Whether you have a three-step routine or a 12-step routine, your skincare regimen is as unique as you are. And at the foundation of every routine? Your skin type (or at least, it should be). Knowing your skin type allows you to pick skincare products–and makeup!–that are right for you, and keep your skin happy, healthy, and glowing for years to come.
But how do you figure out what type of skin you have? And, once you do, what products are best suited for it? We’ve got the answers to these questions and more. Whether your skin type is dry, oily, combination, normal, or sensitive, read on for your ultimate guide in determining and caring for your skin type, with expert insight from New York City-based dermatologist Joshua Zeichner, MD, and Los Angeles-based esthetician René de la Garza.
Dry vs. oily is only the beginning. Although everyone’s skin is unique, there are five major skin types dermatologists and skincare experts use to diagnose and prescribe skincare regimens. Find out where your skin lands here:
“Normal skin is not overly oily, dry, or sensitive,” explains Dr. Zeichner. “Normal skin is perhaps the most low maintenance of the skin types because it is not easily irritated or flaky and doesn't get greasy or too shiny.” It’s important to note that the word normal here is more synonymous with neutral, than it is typical. Don’t worry if your skin doesn’t fit this description—normal skin isn’t as common as the name suggests.
On the other hand, oily skin is a more accurate descriptor, as this skin type is characterized by high levels of oil (a.k.a. sebum) production in the pores. “The skin may feel heavy or greasy. Makeup may be more difficult to apply and not stay in place,” says Dr. Zeichner. Plus, perhaps most notoriously, “People with oily skin are often more prone to acne breakouts,” the dermatologist says.
Dry skin also lives up to its name. While oily skin overproduces sebum, dry skin underproduces it—causing skin to lack hydration. Dry skin may feel tight or even itchy, and, “easily develops flakes and often appears dull,” says Dr. Zeichner. As we age, our skin naturally loses moisture, making dryness more common.
This skin type—you guessed it—combines characteristics of dry and oily skin, due to the composition of our faces. “The T-zone, which includes the forehead, nose, and chin have a high concentration of oil glands, making those areas more oily. The cheeks, on the other hand, may be normal or even dry,” explains Dr. Zeichner. Having a combination skin type can make your skincare routine a bit more challenging, but not impossible. Look for balancing products as well as products that can be targeted to specific areas of the face, like face masks.
“Sensitive skin is particularly at risk for irritation from skincare products,” says Dr. Zeichner. “The skin often looks red or easily flushes.” If you’ve been diagnosed with skin conditions like rosacea, you likely have sensitive skin. If you haven’t, but these reactions sound familiar, consider switching to gentler formulas, or paying a visit to your derm for specific recommendations.
You might be sure of your skin type in your teens and 20s and then all of a sudden—BOOM—those same skincare products aren’t working as well and your skin is feeling out of balance. Fret not, there’s a good chance your skin type actually changed and you didn’t notice. “The skin on your face is a direct result of hormones, diet, stress levels, and environmental aggressors,” says de la Garza. If you move from a humid climate to a dry one, you could notice changes too. Skin also loses moisture as we get older, so age plays a big part in how our skin feels.
“While skin types are good to note, it is better to address the skin concerns and how your skin is currently feeling on a day to day basis,” adds de la Garza. Keep your skin tone in mind but be open to it changing throughout your life.
Fun fact: Simply washing your face can help you classify your skin type. Follow this method: First, rinse your face with a mild cleanser like NEOGEN DERMALOGY Coconut Milk Pure Mild Cleanser. Avoid applying moisturizer or any other skin products, and wait at least 30 minutes, or even up to a few hours if you have the time. Then, observe what your skin looks like, paying special attention to your T-zone and cheeks. If your skin feels tight, you might have dry skin; if it looks shiny, you likely have oily skin. Have both tightness and sheen? You probably have combination skin.
Take a piece of blotting paper and lightly press on one area of your face. Here’s the trick: Use a different blotting sheet for each section of your face, so that you can easily keep track of which part of your face produces the most oil.
After blotting your whole face, analyze the blotting papers. If the papers you used on one area of your face, especially your T-zone, have a moderate amount of oil (meaning the blotting paper is only slightly stained), but hardly any oil anywhere else, you likely have normal skin. If the oily sections of blotting paper are heavily stained, you likely have combination skin. If none of the blotting papers are stained, or are only slightly discolored, you likely have dry skin. Dark or saturated sections on each blotting paper means you likely have oily skin.
Keep an eye on how your skin changes when you lightly press on it, too. You can often tell if you have dehydrated skin. “If you gently press your finger onto the cheek area and notice that there are ‘micro crepey’ fine lines (not to be confused with wrinkles), this is an indicator of how dehydrated the skin is,” says de la Garza.
As obvious as it may seem, one of the best things you can do to determine your skin type is to actually observe it closely. For instance, you may assume your skin type is oily because you get shiny, but then realize you also have some dry areas.
It’s also important to keep in mind that skin isn’t exactly known for its consistency, so while you may be prone to dryness during winter, you could have a totally different complexion during warmer months. Keep track of these observations—they’ll help you (and your dermatologist!) in the long run.
Pore size can be an indication of your skin type, says de la Garza. “Typically, larger pores mean the skin is more naturally oily in that area,” he explains. “A true oily skin type will have large pores everywhere on the face, dry skin will have less pores, and combo skin will show up in mostly T-zone areas.”
Having normal skin has its perks when it comes to creating a skincare routine. “If your skin is normal, then your skin can tolerate almost any type of cleanser,” according to Dr. Zeichner. “The choice in cleanser really depends on personal preference. From creams to gels, oils to foams, almost all cleansers can be effective and well tolerated on normal skin.” But with great power comes great responsibility—it can be overwhelming to have all that choice. Use this handy guide to help find your perfect, curated skincare routine.
To help manage that excess oil, look for clay, foam, or gel-based cleansers. “When a cleanser lathers on the skin, it better removes oil,” says Dr. Zeichner. When it comes to ingredients, the derm says to look for alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) like glycolic or mandelic acids. Or, “If you are acne prone, look for a salicylic-acid-based cleanser. This beta hydroxy acid (BHA) helps remove oil and dead cells from the surface of the skin.” When it comes to hydrating serums and moisturizers, stick to oil-free versions.
Tea tree oil, which has natural antibacterial properties, is the star ingredient in ESSENHERB Tea Tree Foam Cleanser. We love how the creamy, foam texture soothes skin as it cleanses, rather than drying it out.
With dry skin, the key is finding a way to cleanse without stripping away what little moisture is in the skin. Cream or non-lathering cleansers help reintroduce much needed hydration. “They offer hydrating while they remove dirt from the skin,” explains Dr. Zeichner. A favorite among our Ipster community? GLOW RECIPE Blueberry Bounce Gentle Cleanser, which leaves skin “so soft and moisturized,” according to one reviewer.
De la Garza likes to add hyaluronic acid to dry skin to help lock in moisture, such as IS CLINICAL Hydra-CooL Serum.
Just remember one word: balance. “If you have combination skin, the goal is to remove oil without irritating dry parts of the face,” explains Dr. Zeichner. “Avoid extremes in ingredients and formulations which are good for only one skin type but not another. For example, salicylic acid may be good if you have acne-prone skin but be too harsh on dry skin. Micellar water is good for dry, sensitive skin, but may not be powerful enough for oily areas.”
Luckily, there are products tailor-made for combination skin’s ebbs and flows. The best balancing cleansers are gentle enough for dryness, but powerful enough to address oily patches. We love GLAMGLOW TROPICALCLEANSE™ Daily Exfoliating Cleanser, which helps smooth and soften skin, and is gentle enough to use as a daily cleanser.
Cleansing is often the most irritating step for those with sensitive skin—but it won’t be once you find the right product. “For sensitive skin, I typically recommend fragrance-free, ultra-gentle cleansers like micellar water,” says Dr. Zeichner. If you prefer a traditional cleanser, try a sulfate-free, soap-free option like IT COSMETICS Confidence in a Cleanser. You can thank the hyaluronic acid, colloidal oatmeal, and ceramides for the “wonderful healthy glow” it leaves (an Ipster’s words, not ours). When trying any new product, we recommend a patch test on your inner arm first to make sure you don’t experience a negative reaction.
Want to try all the best skincare for your skin type? Take our Beauty Quiz now to get started. Already an Ipster? Refer your friends to earn points, which you can use toward products. Either way, don’t forget to check us out on Instagram and Twitter @IPSY.
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