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Photo by Cody Guilfoyle

It’s time for some real talk: We need to debunk a very common water myth once and for all. I always get frustrated when I read an interview with a well-respected expert, and he says something along the lines of, “Drinking water is so important for my skin feeling hydrated” or “My skin is so dry when I don’t drink enough water.”

But that’s not how our bodies work. Drinking water does not give you more hydrated skin.

“How much water you drink has pretty much zero relation to the level of hydration of your skin,” says Athena Hewett, founder of clean skincare line Monastery. “Dry or dehydrated skin is either a genetic thing or it’s an external factor.”

This is not to say that water is not important. Drinking enough water, of course, is the most important thing to do for your overall well-being and health. But drinking it will not make your skin feel more hydrated or plump.

“Although there is a great amount of antidotal information that drinking a significant amount of water will rid your body of toxins and thus make your skin appear healthier, water that is drunk does not necessarily travel directly to your skin,” says plastic surgeon Dr. Melissa Doft. “Although it is true that the skin cells appear smoother, more hydrated when they are plumper secondary to a higher water content, it is not necessarily due to ingested water.

“How much water you drink has zero relation to the level of hydration of your skin.”

Our bodies process water through the intestines, then absorb it through the bloodstream, and filter it through the kidneys. That’ll hydrate your cells inside your body, but cannot possibly reach the epidermis of the skin.

Speaking of epidermis, the skin is made up of three layers—the outer layer (epidermis), the underlying skin (dermis), and the subcutaneous tissue. “If the outermost layer of the epidermis doesn’t contain enough water, skin will lose elasticity and feel rough,” says Kim Davies, the Director of Spa & Education at Omorovicza. “Despite this connection, however, there’s a lack of research showing that drinking extra water has any impact on skin hydration or appearance.”

So, your skin’s hydration levels have very little connection with drinking water. Let’s stop saying this! But let’s keep drinking 8 to 12 glasses of water per day though: “Water helps brain function, maintains energy levels, regulates body temperature, aids in digestion, and ultimately keeps your body healthy,” says Davies. “Put bluntly, without it, we would die.”

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Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

But while drinking water doesn’t directly hydrate skin, it can affect it in other ways. “Drinking sufficient water indirectly impacts skin, as your skin operates better when you’re at your optimal health,” says Alicia Yoon, founder of Korean beauty website and skincare line Peach & Lily. “Also when we’re dehydrated, our bodies can have an inflammatory response which can lead to things like breakouts. Being well-hydrated can lead to less breakouts, firmer skin, more radiant skin, even less dark spots.”

But, that’s not to say your skin’s hydration levels are out of your control, quite the opposite. (“Hydration is one of the foundations for healthy skin,” reminds Yoon.) How you treat the surface of your skin is very much in your control. We spoke to a few of our favorite aesthetician and skincare experts about things that will actually help you hydrate that epidermis.

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Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

A hydrating toner.

Renee Rouleau has a few tricks that always majorly hydrate her face, including an alcohol-free toner (alcohol-based toners are incredibly drying, throw those away). The trick to using your toner for hydration purposes is to leave it on the skin damp, meaning you apply it—either with a cotton pad or by splashing it onto your palms and massaging it on your skin—after cleansing, but before you completely dry your face.

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Renee Rouleau

I’m in love with Rouleau’s Moisture Infusion Toner ($42.50). I apply it two ways: either using a soft cotton square (Shiseido makes the best ones), usually at night, to remove leftover makeup and hydrate, or I’ll just pour some out on my palms, usually in the morning, and massage it into my skin to deeply hydrate, and make my skin feel so clean. But then you should move quickly, and apply your next step in this hydration skincare regimen, which is…  

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Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

Serums—one specifically—can be super effective.

A serum’s hydration benefits are directly related to the science behind your moisturizer. Rouleau says that a moisturizer mainly acts as a protective sealant, so when a serum is applied under a moisturizer, it locks in that serum. And because you applied your serum on damp skin from your toner, it’s hydrating even more deeply.

Dr. Doft agrees that it’s best to moisturize while skin is damp. “A better way to improve the hydration of your skin is to add moisturizing creams to your skin after showers when the skin is most porous.”

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Follain

I swear by Osea Hyaluronic Sea Serum ($88), which is a mix of three different organic seaweeds and hyaluronic acid. The seaweed extracts naturally have antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, feeding your skin with major benefits and love.

But that magical elixir known as hyaluronic acid is the real key here: “It can hold over 1000 times its body weight in water,” says Dr. Doft.

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Peach & Lily

Not convinced? Sue Y. Nabi of Orveda says that, “Humectants, such as hyaluronic acid, will effectively ‘trap’ water in skin…”, which she recommends using her cult-fav Healing Sap ($150) on damp skin to hydrate, brighten, and soothe.

“Look for hyaluronic acid, which can hold over 1000 times its body weight in water.”

No, really, nearly every expert we talked to cited hyaluronic acid, which is already present in your body, as one of the best things to do for your skin’s hydration levels. Including Yoon, who recommends using Peach & Lily’s Glass Skin Refining Serum ($39), which is packed with short-, medium-, and long-chain hyaluronic acid molecules meant to deliver moisture to every layer of skin.

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Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

Eat water-rich foods.

One surefire way to stay hydrated? Eat water-rich foods. “The secret to staying hydrated on a cellular level is not necessarily to drink more water, as you may think,” says Whitney Tingle, co-founder of Sakara. She recommends “foods that are over 90 percent water content—like cucumbers, melons, berries, and leafy greens.” These can hydrate longer than water, since they stay in your system longer.

“These foods help keep the blood moving optimally, which in turn helps with skin bounce.”

Another added bonus of eating foods high in omega fatty acids and dark green leafy greens? “These foods help keep the blood moving optimally, and good blood flow brings oxygen to the cells, which in turn helps with skin bounce,” says Hewett. Feeling good and looking good!

Increasing your intake of these types of water-rich, colorful vegetables and fruits is important, says nutrition expert Dr. Charles Passler. “These food sources of water also contain minerals and other nutrients that help your skin cells absorb the water.”

Get some good fats in that diet, too. “Healthy plump skin requires healthy dietary fats,” says Dr. Passler. “Making sure you consume a wide variety of nuts, seeds, and avocado helps in the plumping process, as well.”

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Sakara

Beyond just eating, try drinking superpowered water from concentrated drops, like Sakara’s Detox and Beauty Water ($39 for both) mineral drops, which will add additional and essential minerals and electrolytes to help hydrate your body on a deeper level. “Think Gatorade, but without the junk and with added beautifying benefits,” says Tingle.

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Illustration by Phuong Nguyen

Go gentle.

Okay, you want more hydration on your skin, right? We know that toners, serums, and lotions are vital. But what about cleansers? They’re just as important too, surprisingly. Monastery’s Hewett even notes that your cleanser might be the most common drying external factor in your regimen, especially if it’s a gel or foaming cleanser. Heyday skin therapist Joanne DeLeone agrees, “Respect the natural lipid barrier your skin needs to stay hydrated: Don’t over wash. Try pre-cleansing with an oil or using an oil cleanser.”

If you’re needing more hydration, go for an oil cleanser, which hydrates without stripping skin. Monastery makes killer oil cleansers: one for acne prone skin, one for gentle, dehydrated skin, and the other for sensitive skin—each is $39.

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Monastery

Other drying factors? Your favorite clay mask. “I know we all love masks, but the truth is clay masks are drying,” says Hewett. You want the oil-absorbing qualities of a clay mask but without all the dryness? I’m still the biggest fan of Rouleau’s Rapid Response Detox Masque ($63.50), which kills acne, while still majorly hydrating skin. We didn’t call it “the greatest mask we’ve ever tried” for nothing.

“Respect the natural lipid barrier your skin needs to stay hydrated: Don’t over wash.”

Still dehydrated after all this? Start to look a bit closer at your daily routine, from products to lifestyle.

Do you use acne-fighting ingredients, like retinol, or lactic, glycolic, or salicylic acids? If you are having irritation and extreme dryness, see if you can cut back to every other night or even two nights a week.

If you’re still feeling stumped, glance at the ingredients label (this guide will help), and look for irritating chemicals, preservatives, and detergents in your beauty products.

And we hate to say it, but worse case scenario, your environment might be a factor, as well. Including “chlorine from a pool, the salt from the ocean, the sun, the cold…” says Hewett. Yikes!

When in doubt, drink water—for your body, not your skin—and hydrate with gentle, effective products.

This story was originally published June 11, 2018. It has been updated with new information.

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