Skin and hydration – Dr Sarah Schenker

Healthy skin is often described as glowing or dewy and that is because healthy skin is always slightly moist. By contrast, dehydrated skin means that the skin is lacking water and will appear dull, overall tone and complexion may appear uneven, and fine lines are more noticeable.

Signs of dehydrated skin include:
• redness and itchiness
• dullness
• dark under-eye circles
• sunken eyes
• “shadows” around the face (especially under the eyes and around the nose)
• increased incidence or appearance of fine lines and surface wrinkles

The body loses approximately 1-2 litres of water per day through normal bodily processes. When we sweat, we can lose a large amount of water from the body depending on factors such as temperature, exercise duration and intensity. The skin also loses small amounts of water continuously throughout the day even in ambient temperatures and without exercising. This loss of water makes skin look moist and dewy. However, if the body starts to get dehydrated, water is preserved in the body meaning less water is lost through the skin. Eventually, the skin will have a dry and wrinkly appearance. Therefore, maintaining a good hydration status throughout the day, allows the skin to stay moist.
Skin has its own built in hydration system which involves blood vessels supplying skin with water and electrolytes. Electrolytes are the minerals potassium, sodium, calcium, chloride, phosphate, and magnesium and they have the ability to attract water. Once mixed with water, electrolytes help conduct electricity in the skin, enabling cells to regulate pH levels and keep the body’s hydration system working properly. They also help skin to retain water.
This means that as well as drinking a sufficient amount of water each day to maintain good hydration, a good intake of minerals in the diet is also crucial for healthy skin.

Good sources of the electrolyte minerals are as follows;

• potassium – beans and lentils, root vegetables such as parsnips and beetroot, green leafy veg such as spinach, citrus fruits and juice, bananas and avocados.
• calcium – milk and dairy products, nuts and seeds, fish with edible bones, green leafy veg and beans and lentils.
• phosphate – lean meats such as chicken, turkey and pork, seafood, dairy products, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils and wholegrains.
• magnesium – green leafy veg, nuts and seeds, beans and lentils and wholegrains.

Sodium and chloride are easily obtained through having a small amount of salt in the diet. It is recommended that adults consume no more than 6g of salt per day.

Another important aspect in preventing skin from becoming dehydrated is to protect its barrier function. The skin’s outermost layer, called the stratum corneum, prevents excessive water loss, holding in water and electrolytes and protecting skin cells from environmental pollutants and allergens.

When this barrier function is compromised, skin loses too much water and may become inflamed. This can be caused by the breakdown of collagen, a protein that makes up about three quarters of our skin. When collagen breaks down, fine lines and wrinkles appear and is further exacerbated by dehydration.
As we age, the body produces less and lower quality collagen. There is a 2% reduction in collagen every year from the age of 25 and by the age of 45, there is a 50% reduction in collagen production. The visible signs of aging are due to a deficiency of collagen and directly correlate to lack of hydration and reduced skin elasticity. However, collagen supplements can be used to improve skin elasticity and hydration.
How to tell if your skin is dehydrated
There is a simple pinch test that can be performed at home to determine your skin’s hydration level.
Take a small portion of your skin around the cheek area and squeeze lightly. If you notice any wrinkling and if the skin doesn’t bounce back after you let go, then your skin may be dehydrated.
How to treat dehydrated skin
Dehydration is treatable with lifestyle changes. Symptoms of mild dehydration include a dry mouth, poor concentration and even headaches. Thirst is not always a good indicator as we may not register sensations of thirst until the body is already around two to three per cent dehydrated. That’s why it’s important to get into the habit of drinking enough water on a daily basis – that means on average about two litres a day, taken in small regular amounts throughout the day. Requirements will go up if the weather is hot or if you are exerting yourself through hard physical work or exercise.

It’s also important not to drink too much water, as this can lead to a loss in minerals. Alongside your 2 litres, eating water-rich fruits and vegetables such as celery and watermelon can also help increase your intake.

You can also treat dehydrated skin with the following diet and lifestyle changes:
• Avoid alcohol or only drink in moderation.
• Watch your intake of caffeine, large or excessive amounts of caffeine can have a diuretic effect.
• Stop smoking.
• Drink water before, during and after an exercise session.
• Get plenty of sleep.
• Eat a balanced and varied diet that includes plenty of water rich foods.

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