Is your skin WATER dry or OIL dry?

This post also appears at the Purely Primal Skincare Guide blog!
Did you know there’s not just ONE TYPE of dry skin?
In fact, there are two different ways that the skin can be “dry.” For some people, only ONE of the two different types of dryness is a problem. Others struggle with both types at the same time, and it can be confusing to say the least!
Even though we generally think of “dry” as meaning lacking in water, when it comes to your skin, you can be either WATER dry or OIL dry.
Confused? Here’s the rundown.
Serious attractive brunette looking at mirror in bright bedroom

Water dry

When the skin is “water dry,” it means that the skin itself lacks water, or proper water balance (more on that in a moment). This can happen for several reasons – but having “water dry” skin DOESN’T mean you need to apply water topically. This is a common misconception.
The skin, just like the rest of the body, depends on water for hydration – but not JUST water. Hydration actually depends on proper chemical processes inside and between the cells themselves, and those processes involve both water and electrolytes (electrolytes are simply minerals that we get from our food). Minerals enable water to cross the cell barriers. We can’t truly be hydrated without minerals – yet another reason diet is crucial in skincare, like we discuss in the Purely Primal Skincare Guide!
When hydration is at ideal levels, the skin looks full and healthy because the cells have achieved proper water balance. When water balance is off, the skin can look ashy, deflated and sunken even when it looks oily. Yes, oily skin CAN be water-dry! You’ve probably seen it before.
When skin is “water dry,” it usually means that the raw materials for maintaining cellular water balance – water and electrolytes – are out of balance. Drink more water, and check sources of electrolytes – if your water is soft or distilled, for example, you may need to look for more sources of minerals. You may want to try drinking lemon water with a pinch of salt and a dash of maple syrup (yes, sugar – it helps your body use the salt). You may want to try bone broth, which is rich in minerals as well.
Making sure there is enough Omega 3-rich food in the diet will also help with cellular electrolyte balance, as essential fatty acids also interact with minerals in cellular electrolyte balance. Eat those sardines once a week!
Contrary to popular belief, your urine does not need to be clear for you to be properly hydrated. Paying attention to how your skin looks, as well as how long your body is holding on to water (as in, you shouldn’t be urinating every hour; every few hours is sufficient) is a great gauge for how you’re doing. Sometimes, frequent urination means you’re losing water too quickly.
Water-dry skin, then, is for the most part dry from the inside – but to further complicate things, your skin can lose what hydration it has from the outside! The climate and season where you live can affect how quickly your skin loses water, because when the environment surrounding us is dry – during the winter, or in dry climates – water will be drawn from the skin into the environment.
That’s one of the reasons I always recommend running a humidifier if you feel your skin is water dry – sunken, ashy, or deflated-looking. Certain “humectants” like glycerin or hyaluronic acid can help “seal in” water IF there’s water to be sealed in; in dry climates and on dry skin, the humectant will draw water toward itself and away from the skin; in moist climates and on properly hydrated skin, humectants will draw water toward the skin. (This is why you have to experiment with humectants to see whether they work with your environment and skin needs.)
If skin is water dry, no amount of nourishing skincare oil (not even the “popular” ones like argan oil) will fix the problem. Focusing on water intake with minerals, keeping the environment a bit more humid, and experimenting with humectants if desired can help.
Water dry is a bit more challenging than oil dry, because you CAN correct oil-dry skin from the outside much more easily.

Oil dry

Oil dry skin simply isn’t producing adequate sebum (the skin’s natural oil lubrication) to allow that dewy, plump look. A good way to test if your skin is oil dry is to go to bed with a completely “clean” face and no moisturizer. Sleep on your back if at all possible. In the morning, dab your skin with a square of 1-ply toilet paper or a square of “oil dabbing” product. Is there at least a trace of oil on the square?
If so, your skin has produced adequate sebum to keep the skin nourished overnight. That’s good news. If your skin has absolutely no oil by the morning, it’s likely oil dry.
To most direct way to address this is to first make sure the diet is filled with healthy, raw materials for healthy skin – as addressed in the Purely Primal Skincare Guide. From there, finding an oil-based moisturizer that your skin tolerates well should go a long way!
Tallow and emu oil are excellent, gentle oil-based moisturizers that work well for sensitive skin. Rose hip seed oil, jojoba oil, and argan oil are all light, easily absorbed, and excellent for replenishing and nourishing normal skin.
For hearty skin that’s not sensitive, other more potent plant oils can be fun to experiment with: neem oil, olive oil, and baobab oil.
Mixed oil-based moisturizers that use beeswax or propolis (check out Egyptian Magic) can also be powerful dual treatment/moisturizers.
As always, make sure to spot test!

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2 Responses

  1. Skin on body is dry after washing. Then it feels dry and oily at times. I live in a dry climate. Glyceron works but does but last long. I think I have both dkin types. Oils did work but don’t now. Feel skin barrier/ph is out of line. At times I feel like I have no sebum then feel like I have a tonne. What do I do?

    1. Get a humidifier and run it all night! See if that helps. Work on staying hydrated and getting your mineral status up – trace mineral drops, lemon juice, sea salt, bone broth. Make sure you eat enough healthy fats too.

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