoliation and infusing a serum with effective ingredients directly after, could have a positive effect on your skin. Additionally, you can help your skin stay hydrated by avoiding contact with hot water, upping your intake of water-rich foods, and potentially using a humidifier in your home.
And a final note: If you have further questions, consider visiting a dermatologist to get specific recommendations based on your skin’s needs.
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