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Will Drinking More Water Improve My Skin?

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

An H2O dilemma:

Dear Beauty Editor,

Does drinking more water actually make your skin better? I feel like everybody is walking around gulping water all day, and I just can’t do it. I wonder if I’m causing my skin to be dry or if I’m, like, prematurely aging myself? And what about using rice water or salt water to improve my skin — will that help?

Thanks!

Anon.

According to internet lore, water is a skin-care miracle, an anti-aging elixir, and the secret to whatever goals, dreams, or wishes you have for your corporeal being. Some people are using rice water as toner, others are washing their face with salt water, and everybody on WaterTok is sharing recipes to make H2O more palatable because they think they need to be drinking tons of it every day. Truth is, drinking more water doesn’t lead to better skin.

How much water should I drink?

You may have heard you should drink eight glasses of water daily, but that number isn’t based on hard data. In fact, “research has shown that for most people, normal drinking behaviors lead to sufficient hydration,” says dermatologist Hadley King, M.D.

The easiest way to judge if you’re hydrated is by the color of your urine. Pale yellow is fine, but “it would be ideal to have clear urine,” says dermatologist Rajani Katta, M.D. If you’re thirsty, you may be slightly dehydrated, but even thirst is not a good indicator of hydration levels, because thirst generally decreases with age. Bottom line: If your pee is yellow, you need more hydration, either from water, other beverages, or water-rich foods like fruits and vegetables. “Could someone be adequately hydrated from food and other beverages even if they don’t drink water? Absolutely,” says Katta.

Does drinking water hydrate your skin?

There’s also a misconception that more water in your body equals more hydrated skin, but there’s not sufficient evidence to indicate that’s true. If you’re not hydrated enough (via drinking or eating), your skin may be dehydrated — but that isn’t the same as dry. Dehydrated skin loses its resilience, explains King: “If you pinch the skin, it will remain tented because of lack of hydration. This contrasts what we usually refer to as dry skin, which becomes dull, flaky, and rough.”

Water is not the answer if you have dry skin or are worried that your skin looks dull or feels rough. Dry skin “is lacking in oil, which affects the skin barrier function,” says King. “The right answer is to moisturize.” She suggests applying a moisturizer with humectants that draw water into the skin (such as glycerin, sugars, or sodium hyaluronate); emollients that soothe and soften the skin (such as some natural oils, squalane, ceramides, and fatty acids and alcohols); and occlusives that form a protective layer that seals in moisture (such as petrolatum, dimethicone, and certain oils like soybean, sunflower, and grape seed). Cetaphil Deep Hydration Healthy Glow Daily Face Cream and La Roche-Posay Triple Repair Face and Body Moisturizing Cream have the three desired hydrating ingredients.

Is rice water good for your skin?

 If you have fine lines or wrinkles you want to soften or dry skin, splashing it or “toning” it with rice water will not do much. In some cultures, rice water is thought to improve hair and skin, and that may be because the liquid left behind after soaking or rinsing rice can contain sugars, vitamins, and phenolic compounds that demonstrate anti-oxidant activity. But there’s not a lot of evidence that rice water on its own will benefit skin or hair. However, some cosmetic companies have further refined rice water or used it to create fermented ingredients that have proven skin or hair benefits.

Is salt water good for your skin?

A swim in the ocean or a soak in some Epsom salts may feel great, but neither habit is the basis of a healthy skin routine. Some mineral-rich salts, like Epsom salts or Dead Sea salts, may soothe certain dermatological conditions. Still, there’s no evidence that simply mixing table salt or sea salt and water and using it as skin care will do much of anything.

Why do so many people believe water is the key to good skin?

I put part of the blame on models and celebrities — and beauty journalists like me. Whenever I’ve had the opportunity to interview someone famous, it’s usually because they have something to promote, whether it’s cosmetics, or a skin-care product, or maybe their own beauty line. If I ask them why or how they have such great skin or hair, they’re not going to be honest. They won’t tell me about the cosmetic procedures or surgeries they’ve had, and they don’t want to (or are contractually obligated not to) talk about other brands or products they’ve used. “There are a lot of celebrities out there who are saying things like, ‘My skin looks so good because I drink so much water,’ not because of my laser treatments or my frequent chemical peels,” Katta says. So, that leaves them to talk about what they eat and drink. Since many of them have diets that are completely unrelatable (either because of their expense or their restrictiveness), they skip over that stuff and end up talking about … water. And we, the media, let beautiful people claim that drinking lots of water is why they have great skin or hair, even though the real reason is probably genetics, privilege, and a bunch of very expensive, very subtle cosmetic procedures.

I’m not sharing this to deter you from drinking water — if you want to because it makes you feel good, then do it! Just know that as long as you are hydrated, there’s really no reason to up your intake. Water may be the source of life, but it’s not the beauty secret you’ve been led to believe.

Send your questions to AskABeautyEditor@nymag.com. (By emailing, you agree to the terms here.)

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