How You Breathe Can Affect Your Skin’s Hydration Levels

That large amount of air is also faster and drier, says board-certified dermatologist Cynthia Bailey, M.D., founder of Dr. Bailey Skin Care, which can create a perfect storm for dehydration: As loads of dry air passes through your lungs without that necessary filtering, research shows that people can experience a net water loss of 42% from mouth breathing alone. Theoretically, that’s why you may wake up in the morning with a dry mouth or chapped lips, especially if you’re one to fall asleep with your mouth hanging wide. 

But let’s back up for a moment. How can we make the jump from full-body water loss to skin dehydration? Studies have shown internal hydration can affect your skin’s moisture levels and dermal thickness, but the exact relationship remains a little unclear. (It’s why the advice to “just drink more water” elicits an automatic eye-roll; aptly hydrating the skin takes a lot more effort). 

“While there may not be data to directly correlate these particular statistics, we know that transepidermal water loss (TEWL) impacts the integrity of the skin barrier and its function, which can contribute to inflammation, redness, and irritation,” says board-certified dermatologist Keira Barr, M.D. There is data to suggest, however, that mouth breathing is associated with asthma, skin allergies, and eczema—and people with these conditions are prone to increased TEWL and skin dryness, a coincidence that’s difficult to ignore. The skin is also more permeable at night, which means it’s already vulnerable to water loss; mouth breathing, it seems, only adds more fuel to fire. 

What’s more: “Mouth breathing not only dries out the mouth, but by doing so it contributes to removing the first line of defense against oral bacteria,” notes Barr. “This is an issue not only because it contributes to bad breath and tooth decay, but it can also impact the gut microbiome downstream, as the mouth is the gateway to gut health—and we know how intimately linked gut health and skin health can be.” 

Finally, mouth breathing can also contribute to poor sleep quality, as it causes your tongue to fall back toward the upper palate of the mouth, thus obstructing the airway and limiting the amount of oxygen you get. And “beauty sleep” is very much a thing: During the nighttime sleep cycle, there’s a huge surge in HGH (human growth hormone), which helps rebuild body tissues and spurs increased cell production to replace cells that were damaged throughout the day. If you aren’t getting enough sleep, your skin cells aren’t regenerating as much during this recovery process. In comes a buildup of damaged cells, which can make your skin appear dull, dry, and congested.

So, yes, there is limited research on mouth breathing and skin care outcomes specifically—but if you take a peek under the hood, it’s not difficult to make the connection. As Barr notes: “While serums, lotions, and potions can help, the real healing happens when we go beyond skin-deep and address what’s happening beneath the surface.”

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