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Does Drinking Water Actually Hydrate Your Skin?

What is the best way to hydrate skin? Is drinking water enough? Here, dermatologists weigh in to dispel the myths on how to get glowy, plump skin.


Vogue Arabia, November 2022. Photo: Mehmet Erzincan

When it comes to achieving glowy, ageless skin, it seems that nearly every celebrity, model, and influencer always has the exact same advice: drink more water than you think you should. Even wellness experts will tell you that drinking adequate amounts of water is the first step to maintaining your looks. “When you’re hydrated, your joints are lubricated, your skin is being nourished, and your hair follicles are able to grow in healthfully,” nutritionist Kimberly Snyder, who works with A-listers like Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, recently shared with Vogue.

It makes sense. After all, there’s no doubt that drinking enough water is essential for maintaining optimal health—and, we all know that when we’re dehydrated, we certainly don’t look or feel our best. But can drinking more water actually take your skin from dull to dewy all on its own? And, if so, how much water do you really need to drink to radiate envy-inducing glow? Here, dermatologists weigh in to dispel the myths.

Hydration for health

It’s often said that water is life—and truly, we wouldn’t survive or even exist without it. Not only does it make up most of the volume of our bodies, but it serves as a vehicle for delivering essential nutrients to our cells and removing harmful toxins and waste. It also helps our bodies maintain a normal temperature, lubricates joints, and protects our sensitive tissues and important organs. “Being well hydrated supports the body’s overall health and ability to function,” explains Dr. Deanne Mraz, Assistant Clinical Professor of Dermatology at Yale New Haven Hospital and the president and co-founder of Modern Dermatology.

Of course, the body’s overall health also includes the health of our largest organ, the skin. “The skin is a reflection of what’s going on inside the body, so when the body is in balance and optimal health, the skin will reflect that,” Mraz explains.

The telltale signs of dehydration

Because being well-hydrated is so essential to our wellbeing, our bodies are experts at letting us know when we need to drink up. Aside from feeling thirsty, you might get a headache, experience brain fog and low energy, or even feel unexpectedly depressed.

Similarly, the telltale signs of dehydrated skin are pretty obvious as well. You may see dry patches, flaking, or have a feeling of tightness. You might feel itchy. Or, you might simply notice that your face doesn’t look as vibrant and youthful as you’d like. “Dehydrated skin may appear dull, which may result in the appearance of more noticeable fine lines, wrinkles, and dark circles” Dr. Marisa Garshick of Manhattan Dermatology and Cosmetic Surgery Centers and the Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology, New York Presbyterian Cornell explains. “When the skin is dehydrated it can worsen the appearance of common signs of aging.”

If you aren’t sure if your skin is dehydrated, you can do a quick test. “Pinch a small portion of your cheek,” Garshick advises. “If the skin doesn’t bounce back quickly or wrinkles easily, it may be dehydrated.”

The myth of dewy skin

Unfortunately, downing extra liters won’t automatically translate to having plump skin. “The main impact that hydration has on skin appearance is improved blood flow to the skin, delivering nutrients and oxygen to it as well as detoxifying the body,” Mraz explains. “It won’t ‘send’ hydration to your skin’s surface for a dewy complexion.”

To that end, it’s best to take a multifaceted approach to achieving well-hydrated skin. Both experts recommend focusing on wellness basics like good nutrition, sleep hygiene, and water consumption, as well as on topical applications of skincare products that amp up moisture and seal it in. “Eating a well-balanced diet and following a healthy lifestyle in conjunction with following a good skincare routine that helps to moisturize and protect from daily stressors like UV damage can be helpful for the skin,” Garshick says. “There is just not enough evidence to suggest that drinking water should be used as the only way to improve your skin health.”

An inside job

Mraz says that, when it comes to optimal water consumption for healthy skin, a good rule of thumb is to “aim for half your body weight in ounces of water.” For example, a 140 pound woman would aim for 70 ounces of water. You can load up on hydrating foods like fresh fruits and vegetables, which she says are “a great way to further boost hydration.” In other words, just apply the same reasoning you’d use for keeping yourself well-hydrated overall. “It’s best to drink enough so you don’t feel dehydrated,” Garshick agrees.

And, don’t forget to eat all your essential nutrients either. “A healthy, balanced diet filled with antioxidant-rich foods as well as healthy fats will support a healthy and glowing complexion,” Garshick says. That means getting plenty of omega-3 fatty acids: “This will support a healthy skin barrier, which is our skin’s outermost layer and plays an important role in regulating hydration levels of the skin. Eating oily fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, and herring are a great way to add these to your diet, as is snacking on walnuts.”

Amp up the moisture to hydrate skin

To complement your wellness routine, both experts recommend skincare products that contain ingredients like hyaluronic acid, lactic acid, urea acid, ceramides, glycerin, and peptides which are known to protect and hydrate skin.

“In general, the best way to hydrate skin is by regularly using moisturizing creams and skincare products that boost hydration,” Garshick says. “More specifically, you can hydrate skin by looking for humectants, which are ingredients such as hyaluronic acid and glycerin, that help to draw moisture into the skin.”

In addition to humectants, Mraz says that we should also be on the lookout for products that contain emollients like shea butter, lanolin, and squalane, which “soften the skin and seal in what’s underneath it.” Exfoliation is also key. “Removing dead skin cells maximizes absorption—think retinols and AHAs,” she explains. “Active ingredients work best when the skin has been exfoliated regularly.”

And, don’t forget to consider your environment, especially during certain times of year, as excessive dry air can strip skin of its natural moisture. “In the winter months I often recommend patients try a cool mist humidifier in their bedrooms at night and in any rooms they spend a lot of time in.”

All this said, if you don’t drink enough water, you’ll definitely see the effects on your face. Take that as a reminder to drink up: Your skin reflects your overall health, and water is essential for your entire wellbeing. One small study found that drinking more water may improve the appearance of skin in those who usually don’t drink enough. However, “there’s not enough evidence to suggest that drinking water beyond a certain level to maintain adequate levels of hydration will necessarily make a difference in skin health,” says Garshick. “It always helpful to boost moisture overall to keep the skin looking healthy and radiant.”

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