Our skin is one mighty organ. Not only is it our largest organ system, but it also protects us from bad actors like pollutants, toxins, and germs. Our skin also helps regulate body temperature, helps to prevent dehydration, and even helps protect us from temperature extremes.
But our skin is also what we present to the world. So there probably aren’t too many of us who would say “no” to healthier- and younger-looking, more vibrant skin. Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths about how we can get rid of those fine lines, wrinkles, crow’s feet, and dark spots that set up shop on our face or other parts of our bodies.
One myth that just won’t die is that drinking lots of water improves your skin by banishing wrinkles and making pores smaller, among other anti-aging pluses. Experts don’t buy it. And neither should you.
“Everyone wants a quick fix when it comes to making skin look better, but drinking more water isn’t going to help get rid of wrinkles or plump up your skin unless you are extremely dehydrated,” says Elizabeth Damstetter, MD, a dermatologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. “But you need water to stay healthy, and if you’re healthy, your skin might not look like it did when you were younger, but it will look pretty good.”
A Skin Primer
Our skin is made up of three layers. The subcutaneous fat layer makes up the bottom layer. The middle layer is called the dermis. And the top layer is the epidermis. The outermost layer of the epidermis is called the stratum corneum. This important membrane keeps bad things from entering the body. It also plays a role in making sure that too much water doesn’t leave our bodies. In other words, it helps keep the skin hydrated by preventing water evaporation.
This layer does more than act as a barrier, says Alok Vij, MD, a dermatologist with the Cleveland Clinic. “The cells in the membrane can also absorb water, but that doesn’t mean you can lie in a pool of water and absorb it or drink it and have anti-aging success.” But proper hydration can help skin’s overall tone. “If you are dehydrated, the outermost layer won’t contain enough water and skin won’t spring back if you push on it,” Vij says. “If you rehydrate, your skin bounces back.”
What the Science Says
There isn’t a lot of science that’s studied water and anti-aging skin benefits. In one small pilot study, researchers looked at how water intake affected skin. More specifically, they tested what type of water --mineral or ordinary tap -- would yield the best results. They found that drinking 2.25 liters (9.5 cups) of water daily of mineral or ordinary tap water for 4 weeks did have some effect. But results were mixed. People who had routinely drunk little before the start of the study did see an increase in skin thickness.
“As you age, your skin loses density because of collagen and elastin breakdown and you wind up with some sagging, fine lines, and wrinkles, plus you can’t retain moisture that well,” says Joshua Zimm, MD, a Manhattan-based facial plastic and reconstructive surgeon who was not involved in the study. “When you’re younger, your skin is thicker, though it might be a little rough, a little oily. As you age, skin thins. Drinking more water really won’t help either scenario.”
One time more water will help is during periods of high temperatures when your chances of dehydration skyrocket. “Dehydration can be very serious,” Vij says. “As temperatures continue to climb, drinking more water is vital.”
How to Bounce Back
The doctors do agree that water is important for good health. But minimizing wrinkles and perking up your skin really comes down to moisturizing and an overall healthy lifestyle. “Drink your water, limit alcohol, don’t smoke, moisturize, wear sunscreen, and improve your nutrition,” Zimm says. “I have personally seen some absolutely remarkable improvements in skin when people start eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins.”
The takeaway is pretty clear: Drink your water because it’s important to your good health. Just don’t expect it to get rid of your crow’s feet.