Whenever models or celebrities are asked about their beauty secrets, there's one thing they almost always mention.
Beyoncé told Vogue: "I try to take care of myself, drinking at least a gallon of water with lemon a day."
On Good Morning America, Elle Macpherson revealed: "One of my biggest beauty tips—and I know it's a cliché—is I drink three litres of water a day."
Gabrielle Union informed The New York Times: "I try to drink a gallon of water a day, and I try to get in 32 ounces with breakfast. It’s the biggest thing for hair, skin, nails."
Victoria Beckham said to ELLE: "I think it's very important to drink lots of water and get as much sleep as you can."
Joan Smalls let Harper's Bazaar know: "I’ll drink a lot of water because it’s healthy for my skin."
Doutzen Kroes told Byrdie: "Everyone always says it, but drinking water works."
Perhaps the most famous water-drinker of them all, Jennifer Aniston—who is also the face of SmartWater—even engaged in water-shaming in this People interview: "I drink water endlessly. Like five [bottles] a day. Now it’s just such habit. There are so many lazy water drinkers!"
When beautiful women tell us that drinking lots of water is what makes their skin look so great, it's easy to believe them.
And of course, we want to believe them. If only it were that easy! (Nevermind that most of them employ armies of makeup artists, hairstylists, dermatologists, nutritionists and personal trainers...)
But wait a minute. What if they're all wrong about water?
The Water Myth: Busted!
A New York Times article is making the rounds this week; in it, author Aaron E. Carroll, a professor at the Indiana School of Medicine, makes a compelling case against drinking more water.
If you're anything like me, then for as long as you can remember, the golden rule was that we ALL needed to be drinking eight glasses of water a day, no matter what.
"It’s just not true," says Professor Carroll. "There is no science behind it."
Even when it comes to the supposed skin benefits...
Water Won't Hydrate Your Skin
Many people guzzle down water because they believe it hydrates their skin. That extra moisture makes complexions appear younger and healthier—or so the thinking goes.
Unfortunately, there's just no proof.
"Reviews have failed to find any evidence that drinking more water keeps skin hydrated and makes it look healthier or wrinkle-free," says Carroll.
A 2010 report in the Journal of Clinical Dermatology investigated all the research on this exact topic, and concluded: "How-to books, beauty journals, the Internet, and the media usually recommend drinking six to eight glasses of water each day for keeping the skin hydrated, helping it look healthier, and making it less prone to wrinkles. We have found no scientific proof for this recommendation; nor is there proof, we must admit, that drinking less water does absolutely no harm. The only certainty about this issue is that, at the end of the day, we still await scientific evidence to validate what we know instinctively to be true—namely, that it is all a myth."
Also think about where the water actually goes after you drink it.
First, it travels to the intestines; then, it gets absorbed into the bloodstream; and then, it's filtered by your kidneys. It does end up reaching your cells to hydrate them—but the ones inside your body, not on your skin's surface.
So if your skin feels dry and dehydrated, it's probably not because of how much water you're drinking.
"The water that you drink doesn’t get to those dry outer skin layers because your skin functions as a fantastic barrier, keeping your inner and outer worlds separate," says Dr. Cynthia Bailey, a California-based dermatologist. "Only in the extreme when you’re massively dehydrated will your skin be limp and flaccid. The common, scaly dryness of most dry skin problems won’t go away by drinking ten 8 oz glasses of water a day; you need the right skin care regimen to fix the problem."
Celebrity esthetician Renée Rouleau agrees: "Hydration levels in the skin have very little to do with drinking water internally, but rather how you treat your skin on the surface."
To combat dryness, I'm a big believer in layering your skincare products. Check out these dry skin tips for ideas and product suggestions.
Water Doesn't Flush Out Toxins
The idea that you can hydrate your skin by drinking lots of water isn't the only beauty myth circulating.
You may have heard about drinking water to "flush out toxins"—a process that is also thought to benefit the complexion.
In order words, water will supposedly encourage toxins to move out, through your bowels, instead of exiting through your skin.
It's true that there can be a link between constipation and breakouts.
A study dating back to 1928 identified constipation as "the rule" rather than the exception in acne patients.
In 2005, researchers found that constipated people have fecal concentrations of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium that are significantly lower and intestinal permeability is significantly higher, compared to healthy adults without constipation.
Holistic esthetician Kristen Ma says: "It's so important that we eliminate waste from our bodies so we don’t start pouring out toxins through our skin (which happens to be our largest organ of detoxification), causing clogged pores and blemishes. But it's also essential for hydrated skin. When we are constipated, the dry stool sits in the intestines and absorbs the body’s precious water."
Problem is, drinking extra water won't make stools softer or easier to pass.
"Studies in the elderly have also failed to reveal an association between increased fluid intake and constipation. Constipated children, randomized to consume different amounts of fluid, didn’t experience any changes in stool frequency, consistency, or ease of defecation. Unless there’s evidence of dehydration, consuming extra fluid on its own is unlikely to make any difference in cases of constipation," writes Scott Gavura over at Science-Based Medicine.
So if you suspect your skin problems may be linked to constipation, you're better off exploring the root causes—hypothyroidism is a big one—and finding other ways to get things moving.
Also check out my article on the link between hypothyroidism and acne.
Our Water Needs Are All Different
So if it's not eight glasses a day—then how much water do we really need to drink?
"There is no formal recommendation for a daily amount of water people need," says Carroll.
Everything from your metabolic rate to your level of activity to the temperature and humidity of the air will determine your water needs for any particular day.
It's best to use thirst as your guide.
"The human body is finely tuned to signal you to drink long before you are actually dehydrated," says Carroll.
According to Dieticians of Canada, healthy adult women need around two litres of water a day, and men three litres.
But don't forget that the food you eat contains water as well—usually more than 70 percent of its weight.
There's also water in juice, tea and coffee. (And no, it's not true that a moderate daily coffee intake will dehydrate you, according to a 2014 study.)
The idea that the more water you drink, the healthier you will become—and the better your skin will look!—is just not true.
The Guardian's Emine Saner asks, "When did we become so fearful of dehydration?"
Surprise! Marketing might have more to do with it than we thought.
The Natural Hydration Council is a UK body set up by the biggest water producers—Danone, Nestlé and Coca-Cola—to promote sales of bottled water instead of soft drinks (which they also own).
"What [bottled water companies] are really asking people to do is take in four or five litres, because they're already taking in two or three as coffee, tea, soft drinks, fruit, alcoholic beverages—that's all water," says Stanley Goldfarb, professor of medicine and a kidney specialist at the University of Pennsylvania. "This notion is a marketing ploy."
Remember, SmartWater is owned by Coca-Cola, and Jennifer Aniston is on the payroll! She gets paid to make bold statements about what water has done for her skin.
As I've outlined, there's just no basis for those claims. So rest assured: simply drinking to quench thirst is enough. And if you do suffer from concerns like dryness or acne, there are better ways to tackle those issues!
Do think water makes your skin look better?
How much do you drink?
Will you drink less now?
(Main photo: ricardo/zone41.net)