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Keeping it Moist

By Peter Schmid, DO
Posted On Jun 21, 2010
One of the quickest ways to improving your health, both inside and out, is to drink enough fluids every day

Words Lisette Hilton

It sounds so simple: One molecule of water has two hydrogen atoms bonded to a single oxygen atom. Yet, water is among the most powerful forces in human health and vitality. Our bodies’ main chemical component, water is about 60 to 70 percent of our body weight.

Nutrition guru Mitzi Dulan, RD, CSSD, says that water is vital for keeping all the natural systems of detox and hydration optimal. It flushes out toxins, transports nutrients to cells and provides the moisture our tissues need to thrive.

Maintaining the water, or hydration, needed to make up for the water we lose daily with breath, perspiration, urine and bowel movements is especially important for the body’s largest organ: the skin. Optimal daily hydration not only helps skin glow but rejuvenates it, according to Dulan.

This is because water plays vital roles in maintaining skin functions, such as removal of metabolic toxins, delivery of nutrients and formation of a protective barrier, according to Dr. Anna L. Chien, MD, assistant professor and co-director of the Cutaneous Translational Research Program in the Department of Dermatology, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, Baltimore, Md.

Hydrating Advice

When we think of skin hydration, Dr. Chien says, we should think of the inner and outer body.

“Drinking an adequate amount of water daily is important in maintaining proper skin moisturization and preventing severe dehydration, which can lead to skin changes,” Dr. Chien explains.

“In addition to hydrating the skin internally, it is just as critical to hydrate the skin externally. This is accomplished through use of mild soaps, as well as emollients to prevent water from escaping the skin.”

“The good news is that you can drink and eat your way to optimal hydration. The very food groups that nourish our bodies toward overall optimal health help also to hydrate the skin.”

Without adequate hydration and prevention of water loss the skin cannot do its job as an effective barrier, Dr. Chien explains, and common dermatologic conditions can result, such as eczema.

The good news is that you can drink and eat your way to optimal hydration. The very food groups that nourish our bodies toward overall optimal health help also to hydrate the skin, according to Dulan.

“Aim to eat your five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, as they are full of water and other powerful antioxidants that are good for the skin,” she says.

Dulan recommends drinking half an ounce of fluid daily for each pound of your body weight. So, take your body weight in pounds and divide it by two, and that equals how many ounces of water to drink per day. In a 2004 report by the Institute of Medicine, people seem to adequately meet their daily hydration needs when men get about 125 ounces of fluid daily and women about 91 ounces. That’s from all beverages, including water and caffeinated beverages, as well as from food.

Keep in mind, of course, that while other beverages might provide the hydration we need, they also might boost calorie counts. “[Water] is a calorie-free way to hydrate; so, it can help you lose weight when you replace calorie-laden drinks with water,” says Dulan.

Seal It In

Meanwhile, topical moisturizers and other products can help seal the moisture in skin. “Definitely use a good toner, serum and moisturizer to make sure your skin is getting its daily ‘drink,’” Dulan says.

Dr. Chien’s advice: Thicker moisturizers, also known as emollients, will help the most in keeping the skin hydrated. “Generally, emollients that come in a jar versus a pump do the best in retaining water in the skin,” she says.

Dr. Chien recommends mild soaps without fragrance or antibacterial properties used along with emollients to prevent any additional water loss. Still other tips:

  • Take lukewarm showers to help prevent additional water loss
  • Pat the skin dry
  • Apply moisturizers to slightly damp skin, after the shower

This doesn’t mean buying the most expensive products, according to the dermatologist. In fact, local drug stores carry a host of affordable products that work well in keeping the skin healthy.

Don’t Drown

Athletes, especially endurance athletes, need more water to maintain adequate hydration; the same goes for you when you exercise. Still, balance is important. Drinking too much water, without replacing the sodium lost in sweat, can cause hyponatremia (not enough salt), which results in mild to severe health problems (loss of blood pressure and muscle function, and possibly much worse, like seizures).

The Basic Rule: Half Your Weight Times OuncesThe basic rule for water intake is a half ounce for every pound of body weight. That means a person who weighs 140 pounds should consume 70 ounces of fluid a day. This fluid intake can come from all sources, however, including fruits and vegetables, as well as juices, soda, and other beverages. So don’t think you need to drink two liters of water a day to get that fluid—but make sure you consume at least half that amount, or one liter of water.

Drinking too much water can also show up in negative ways on the skin, according to Dr. Chien. “In dermatology, we will sometimes see patients with skin conditions caused by excessive hydration or water exposure, [which can occur] from their occupation or environmental causes,” she says. “An excessive amount of water can cause irritant reactions and increase the growth of infectious organisms. Overhydration can also disrupt the skin barrier.”.

Maintaining optimal water status in the skin is a delicate balance. But once you find the right routine with diet and moisturization, the result is healthier, more radiant skin.