Need I say more? Yes? Well, here goes…
In my day to day existence as a skin care specialist, this is probably the most worn out piece of advice that I give people. It’s also the most widely ignored. Pretty much every person who comes through the door can benefit from taking in more H2O. Why? Because water is needed in everyone’s skin, regardless of what specific condition is presenting itself. There are a host of enzymatic and chemical processes that are going on constantly which require the presence of water, and water is also needed to transport nutrients and waste products to and from the cells. Does your skin look dull, flaky and dry? Drink more water. Is it feeling tight and uncomfortable? Drink more water. Have the lines around your eyes suddenly turned into crevasses overnight? DRINK MORE WATER! This I can vouch for personally, as every time I fall off the water wagon the first thing I notice is that I’ve aged about 3 years in the space of a weekend. This happily is reversed by making sure I jump right back on that wagon (although it does take a few weeks before things are back to normal.) I know that you all secretly wish that there is a miracle product out there which would leave your skin plump and hydrated while allowing you to neck down wine, beer and vodka as if there was no tomorrow – sadly, that magic product does not yet exist (and for heaven’s sake, drinking water is one whole lot cheaper than a product would ever be!)
It’s not the only the only thing you need to do! There are a lot of things which make up a good skin routine, and water is just one of them. It is not the “one thing”, but “one” of the “things”. We can get fixated a bit and then disappointed when results aren’t forthcoming, but a good skin health practice is made up of many “things”.
So, from the beginning, what function does water fill in your overall skin health?
What doesn’t it do? Water is used for transportation of nutrients and oxygen (via the blood and lymph), removal of waste (via the lymph), and it bathes every cell in the body as well as making up part of the interior of cells just for starters.
You know that your body needs vitamins and minerals to work at it’s best, but you may not be aware that enzymes are needed by the cells to facilitate the metabolic functions that use these nutrients. Water acts as a catalyst and is essential for most of these processes to occur, and it is important to keep it’s transit rate as slow as possible to help these processes to happen properly.
Dehydration is linked to premature aging and poor wound healing (which is particularly relevant if you are prone to spots and like to pick). One of those enzymatic processes mentioned involves the production of collagen, and as cells dry out they lose their ability to repair effectively.
The most obvious enzymatic process to mention is the breakdown of bonds between the corneocytes that form the outermost layer of your skin. These bonds are dissolved by enzymes which require the presence of water to do their job. When water isn’t present in sufficient quantity the result is a build-up of dead skin cells which leaves the skin with a rough texture and dull finish (refer back to the post on EFA’s for the role of omegas in this process).
To have good skin hydration, you have to have a well-functioning lymphatic and circulatory system as this is how water reaches the cells in the first place. The water phase of blood and lymph becomes part of the interstitial fluid, a percentage migrates into the epidermis and then ultimately makes up a part of the acid mantle (the first line of skin barrier defence). The lymphatic system is only stimulated by the movement of muscles, so this is yet another reason to use your January gym membership 😀
How much is enough?
The figures regarding what percentage of water makes up the adult human body vary widely, ranging from as low as 40% to above 80% but many agree that about 60% is average with men having a higher percentage than women. This might be because muscles contain a much higher water content than most other tissues in the body, and men generally have more muscle than women. As babies we start out being made up of about 70-80% water, and this figure declines with age, but this may be more to do with the fact that many people drink far less water as they get older for a variety of reasons, and probably drink a higher proportion of alcoholic drinks and eat less fresh fruit and vegetables than they could (which contribute to the total water consumption over a day). So while we might be an average of 60% water, there hasn’t been any scientific paper that I managed to find which detailed the amount of water we should have in our systems for optimum health.
2 litres a day has been the standard advice given for some time now, but as we are all made up in different shapes and sizes and have different lifestyles and environments it seems a bit of a generalisation. Admittedly, this is the amount that I have been recommending to clients for years now and have found that it works for me, and also for the (relatively few) people who have made a concerted effort. In researching this article I have come across a bit of information which has shed some light on this, which states that the current scientific understanding is that the human body needs about 33ml/kilogram of body weight. I weigh around 64 kilos so according to this calculation need 2.112 litres of water daily, which may be why I have found that when I consistently drink around 2 litres a day I can notice a difference in the hydration in my skin. So get your calculator and work out how much you need to be drinking – short people, you can be feeling smug about now.
How much is too much?
Quite a lot actually – the good news for many is that there is definitely a top limit of what you need to drink. There are cases of people who have drunk water to excess, developed water intoxication and died – however, they really drank A LOT. Like 5-6 litres. Most people find 2 litres a challenge, so for the vast majority of us this really isn’t something to worry about. If you are concerned about this, read further here.
Any other benefits?
If I was to give a detailed answer on that this post would never reach publication. Suffice it to say that water is used in some way in pretty much every process in the body. Your brain probably uses the most water – have you ever tried drinking a few glasses of H2O when you hit the mid-afternoon brain fog rather than reaching for a coffee? You’ll have a much longer lasting effect, as mental fatigue is a symptom of dehydration. Our digestion obviously uses a lot of water, and when you are dehydrated constipation can result regardless of how much fibre you eat. Actually, eating more fibre can make the problem worse, as water is needed to create bulk. What has this got to do with skin, I hear you ask? Actually if your digestion is sluggish it can show up on your skin, as longer transit time in the gut allows more opportunity for reabsorption of toxins through the gut wall back into the body. These still need excretion, and the skin is a large excretory organ.
Environmental influences on skin hydration
Now that the central heating has come on, you may be finding that your skin has started to feel uncomfortably tight. This is because the sudden drop in atmospheric humidity has sped up the process of evaporation in your skin, which is particularly noticeable if you are also low in essential fatty acids (the beneficial oils in your skin which help slow down the evaporation process). It is particularly important to pay attention to your water intake at this time, as its very easy to let it slip once the weather gets colder. Remember, herbal teas very definitely count towards your daily intake, or you could simply drink hot or warm water if that takes your fancy – there are some studies that suggest you absorb water better if it’s taken warm, but I would have thought that by the time it got to your gut it would already be pretty warm. It would also appear that if you are a habitual coffee drinker (I don’t mean a caffeine fiend, but if you are a daily drinker) then your body will have adjusted and it isn’t actually especially dehydrating. While there are other reasons that some people recommend avoiding the lovely stuff, this it would appear isn’t one of them. Hooray!
Obviously if you are spending a lot of time outdoors during the winter months (some of us enjoy getting out in wild Scottish weather), you have the added factor of wind to deal with. In these cases it can really help to use an occlusive product on the skin to give added protection – shameless product plug here – I love Dermaviduals Oleogel for this, it adds an extra layer of protection which locks in moisture like nothing else I’ve tried. My boyfriend even noticed, so much so that he had me leave him some when I left early during a ski holiday!
And of course, it’s not quite as simple as just taking in more fluids…
No, of course it isn’t. Nothing in the body is ever simple. This brings us to the subject of diet, because even when you are drinking loads of water it doesn’t necessarily follow that you will be absorbing enough of it. Yes folks, the bad news is you really need to have a healthy diet packed with fresh fruit, lots of green, leafy veg and a healthy handful of nuts and seeds daily in order to get the most out of your efforts to stay hydrated. Salt, particularly that fancy, expensive and very pretty pink Himalayan variety, is required as well. Why in particular? All these contain vital minerals which play a role in the cells in the body utilising water. In particular, you need a good balance of calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and chloride. All of these are needed, and in the correct quantities, as too much or too little of any of them can interfere with water’s ability to enter a cell. If you are getting a varied diet then I wouldn’t be too concerned that you aren’t getting a good balance, it’s more likely supplementing where we tend to get carried away (unless you are under the care of a qualified professional). Don’t forget that fresh fruit and vegetables contain a high quantity of water too, so also help with adding to your daily intake. It has also been suggested that water from food will spend longer in the large intestine, allowing more time for it to be absorbed. So get out those smoothie machines you were given for Christmas!
And finally, the importance of sleep.
Who would have thought that sleep would have any influence on hydration, but there it is, it actually plays quite an important role. Your kidneys regulate the amount of water in your body, and therefore help keep your skin plump and gorgeous. Obviously they still work while you are awake, but they work hard cleansing your blood while you are sleeping so give them a chance to do their job.
- At the top of the list, drink more H2O!
- To boost absorption, include a good handful of nuts and seeds in your diet daily, plus a good quantity of green, leafy veg – all high in essential minerals needed for this purpose. You can also make your own homemade sports drink by adding 10ml apple or orange juice to every 100ml water plus a pinch of salt – giving you a blend of healthy sugar, sodium and water for improved absorption.
- Get moving – a healthy lymph and circulatory system is vital to get water to your skin, not to mention the added benefits of improved delivery of oxygen and nutrients.
- Get a good night’s sleep – your kidneys need rest to do their best work.
- And finally, drink more H2O!