Ask the experts

Caroline Hirons on how to tell whether your skin is dry, dehydrated (or both)

One of the world’s most revered skin care gurus, Caroline Hirons dispenses her signature wisdom (and wit) to the beauty confused who are looking for frank and insightful advice. Frank, funny and phenomenally well-informed, there’s not a thing she doesn’t know about face (neck and chest!) maintenance, which is why so many men and women – of all ages and skin types – place faith in her recommendations. And now, with her first book – Skincare: The Ultimate No-Nonsense Guide – about to be released into the beauty wild, we thought we would offer a taste of the topics address in her first ‘beauty bible’ – the ultimate reference for those who’re already obsessed or beginning their journey to happier, healthier skin. Over to Caroline…

Image courtesty of Nicky Johnson

Dry skins and dehydrated skins can have very similar characteristics, but different underlying causes, and interestingly blur the line between skin type and skin condition.


Dry skin is normally a skin type but it can also be a temporary skin condition. It is caused by lack of oil in the skin. Characteristics of dry skin include:

small pores

skin feels ‘tight’

skin may be flaky

milia, blackheads and spots may be present

skin looks dull

skin is not plump

skin doesn’t absorb products easily

skin is easily irritated and more likely to suffer reactions to products

skin is aggravated by poor skin care


A skin condition such as dehydration can affect any skin type, including dry and oily skin. It is caused by lack of water in the skin (not lack of water taken orally!). Characteristics of dehydrated skin include:

pores can be large or small

skin feels ‘tight’ and dry, although confusingly, in the case of oily skin, it can still look shiny and have breakouts

skin absorbs moisturisers really quickly

blackheads and spots are still visible

make up disappears (and goes patchy) throughout the day as the skin is absorbing any water in your foundation

skin looks ‘ashen’

a possibility of suffering from headaches

In normal circumstances, your hydrolipidic film (on the surface of the skin) acts as a regulator and barrier – retaining moisture and protecting your skin against germs. If, for whatever reason, that film’s effectiveness is affected, the moisture in the epidermis evaporates too quickly and the normal, healthy state of the skin is compromised.

The reality is that most of us at one time or another have dehydrated skin. Any and all of the following can cause dehydration:

Environment: wind, cold air, dry air, too much sun, air conditioning, central heating

Diet: eating the wrong foods, consuming alcohol and caffeine, not eating enough water-heavy foods or not drinking enough water

Lifestyle: stress, poor skincare routine, using the wrong products, medication (including birth control) or smoking

Genetics: monthly cycle, pregnancy or hormones


Omega oils found in either flax or fish oil supplements will help both dry and dehydrated skins, however you need to be using them for at least three months before you’ll see the benefits on your skin.

It is quite common to have skin that is both dry and dehydrated, but if the definitions above have helped you ascertain that your skin is either dry or dehydrated (or both), these dos and don’ts might help:

Do upgrade your moisturiser to one suitable for dry skin if you recognise the signs – go for products using the words ‘nourishing’.

Do change your moisturiser to one labelled ‘hydra’ or ‘hydrating’ if you suspect you are dehydrated.

Do use balms, oils and serums for dry skin.

Do use milks, specified oils and treatments for dehydrated skin.

Do not use products that are too harsh or too stripping.

Steer clear of foaming products – keep the bubbles for your dishes.

Whether your skin is dry or dehydrated, adding a little hyaluronic acid to your routine won’t hurt.

Extracted from Skincare by Caroline Hirons out 25th June (HQ, HarperCollins)


Verity Douglas

Verity Douglas

Content Editor

Verity is our Content Editor and a Cult Beauty veteran. Currently on maternity leave, raising Cult Beauty’s honorary ‘word nerd’, Tabitha, she speaks fluent ‘beauty’ and loves nothing more than the marriage of language and lip balm (and cleanser and candles… ad infinitum). Nothing can stop her from quoting Nancy Mitford, treating herself to yet another Bella Freud candle for her desk or buying that pilgrim-esque collared or heavily fringed outfit she’s been eyeing. You can trust her to debunk widespread beauty myths and dispense invaluable advice with ease…