I die a little inside every time I hear someone say to me…
“I’ve started drinking more water to help clear my skin.”
Biting my tongue, I keep my thoughts to myself because I know that I wouldn’t have the time to fully explain why drinking water is not going to clear their skin.
In fact, a 2010 article published in the scholarly journal Nutrition Reviews confirms the absurdity of this claim by stating:
“One of the more pervasive myths regarding water intake is the improvement of the skin or complexion. Numerous lay sources such as beauty and health magazines as well as the Internet suggest that drinking 8–10 glasses of water a day will ‘flush toxins from the skin’ and ‘give a glowing complexion’ despite a general lack of evidence to support these proposals.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand that drinking water is important for our overall health and I’m certainly not writing this post to discourage you from drinking water.
In fact, during my research I even found a few small studies that demonstrated improvements in skin hydration. Adequate skin hydration, however, is not sufficient to clear acne or to prevent wrinkles and other concerns related to skin complexion.(1)
So if you are forcing yourself to drink gallons of water a day in the hopes of improving your complexion, I hope you’ll take the time to read the facts, evidence, and reputable sources that back this article. My goal is to put an end to the belief that drinking water can improve your complexion!
The science of drinking water
The reason why there is a lack of evidence supporting the claim that drinking water can improve skin’s complexion can be explained by science.
Let’s think about it from an anatomical perspective:
When you drink water, it begins its decent through the digestive tract. The majority of fluids in the diet are absorbed in the duodenum (the proximal small intestine) and the rate at which these fluids are absorbed is dictated by the rate of gastric emptying to the small intestine.(1) Clear fluids, such as water, are emptied from the stomach rapidly (T1/2 30 minutes).(2)
No matter how much water is consumed, the rate of water absorption is still dependent upon gastric emptying rate and is limited by the absorption capacity of the intestines. Even if there is an increased absorption of water through the intestines, it’s not like this excess water is going to be delivered straight to your skin cells. As if your body knows that you want to minimize the appearance of wrinkles on your face.
California dermatologist Dr. Katie Rodan gives the perfect analogy to explain this concept.
“Humans aren’t like plants. Our skin doesn’t perk up when we consume water. Water doesn’t go straight to the skin, it goes through the intestines, gets absorbed into your bloodstream, and is filtered by the kidneys. Then it hydrates cells.” (3)
The relationship between water and your skin
However, an important relationship does exist between water and our skin: the skin maintains water levels in the body by preventing the loss of water into the environment. This is accomplished due to the overlapping cellular structure of the stratum corneum and lipid content of the skin, which serves as “waterproofing” for the body. (1)
The cause of skin dryness has been associated with many factors, including exposure to dry air, prolonged contact with hot water, scrubbing with soap, various diseases, and some medications.
Of note, severe levels of dehydration can manifest in reduced skin turgor (the skin’s ability to change shape and return to normal) with tenting of the skin as a flag for dehydration. (1)
Studies and expert opinions
Everyday Health featured an article titled “10 Myths and Facts About Water” in which one of the myths included “drinking water can help keep your skin moist.” To confirm, Amy Hess-Fischl, RD, CDE, explains:
“Unless the individual is severely dehydrated, drinking large quantities of water will not prevent dry skin. Basically, the moisture level of skin is not determined by internal factors. Instead, external factors such as skin cleansing, the environment, the number of oil glands, and the functioning of these oil-producing glands determine how dry the skin is or will become. The water that is consumed internally will not reach the epidermis [the top layer of the skin].” (4)
Another expert that has debunked the myth that water will improve complexion is Dr. Mehmet Oz, cardiothoracic surgeon and TV personality. This myth was tested by researchers along with 40 other experiments in the five-part television series called The Truth About Food, hosted by Dr. Oz.
In a survey for The Truth About Food, 85 percent of those surveyed reported that they believed a person should drink at least a half-gallon of water each day to keep their skin looking young. To put this myth to the test, Dr. Oz conducted a very small experiment with twins Susie and Alice. Both women admitted to drinking a lot of water (up to a liter and a half per day) because they believed it made a difference in their skin.
To determine whether water really does make a difference, researchers first measured the moisture, elasticity and oiliness of each girl’s skin. Over the next week, the twins ate the same diet-except Alice drank plenty of water, and Suzie drank no water. (5)
Dr. Oz says whether the twins drank water or not made no difference to their skin. Why? Dr. Oz explains that the main reason for this we get enough water from the foods we eat every day and the effects of drinking extra water are negligible.
My last expert opinion comes from Paula Begun, the author of 20+ best-selling books on cosmetics, busts this beauty myth by saying:
“If all it took to get rid of dry skin was to drink more water, then no one would have dry skin and moisturizers would stop being sold. Ironically, dry skin is not as simple as just a lack of water. So, drinking more water won’t make dry skin look or feel better (but you will be visiting the bathroom more frequently!).”
So what can you do to improve your complexion?
Fortunately, you control 80% of your skin’s destiny. Your complexion can be improved by following these 3 main principles:
- Eat the right kinds of foods
- Be cautious of what you expose your skin to
- Use an appropriate moisturizer
What are the right kinds of foods?
Dr. Leslie Baumann, a professor of dermatology at the University of Miami Florida suggest to incorporate foods in your diet that are high in essential fatty acids to help skin cells stay hydrated. Examples of foods rich in EFAs include walnuts, flaxseed, salmon, and olive oil. (3)
What should I avoid exposing my skin to?
The following factors will strip oil from your skin, leaving it dry and more prone to breakouts and signs of aging:
- Prolonged exposure to hot water
- Dry air
- Extreme weather conditions
- Harsh soaps and astringents
How can I choose an appropriate moisturizer?
Moisturizers are intended to coat the skin to prevent it from losing water as well as provide protection and healing.
There are three types of moisturizers:
1. Occlusive – physically prevent against water loss by forming a thin film over the surface of the skin and can be very helpful for severe dryness. However, they can be messy and not very cosmetically appealing (these mostly consist of oils)
2. Humectant – absorb water from the atmosphere and also from the lower layers of the skin, making the upper skin that is touchable, more moisturized. (7) One negative about humectants is their potential to draw water from surrounding cells that can actually dry the skin further. (6)
3. Reparative – combine the properties of both occlusive and humectant moisturizers.
Is your goal to improve your skin’s hydration?
In May, dermatologists Dr. Katie Rodan and Dr. Kathy Fields released a product that can raise the skin’s hydration level by 200%! It’s called Active Hydration Serum, and if you haven’t tried it yet, you need to! Read my full review on Active Hydration Serum here.
So does drinking water improve your complexion?
Using the research and expert opinions that I outlined in this article along with my own personal experience I have concluded that no, drinking water does not improve your complexion.
Yes, that is right I, too, fell for this myth a while back. Mostly due to desperation because for some reason I started getting horrible acne. Like painful cystic acne. Nothing I put on my face helped it. Not even prescription products!
While this is embarrassing to admit, I started to try to drink a gallon of water every day after watching a YouTube video by some guy who said it had cleared his acne. Well, the only thing this habit did was make me have to pee about 1294948 times a day.
What did work for me was when I started to clean up my diet, investing in my skin with the Unblemish regimen, and committing to taking care of my face better.
- Nutr Rev. 2010 Aug; 68(8): 439–458.