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The Difference Between Dry and Dehydrated Skin (Plus, the Best Moisturizers)

This winter has been a bit of a slap in the face, and the moisture has likely been knocked right out of your skin. Now that spring is on its way (we hope!), it's time to repair and replenish your complexion. We asked the experts for advice on how to return your skin to a healthy and hydrated state. 

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moisturizer for dry skin woman

First things first, do you have dry or dehydrated skin?

“Dry skin is a skin type. It refers to a lack of lipids in the skin and has a tendency to occur in people with sensitive skin, eczema-prone skin and after menopause,” says Dr. Sonya Abdulla, a dermatologist at Dermatology on Bloor in Toronto. Dry skin often feels tight and will feel dry all year long. It might get worse in certain climates or seasons (ie. winter), but that tight feeling will never really go away. Dry skin types should look for heavier moisturizers that have lipids and oils. “Dry skin often benefits from ceramides – a naturally occurring skin lipid that decreases with time, and in some people, especially eczema-prone skin, we simply don’t make enough at baseline,” says Dr. Abdulla.

Dehydrated skin, on the other hand, is a skin state in which your stratum corneum (the most superficial layer of the skin) has a lack of water. Any skin type — even oily — can experience dehydrated skin, says Dr. Abdulla. Your skin may still be oily on the top layer but will feel dry and dehydrated below the surface. That’s why adding moisturizing products that are too rich can do more harm than good (Think: acne breakouts and excessive oiliness). Since the cause of dehydrated skin is a lack of water, look for ingredients that can draw in water from the surrounding environment and the deeper layers of the skin, like hyaluronic acid and glycerin, says Dr. Abdulla.

Read on as we decode the best moisturizers for dry skin and the best moisturizers for dehydrated skin.

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Vichy

Best for dehydrated skin in any skin type: Vichy Aqualia Thermal

“Since dehydrated skin can occur in any skin type, the vehicle in which it is delivered will have extra elements relevant for your skin type,” says Dr. Abdulla. “All skin types can benefit from hyaluronic acid but oily skin may need a water-based gel and dry skin may need a cream or serum containing nourishing oils or lipids.”

Vichy’s Aqualia Thermal line is formulated with mineralizing thermal water and hyaluronic acid. In addition to a Serum, the line offers three different cream formulations: Light for normal to dry skin; Gel Cream for normal to combination skin; and Rich for dry skin.

Aqualia Thermal Rehydrating Cream in Rich, $40 (50 mL); available at mass market retailers

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Weleda Skin Food

Best for dry skin: Weleda Skin Food Body Butter

If you have dry skin, there’s no doubt you’re familiar with the original Skin Food. This year, more than 90 years after the launch of their cult favourite product Skin Food, Weleda added three new products to create a full Skin Food Experience Collection. The moisturizing base differs according to the product but all feature the same plant extracts of pansy, rosemary, calendula and chammomile. Try Skin Food Body Butter with cocoa seed butter and shea butter to lock in moisture and and prep skin for your summer wardrobe.

Skin Food Body Butter, $23; available at Whole Foods, well.ca and natural health and wellness retailers across Canada

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Dermalogica

Best for dry skin: Dermalogica Intensive Moisture Balance with BioReplenish Complex

Dermalogica’s popular Intensive Moisture Balance has been reformulated with new technology called BioReplenish Complex which delivers a combination of key barrier lipids to the skin. It’s clinically proven to penetrate 10 layers deep to nourish skin, says Dermalogica Education Manager, Lindsay Barras. Because the formula is rich in lipids, she recommends the Intensive Moisture line specifically for dry skin since it could feel a little too heavy on normal to oily skin types.

Intensive Moisture Balance with BioReplenish Complex, $111 (100 mL); available at dermalogica.ca and sephora.ca

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Neostrata

Best for dehydrated skin: Neostrata Hyaluronic Acid Micro Infusion Patches

These 100 percent pure hyaluronic acid patches are the answer to skin suffering from patches of dehydration. Use them as a targeted treatment wherever you need extra hydration.

Hyaluronic Acid Micro Infusion Patches, $25 (2 patches); available at mass market retailers as of April 8

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Kosmea

Best for dry skin: Kosmea Nourishing Treatment Cream

This formula is designed to treat and relieve itchiness associated with dry skin and eczema. Key ingredients include calendula, shea butter and Kosmea’s signature Certified Organic Rosehip Oil. For even more moisture, apply this after applying a few drops of Kosmea’s Certified Organic Rosehip Oil, $35 (100 mL).

Nourishing Treatment Cream, $29 (50 mL); available at kosmea.com, well.ca, and natural health and wellness retailers across Canada

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Bio Oil

Best for dry skin: Bio-Oil Dry Skin Gel

This new launch from Bio-Oil (it’s actually the brand’s second product ever!) is made with 50 percent oil and contains just three percent water making it a highly effective formula for dry skin types. The formulation includes many of the same skin soothing ingredients found in the original Bio-Oil Skincare Oil, but the unique gel-to-oil texture allows for instant absorption and improved efficacy.

Dry Skin Gel, $25 (200 mL); available at mass market retailers

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Garnier face mist

Best for dehydrated skin: Garnier Hydrating Facial Mist

The quickest way to give your skin a shot of hydration is a facial mist. This one from Garnier is formulated with aloe leaf juice and works well for normal to combination skin types.

Hydrating Facial Mist with Aloe Leaf Juice, $11 (130 mL); available at mass market retailers

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Cerave

Best for dry skin: CeraVe Moisturizing Cream

This moisturizing cream is perfect for dry skin types. Its formula features three essential ceramides to help restore the epidermis and protect skin from daily aggressors. It offers relief for people suffering from atopic dermatitis and has even been certified by the Eczema Society of Canada.

Moisturizing Cream, $28 (453 g jar with pump); available at mass market retailers

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Avene

Best for dry skin: Avéne XeraCalm A.D.

Soothe dry, itchy skin with this lipid-replenishing cream that helps re-balance the skin’s microbiome and repairs the skin barrier.

XeraCalm A.D., $36 (400 mL pump bottle); available at mass market retailers

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