Dehydrated skin is different from dry skin. It is a symptom of dehydration throughout the body.

If a person uses and loses more water than they take in, they will become dehydrated.

In this article, we look at the common symptoms and causes of dehydrated skin. We also outline treatments and suggest when to seek guidance from a healthcare professional.

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Why the body needs water

The human body is 55–65% water. Every cell, tissue, and organ within the human body needs water to function properly.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the body needs water to:

  • sweat to prevent overheating
  • avoid constipation
  • lubricate and cushion joints
  • protect the spinal cord
  • protect sensitive tissues
  • remove waste from the body via urination and bowel movements

The body is using up water constantly. People need to replace the water they lose by drinking water and other fluids.

If people use more water than they take in, they can become dehydrated. Dehydration can affect all parts of the body, including the skin.

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Dry vs. dehydrated skin

Dry skin and dehydrated skin are similar. However, although they can look the same, they are due to different factors.

When dry skin occurs, it means that the skin is not producing enough natural oils it needs to maintain itself. This can happen for a few reasons.

A person may have a skin condition, such as dermatitis or eczema. Frequent washing can also cause dry skin by stripping the oils present in the skin. Additionally, some people naturally have drier skin than others.

By contrast, dehydrated skin is a result of insufficient consumption of water.

Examining the other symptoms a person is experiencing can help healthcare professionals tell the difference between dry and dehydrated skin.

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Symptoms

Mild dehydration is common. One of the symptoms of dehydration is dry skin patches.

The patches might be rough, scaly, or itchy. People may also have more noticeable fine lines in the skin or a dull complexion. They may also find that their skin is less elastic, or stretchy, than usual.

Dehydration in adults

In adults, other symptoms of dehydration include:

  • thirst
  • dry lips
  • dry mouth
  • urinating less than usual
  • sweating less than usual
  • tiredness
  • dizziness
  • sunken eyes
  • dark urine with a strong smell

Dehydration in infants, toddlers, and children

Symptoms of dehydration in infants, toddlers, and children can include:

  • dry mouth
  • dry tongue
  • not producing tears when crying
  • high fever
  • unusual sleepiness or drowsiness
  • irritability
  • sunken eyes
  • dark, strong-smelling urine

Causes

A person becomes dehydrated when they use or lose more water than they take in.

Common causes

There are numerous causes of dehydration, including:

  • not drinking enough water
  • sweating too much
  • losing fluids through diarrhea or vomiting
  • having a fever
  • having a sunburn

It is worth noting that some people are at higher risk of dehydration than others.

People often lose their sense of thirst as they age. This means that some older adults do not drink enough water or other fluids.

Infants, toddlers, and children can also be more at risk. This is because they are more likely to experience diarrhea and vomiting than adults.

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Certain health conditions

Some health conditions can contribute to dehydration. For example, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and kidney dysfunction can make people sweat or urinate more often.

Some medications

There are several medicines that can affect the balance of fluids in the body. Some of the medications that can contribute to dehydration are:

Treatment

Treatment will depend on the severity of dehydration.

To treat mild dehydration, a person should drink lots of water. Drinking sports drinks that contain electrolytes may also help.

Children who are dehydrated might benefit from oral rehydration solutions. These are available to buy over the counter in most drug stores.

Severe cases of dehydration can be very dangerous. A doctor will treat severe dehydration in the hospital. Usually, healthcare professionals will give a person fluids via an intravenous drip.

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Prevention

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, to avoid dehydration, a person needs to:

When to contact a doctor

Mild cases of dehydration are common. People can treat themselves by drinking plenty of water.

However, sometimes dehydration can be very serious. It can lead to a drop in blood pressure and prevent major organs from working properly. Severe dehydration can affect the:

Anyone who experiences mild symptoms of dehydration along with any of the following signs should seek emergency medical attention:

  • fainting
  • confusion
  • lack of urination
  • quick breathing
  • quick heartbeat

Summary

The body needs a constant supply of water to maintain itself and carry out essential physiological functions. If a person uses and loses more water than they take in, they will become dehydrated.

A common symptom of dehydration is dry skin. People might notice patches of rough, scaly, itchy skin. These might co-occur with some of the other symptoms of dehydration, such as thirst, tiredness, or dark urine.

Drinking plenty of water daily is the most effective treatment for mild cases of dehydration. Severe cases can be dangerous and need urgent medical attention.

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