Water makes up about 55-60% of the adult body by weight (1), so it’s no secret that drinking enough water is important to our health. However, did you know that getting enough water can also have great benefits for our skin?
Skin is an organ made up of cells, and cells contain water.
When most people think about organs, they think about kidneys or lungs or hearts – probably because those organs have very specific and obvious functions. However, skin is an organ too and serves many purposes: it protects against infection, keeps water (and everything else) in while we move around, insulates the rest of the body from environmental stressors like temperature change and sunlight, and connects the brain with the outside world via an intricate network of nerves and receptors. (2)
Our skin has three layers: epidermis (outer layer), dermis (middle layer), and subcutaneous layer (inner layer). Each layer contains different kinds of cells that serve different functions, and all of those cells have one thing in common: they contain water.
Cells that don’t contain enough water start to malfunction.
Our bodies are very smart. If your water balance shifts because you’re losing a lot of fluid (e.g., you’re sweating a lot or you’ve eaten a lot of salt that needs to be flushed out), the body’s cells ‘donate’ water to keep things running smoothly. (3) In other words: if you lose water without replacing it, the water needs to come from somewhere and your cells (including skin cells) are a readily available source.
Dehydrated cells change in a few different ways: (4)
You’ll know if you’re not getting enough water because your skin will look dry and dull… and you’ll be thirsty.
Thirst is the most obvious signal that you’re not getting enough water. However, thirst isn’t always the easiest thing to detect (and is relatively easy to ignore).
Your skin also offers a few clues that you could stand to increase your water intake: (5)
As for how much to drink – around 8 cups of water each day is a good goal, but knowing how to recognize thirst and drinking until you don’t feel thirsty anymore is even better. Your body’s water needs are influenced by your composition, diet, and lifestyle, so your own thirst (and the colour of your urine – aim for as close to clear as possible) will give you the most reliable indication of whether or not you need more water. (6)
The best way to keep skin hydrated is to make sure you’re drinking enough water, and use a good moisturizer to minimize water loss.
Hydrated skin cells contain more water which makes them physically larger and fuller. That’s why well-hydrated skin looks so good – plumper skin cells reflect light better (that ‘glowing’ look) and take up more space (which smooths things out and reduces the appearance of wrinkles). (5)
However, skin cells are on the ‘outside’ and are generally last to receive the water we drink, so it’s important to not only get enough water but to help lock it into our skin using a hydrating moisturizer (5, 7). The best time to apply a moisturizer is while your skin is still slightly damp, and look for one that is rich and creamy but non-comedogenic (especially if you plan to use it on your face).
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