When we hear the term “hydration,” we believe it means water. You drink water to hydrate, so will a shower serve the same function to hydrate your skin?
There’s no simple answer here because water can dehydrate your skin, and it can also add moisture to your skin.
Let us explain.
Do Showers Hydrate or Dehydrate You?
Hydration means to add moisture to the skin cells (or body cells) in a process called osmosis, where fluid molecules pass into the skin cells, cumulating in the vacuole. Imagine your body filling up a few billion tiny swimming pools.
Dehydration is the reverse. Instead of taking in moisture, your body loses it. Liquids and moisture molecules are drawn out of the skin cells as result of a negative ionic pressure. The result of this is that your skin cells shrink, become wrinkled, and may even die. This is why your skin begins to flake off when you are dehydrated.
When you shower, your body is exposed to fluid in the form of water. The ion balance of this water is lower than your body, meaning your body starts to reverse osmosis. This takes a while, so you don’t dehydrate immediately. In fact, the first couple of skin layers will absorb water, which is why your skin feels plump after a shower.
However, as your body fills, it starts to lose water too, dehydrating as water molecules move from the cells to the outer skin. This leads to the tell-tale crocodile skin you get from too much time in water.
Confused by ions and the positive and negative balance? It’s actually quite simple. When you drop a spoon of coffee in your cup of water, the coffee will dilute with the water because the water doesn’t have any coffee in it. The same happens to your skin.
In the shower, your skin cells are loaded with salts and minerals. When surrounded by shower water that doesn’t have these, your salts and minerals (and the water they are suspended in), will begin to move out of your body—causing dehydration.
Your skin is the largest area of your body, and it is in direct contact with the shower water. This means it will react the worst and show signs of damage first. Wrinkly skin happens when your skin cells have lost their vital moisture due to reverse osmosis. The natural salts and minerals in your skin cells have migrated to the surface of your body, where it is washed away.
Can Hot Showers Cause Faster Dehydration?
Hot water showers cause dehydration to happen faster. All chemical reactions are faster when there is an element of heat.
So if you are taking a really hot shower, your skin cells will dehydrate so much faster, and you will have wrinkly skin much faster.
Another point about hot showers is that hot water will also strip the skin of natural oils that are essential to sealing the skin in a barrier that prevents dehydration. Without these natural oils, the skin becomes dry and flakey—typical signs of dehydration.
Why Am I Thirsty After a Shower?
Ever stepped from a hot shower only to feel thirsty? Thirst is a sign of dehydration. Your skin cells are the first body cells that dehydrate, but your body has a reaction to this fluid loss, and it triggers the thirst instinct.
The brain starts to make the hormone angiotensin II, which triggers the body’s thirst drive. You are losing fluid, so your brain is telling you (in a chemical way) to drink water.
By drinking water, you replace the fluid or moisture you lost through your skin cells while showering.
A hot shower will leave you more dehydrated than a cool shower. This means you will be more thirsty after a hot shower than you will be after a cool temperature shower.
Can You Absorb Water Through Your Skin?
Your outer skin layers do absorb water, but this water doesn’t penetrate deeply into your body. It can’t rehydrate you, and the water absorbed by your skin won’t add moisture to your organs or circulatory system. Therefore, a shower won’t hydrate you.
A quick rinse in the shower can help moisten your skin, but this is not rehydration. The absorbed water tends to expand the outer skin cells, causing them to burst and release moisture. The outcome of this is dry and flakey skin. Wrinkly and red skin can result from spending too much time in the shower as the skin loses its moisture.
How to Stay Hydrated During Shower
Once your skin has lost its outer skin cells, the skin becomes vulnerable to further dehydration and even infections. Hydrating the skin can help stop the loss of moisture so rehydration can begin.
Shower in Cool Temperatures
While you may love a hot and steamy shower, it’s best not to toast your skin with scalding hot water. Opt for a cool temperature shower instead. If you can, a cold water shower is even better and will leave your skin less wrinkly.
Use an In-Shower Lotion to Shower
Using a lotion that absorbs water in the shower helps seal moisture into the skin, preventing dehydration. An in-shower lotion is also less harsh and free from harmful chemicals that many conventional soaps and cleansers have.
The in-shower lotion will help prevent the loss of further skin sebum and natural oils your skin needs. Since an in-shower lotion is able to absorb the shower water and aid your skin in absorbing this, your skin will feel more hydrated.
Don’t Shower Daily
Your body has natural enzymes and cleansing processes, meaning that unless you live in a warm climate zone, you probably don’t have to shower every day (or twice a day, like some do).
Instead, shower every second day, settling for a quick wash on alternating days. Your skin will thank you for this.
Taking a hot bath can also dehydrate you. In fact, soaking in a hot bath can do much more damage to your skin in terms of dehydration. This is why a hot bath can so easily lead to wrinkled skin. Since your skin will be submerged in hot water, you will lose moisture through reverse osmosis very quickly.
Jumping in the pool all day may seem like a good idea, yet it can potentially lead to even more moisture loss to your skin. Despite all that moisture, your skin can dehydrate even more. Being surrounded by water means nature, in an attempt to reach a state of equilibrium, will suck the mineral-rich water out of your body cells to try and equalize with the water around you. So, while you may be in water, your body will dry out. This is why applying lotion after a swim is so important.