Dry skin and dehydrated skin may be very different things, but fixing them has a common goal — preventing transepidermal water loss (TEWL) could be the solution for radiant, plump skin.
Our skin is truly a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to bodily functions: it protects us from pollutants and radiation, regulates temperature, communicates with the brain, and rids us of toxins through our sweat.
Skin does a lot. And doing so much makes it a little thirsty.
If your skin is dry or dehydrated (and those are very different things!), you may want to look at transepidermal water loss (TEWL). TEWL can lead to a variety of skin conditions — including sensitivity and irritation — but luckily there are ways to support our skin to help create a soothed complexion.
At Iremia Skincare, we believe in supporting the natural function of our skin through equally natural ingredients. Nature knows how to do it best, and sometimes she needs a little extra hydration assistance.
What is transepidermal water loss, and how can you prevent it? Let’s dive into the waters of skin hydration to learn more.
What is transepidermal water loss (TEWL)?
When we talk about well-hydrated, plump skin, we’re looking for skin that has high water content. Transepidermal water loss (TEWL) occurs when water passes through the skin and evaporates into the air. If a product prevents TEWL, it keeps your skin healthy and hydrated by ensuring that water doesn’t escape from your skin.
Our skin is made up of three primary layers: the epidermis (the outermost layer, including the skin barrier), the dermis (middle layer), and the hypodermis (innermost layer). TEWL occurs when water passes from the dermis through the epidermis and evaporates through the skin barrier.
Your skin can usually retain hydration on its own, and TEWL is actually how your skin regulates water content naturally. But when the skin barrier is damaged, it is allowing too much water to escape, and skin that’s lacking hydration can result in dullness, dryness, or dehydration.
Common symptoms of TEWL include itchiness, skin tightness, and redness. This means that many people with sensitive skin may also be dealing with excess TEWL.
Transepidermal water loss and sensitive skin
As mentioned above, TEWL is a completely natural process. When TEWL is high, however, your skin can become dry, itchy, and irritated. People with psoriasis, rosacea, and other similar conditions have weakened skin barriers, which allows for more TEWL than normal.
Here’s how it works: when people with sensitive skin conditions experience triggering stimuli (directly to their skin or indirectly via food or other triggers), this leads to flushing or sensitivity of the skin. This increased sensitivity then causes an imbalance in sebum levels, which then compromises the skin barrier.
On top of that, it’s also thought that TEWL contributes to inflammatory skin conditions like acne and eczema.
External stimuli → Sensitivity → imbalance in sebum → compromised skin barrier → inflammation → TEWL → decrease in hydration → skin barrier damage → sensitivity and inflammation.
So not only can sensitive skin cause increased TEWL, but TEWL can then cause sensitive skin. It’s a vicious cycle!
How do we break the cycle? To prevent TEWL, it’s crucial to support and protect a healthy skin barrier.
A healthy, functioning skin barrier blocks environmental irritants and pollutants while protecting and sealing in natural oils and moisture. A compromised skin barrier struggles to maintain your skin’s health due to ineffective water retention.
However, TEWL can also be exacerbated by things like aging, dry weather or dry indoor air, damage such as sunburns or wounds, and skincare products or practices that dry the skin. To keep your skin healthy—and prevent TEWL—let’s take a look at some simple tips to best support natural, hydrated skin.
How to prevent transepidermal water loss
Hydrate AND moisturize!
Moisturizing is important for maintaining overall skin health as well as treating a compromised skin barrier, but moisturizing can do very little without proper hydration. Finding the right combination of ingredients is crucial to repair the skin barrier and reduce excess TEWL.
When it comes to TEWL, use products that both hydrate and moisturize your skin, which includes a combo of humectants, occlusives, and/or emollients:
- Humectants (like glycerin and hyaluronic acid, orour proprietary blend of black oat extract & lecithin) hydrate by drawing water from the environment into the skin;
- Occlusives and emollients (like beeswax, avocado oil,or facial oils) moisturize by acting as a lipid barrier for water retention. They seal in moisture and prevent irritants and pathogens from getting inside.
To ensure that your moisturizing ingredients have something to lock in, start with hydration. Before applying a moisturizer, begin with damp clean skin: either from the water left on your face after cleansing or, ideally, spritz a facial mist with specialized ingredients for an extra hydrating boost.
Follow a hydrating mist with a facial oil: you can support your skin's barrier by providing extra nutrients and restorative fatty acids, specifically omega fatty acids (which are something we need to obtain either through our diet or topically to the skin.)
To repair and soothe a damaged skin barrier, applying richer moisturizing creams at night will prevent water loss while you sleep. During the night, the skin is in recovery mode, which means it's the perfect time to use a rich cream with a high concentration of moisturizing ingredients to help restore the skin.
Use a humidifier
If you live in an area with low humidity or experience seasonal dry weather (think air conditioners or dry indoor heating), one easy solution is to use a humidifier indoors to help give your skin barrier time to heal.
Humidifiers can help reduce TEWL by increasing the amount of moisture in the air, and studies have shown that humidifiers positively affect skin hydration and skin barrier function.
Choose cleansers and exfoliators carefully
To best support your skin barrier, avoid over-cleansing and over-exfoliating: this can lead to a damaged skin barrier and increase TEWL.
Your skin naturally produces oil (sebum) to support and maintain your skin barrier. Over-cleansing your skin, however, means you are stripping your skin of the sebum needed to keep it protected and healthy. Avoid over-washing or using foaming cleansers that strip your skin of oils, and instead opt for a gentle, pH-balancing cream or oil cleanser and lukewarm water.
Also, carefully choose the active ingredients in your skincare. Overusing active ingredients such as retinol and chemical exfoliators may worsen TEWL. Instead, try gentle actives (like lactic or mandelic acid) and scale back your use to once or twice a week.
Combatting TEWL with Iremia
Restoring your skin barrier to help combat excessive TEWL doesn’t require a huge skincare overhaul — a minimalist routine with carefully curated products can help bring your skin back into balance.
To increase hydration, try our All-Calm Face Mist — bursting with natural ingredients to soothe, hydrate, and plump up your skin, All-Calm helps reduce TEWL through its water-retaining substances (including proteins, amino acids, and polysaccharides). Rich in vitamins as well as pantothenic acid, niacin, and biotin, our proprietary combination of black oat extract and lecithin results in 30% more effective hydration than both glycerin and hyaluronic acid combined.
For extra nutrients and skin barrier support, our Restorative Facial Oil will do just the trick. Support your skin's barrier by providing restorative fatty acids like the ones we use in this intricately created, golden blend of 11 nutrient-dense oils. Our award-winning and CertClean-certified Restorative Facial Oil delivers luminous and healthy skin in a quick-absorbing formula that doesn’t clog your pores. Every drop is designed to calm and nourish while providing omega-3 fatty acids and repairing your skin’s natural barrier.
For an extra moisturizing boost, check out our Protective Cream. An incredible hydrator for dry and oversensitive skin, this nourishing moisturizer deeply hydrates with natural antioxidants while it conditions your skin. The combination of regenerative ingredients in this formula (such as cocoa butter, beeswax, and avocado oil) supports your skin barrier while protecting against environmental aggressors.