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How to Determine Your Skin Type with Tips from a Derm

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Whenever we see a cool new skincare product or ingredient, we’re instantly tempted to try it. From hydrating serums to pore-clearing masks, there are endless products that promise everything from brightening our skin to nixing an oily T-zone, and finally fading dark spots. So if you’re like us and you get caught up in the latest skincare buzzwords and trends, we get it. And while we wish every product worked miracles on our complexions, the truth is, when it comes to skincare, one size rarely fits all. That’s because there’s one key to making sure your skincare is working for you: knowing your skin type.

Your skin type is just as important as knowing your hair type or foundation shade. Just like some hair types don’t benefit from heavy hair oils, some skin types don’t benefit from potentially drying ingredients. To break down all you need to know about your skin type, we chatted with Dr. Dendy Engelman, MD, dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at Shafer Clinic in New York City. Are you oily? Sensitive? Combo? Continue reading to find out.


About the Expert:

Dendy Engelman, MD, is a dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at Shafer Clinic Fifth Avenue in New York City.

First, why is knowing your skin type important?

Dr. Engelman says, “Knowing your skin type is very important for keeping your skin looking its best. It allows you to create a skincare routine that works best for you, buy the right products, and avoid exacerbating existing issues or causing new ones.” She adds, “Buying products that don’t work well with your skin type is not only a waste of time and money (as they will likely be less effective), but it can actually worsen existing skin problems or cause new ones to develop. For example, if you have oily skin, buying products that add more oil can clog your pores and cause acne breakouts. If you have sensitive skin, being careless about your product ingredients can lead to irritation, redness, itchiness, etc.”

Ready to determine your type of skin? We break down each one below.

5 Common Skin Types

• Normal Skin Type

If you’ve got normal skin, you can luckily experiment with a wider variety of products than most. According to Dr. Engelman, “When skin is normal, it is well-balanced—meaning not too dry, oily, or sensitive. Normal skin types can tolerate most products and don’t have to be too cautious about trying new products/ingredients. They should focus on anti-aging products like retinol and chemical peels to improve skin’s appearance and prevent signs of aging over time since the skin barrier is strong enough to handle these ingredients. (Our pick: KATE SOMERVILLE® Goat Milk Moisturizing Cream is suitable for all skin types and delivers major hydration without the heavy feel.)

How to tell: “Skin will appear smooth and soft, with a healthy color,” says Dr. Engelman.

• Dry Skin Type

“Dry skin types do not produce enough sebum (or oil). This allows moisture to leak out of the skin more easily, leaving skin feeling dry and flaky. Dry skin types require additional hydration through products that moisturize, heal, and strengthen the skin barrier. They usually benefit from richer, thicker moisturizers,” says Dr. Engelman. (Our pick: TATCHA The Dewy Skin Cream is a rich moisturizer ideal for dry skin types. It’s made with Japanese purple rice extract to give skin a healthy, dewy glow.”

How to Tell: “Skin may be red, flaky, chapped, rough, or tight,” says Dr. Engelman

• Oily Skin Type

Dr. Engelman says, “When skin is oily, it overproduces sebum (or oil), leading to a complexion that is more shiny, slick, and acne-prone. People with oily skin should avoid using products that add additional oil. Look for product labels that state “oil-free” or “non-comedogenic.” Oiliness can also be a sign that skin is lacking moisture and is producing an excess of oil to compensate, so avoid drying out skin further with harsh acne treatments, and instead try adding lightweight hydrating products (like hyaluronic acid, gentle moisturizers, etc.) to re-balance it.

How to tell: Look for “larger or visible pores, blackheads, shine. Skin may be more prone to acne,” says Dr. Engelman.

• Combination Skin Type

As one of the more difficult skin types to self-determine, combination skin has characteristics of a few skin types in one. “Combination skin means that the T-zone is oily and the rest of the face tends to be dry or normal,” says Dr. Engelman. “The driest areas are usually raised areas, like the apples of your cheeks, and/or areas with thin skin, like the lips and eye area. This can be a tricky skin type to work with. I recommend seeking lightweight, hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid which provide much-needed moisture without clogging pores.” (Our pick: BLUME Daydreamer: Gentle Ultra Hydrating Facial Cleanser is sensitive skin’s best friend—it’s a calming, hydrating, and oh so gentle cleanser you can use every day.)

How to tell: “Your skin feels dry on cheeks, yet oily on the T-zone,” says Dr. Engelman.

• Sensitive Skin Type

“Sensitive skin may be caused by genetics, skin disorders like rosacea and eczema, or compromised skin,” says Dr. Engelman. “When skin is sensitive, it is easily affected by allergens and even mildly harsh ingredients and may respond with irritation, redness, itchiness, dryness, etc. This compromises the strength of the skin barrier and its ability to do its job. Sensitive skin types must be very careful about what ingredients are in their skincare products. Look for clean products and be sure to read the ingredient label to ensure that they are free of harmful ingredients like fragrances, alcohol, phthalates, sulfates, and parabens. Instead, seek out gentle, nourishing ingredients like aloe vera and antioxidants, which help soothe skin and fight environmental aggressors.” (Check out our guide to moisturizers for sensitive skin.)

How to tell: “Sensitive skin may often show redness, inflammation, irritation, sensitivity and/or allergic reactions, especially in response to new or mildly irritating products,” says Dr. Engelman.

Finally, is your skin type the same for life?

The short answer: No. Dr. Engelman says it’s important to keep tabs on your skin type to keep it healthy and to make sure you’re using the right skincare products. “Our skin type can evolve depending on many external and internal factors throughout the aging process,” she says. “Anything and everything including hormonal changes, medications, environmental changes (climate, temperature, and humidity level), and lifestyle changes (stress, sleep, diet, and exercise) can alter your skin type. That’s why I recommend paying attention to your skin every day and night and tailoring your skincare routine accordingly.”

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Article Last Updated September 28, 2021 12:00 AM