How Does A Humidifier Help Your Dry Skin?

Posted by Dr. Natasha Ryz on

Dry air can be problematic for dry skin, but using a humidifier can help improve dry skin by adding moisture back into the air.

It's best to keep indoor humidity levels between 30-50%.

If the air in your home is too dry, then your dry skin will benefit from a humidifier.

What is a Humidifier?

Humidifiers are devices that release water vapor or steam to increase moisture levels in the air - i.e. increase humidity. 

Humidifiers can help soothe dry skin issues caused by dry indoor air.
What is Dry Skin?

Dry skin appears dry, rough, and may scale and flake. It may also show premature signs of aging, like surface wrinkles and loss of elasticity.

Dry skin develops from a lack of water and water-holding substances in the skin, called humectants. However, dry skin is also lacking fats that are found naturally in the skin, and these essential fats can be re-introduced through skincare products and dietary changes. 

Dry and dehydrated skin can be relieved with the use of moisturizers and humectants, including glycerin, hyaluronic acid and natural moisturizing factors.

Learn more: Dry vs. Dehydrated Skin - What is the Difference?

What is the Skin Barrier?

Your skin barrier includes the outermost layers of skin, called the stratum corneum.

When your skin barrier is healthy, it feels and appears smooth, soft, and plump.

In contrast, a damaged skin barrier looks dry, rough, dull, and dehydrated, and may become irritated and inflamed.

Learn More: What is Your Skin Barrier? 

Water is essential for the normal functioning of the skin

The water content of skin is remarkably high - the epidermis (the outer skin layer) contains more than 70% water, while its outermost layer, the stratum corneum has been shown to contain ~15 - 25% water (Warner et al, 1988; Caspers et al, 2001; Caspers et al, 2003).

Adequate hydration of the stratum corneum serves three major functions (Fowler, 2012):

  1. it maintains plasticity of the skin, protecting it from damage

  2. it contributes to optimum stratum corneum barrier function

  3. it allows hydrolytic enzymes to function in the process of desquamation

    When the water content of the stratum corneum falls below 10%, scaling on the skin surface becomes visible (Rycroft, 1985).

    Learn more: What is Dehydrated Skin?

    Low humidity can worsen dry skin

    Studies in humans show a reduction in transepidermal water loss (TEWL) (a measure of the integrity of the skin's barrier function) with low humidity, alterations in the water content in the stratum corneum, decreased skin elasticity and increased roughness (Goad et al, 2016).

    Indeed, when your skin is exposed to a dry environment, it could be more susceptible to mechanical stress (Engebretsen et al, 2016). 

    How does low humidity affect your skin during sleep?

    In a study, adult women were exposed to low humidity (30% relative humidity conditions) and high humidity (70% relative humidity) environments during their sleep cycle (Jang et al, 2019).

    After 7 hours of sleep in low humidity, their skin hydration decreased by 24.23%, but there was no significant difference after sleeping in high humidity environment (Jang et al, 2019).

    The skin barrier integrity as measured by transepidermal water loss (TEWL) was significantly increased after facial cleansing, following sleep in low humidity environment (Jang et al, 2019).

    Furthermore, the sebum level was increased after sleep at low humidity (Jang et al, 2019)

    When sleeping in dry environment, skin hydration decreases but the amount of sebum increases to compensate for skin dryness (Jang et al, 2019). 

    What is best humidity level for skin?

    It is generally thought that humidity levels within occupied spaces should not exceed 60%, and when levels of humidity fall to around 30% or below, occupants begin to feel thermal discomfort (Goad et al, 2016).

    It has been shown that under 30% relative humidity, the eyes and skin become dry, and under 10% relative humidity the nasal mucous membrane becomes dry as well as the eyes and skin (Sunwoo et al, 2006). 

    How can a humidifier help your dry skin?

    In a hospital study, the introduction of humidifiers increased the relative humidity in sickrooms from 32.8% to 43.9% on average. 

    Complaints of thermal discomfort from the dry air (dry and itchy skin, thirst, etc.)  decreased among 45 staff members, though not among the 36 patients, after the humidifiers were installed. 

    These results suggest that introducing humidifiers into a hospital during winter is an effective method of improving the low-humidity environment and relieving the discomfort of staff members (Hashiguchi et al, 2008).

    However, patients in a hospital may require further care, in addition to humidifiers to notice significant changes to their dry skin.


    Low humidity levels can worsen symptoms of dry skin.

    Dry skin appears dry, rough, and may scale and flake. It may also show premature signs of aging, like surface wrinkles and loss of elasticity.

    When levels of humidity fall to 30% or below, home occupants begin to feel thermal discomfort.

    Using a humidifier in your home can increase humidity levels.

    It is generally thought that humidity levels within occupied spaces should fall between 30% - 60% (Goad et al, 2016).

    Increased humidity levels can improve symptoms of dry skin.  


    Caspers PJ, Lucassen GW, Carter EA et al. In vivo confocal Raman microspectroscopy of the skin: noninvasive determination of molecular concentration profiles. J Invest Dermatol 2001; 116:434– 42.

    Caspers PJ, Lucassen GW, Puppels GJ. Combined in vivo confocal Raman spectroscopy and confocal microscopy of human skin. Biophys J 2003 July; 85: 572-80.

    Engebretsen KA, Johansen JD, Kezic S, Linneberg A, Thyssen JP. The effect of environmental humidity and temperature on skin barrier function and dermatitis. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2016 Feb;30(2):223-49.

    Goad N, Gawkrodger DJ. Ambient humidity and the skin: the impact of air humidity in healthy and diseased states. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2016 Aug;30(8):1285-94.

    Hashiguchi N, Hirakawa M, Tochihara Y, Kaji Y, Karaki C. Effects of setting up of humidifiers on thermal conditions and subjective responses of patients and staff in a hospital during winter. Appl Ergon. 2008 Mar;39(2):158-65. 

    Jang SI, Han J, Lee M, Seo J, Kim BJ, Kim E. A study of skin characteristics according to humidity during sleep. Skin Res Technol. 2019 Jul;25(4):456-460.

    Mackey S. Relieving Winter Skin Discomfort. Phys Sportsmed. 1995 Jan;23(1):53-57. 

    Rycroft RJ. Low humidity and microtrauma. Am J Ind Med 1985; 8:371–3. 

    Sunwoo Y, Chou C, Takeshita J, Murakami M, Tochihara Y. Physiological and subjective responses to low relative humidity in young and elderly men. J Physiol Anthropol. 2006 May;25(3):229-38.

    Warner RR, Myers MC, Taylor DA. Electron probe analysis of human skin: determination of the water concentration profile. J Invest Dermatol 1988; 90: 218–24.
    Dehydrated Skin Dry Skin Skin Barrier Skin Science

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