We are frequently told that we should drink more water. Consider too, that skin’s most important task is to prevent the escape of our precious body water – this is our critically important skin permeability barrier. This might lead one to conclude that drinking more water would indeed be good for our skin – just as it is purported to be for the other parts of our body. But at the heart of this lies a misconception about water and how our body handles this precious resource.
Drinking water may be helpful to flush toxins through the kidneys and out of the body. But beyond satisfying basic fluid requirements, flooding the system with water does not affect skin health. All cells, skin cells included, operate at their best within a narrow range of concentration of salts and other molecules. This means that too much water can be just as much of a problem for our cells as too little.
Therefore, our bodies work assiduously to maintain a precise water balance inside our cells and within our blood. When we imbibe water, it enters our blood stream. The water in the blood equilibrates with the water in the extracellular compartment – or the regions of the body between the cells – and ultimately with the water inside our cells. Our kidneys quickly remove any excess of water from the blood – because blood, too, needs to maintain a narrow range of concentration of solutes. Kidneys also conserve water when our intake is restricted. With dehydration, as water is depleted from the circulation, the extracellular compartment contracts – it loses water, too. When water deprivation is extreme, it can result in a loss of fullness or ‘turgor’ in the skin – and in other tissues, too. Skin is just the most obvious one.
It would only be under these conditions of severe dehydration, that drinking water would visibly affect the skin. Under normal circumstances, drinking more water won’t plump out your skin. In fact, excessive intake can be dangerous and result in water intoxication.
If you have patches of dry skin, this is not caused by dehydration of the body in general. Instead, the problem is a failure of the outer layer of your skin to hold onto the water in its cells – and drinking more water is not the solution here. Instead, you need to pay attention to your bathing practices and apply an effective moisturizer or emollient to your skin. For more on how to care for your skin, sign up to receive our free booklet, “Taking Good Care of Your Skin”.