Ah, your skin type. We see skin types plastered all over products and product descriptions, so we know it’s important, right? YES!
Skincare is a beautiful art (ok, maybe a lot of science) and once you master it, you feel like you can take on the world. Knowing and understanding your skin type is the first, and most important, step in your skincare journey.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase through the link I may make a small commission. I am not a medical pro, just someone who loves skincare and has done the research. Everyone’s skin is different and any serious skin issues should be consulted with a dermatologist or your esthetician.
What is my skin type?
Your skin type is characterized by the amount of sebum it produces naturally and the way your skin looks, feels, and responds to certain products or environments.
There are five basic skin types
- Normal (Balanced)
Each skin type can be further broken down (think dry to very dry) and can be expanded with some fun add-ons like acne-prone or sun damaged, to name a couple. Let’s stick to the basics today and we will dive into all the other skin type considerations in another post.
How to identify your skin type
Many of us are pretty confident that we know our skin type and we have known it for years. This can be a slippery slope if we are stuck in a rut and treating our skin for concerns we no longer have or that we maybe even created ourselves.
To find out your true skin type, the easiest method is to cleanse your face with a gentle cleanser and apply a gentle toner (no exfoliants or harsh ingredients included) and then just let that face hang out for 20-30 minutes.
During this time you will see how your skin adjusts to your everyday environment before treating skin with other products.
If your skin feels dry and you get that tight skin feeling (hate it), you got dry skin, girl.
If your skin starts to produce oil all over your face, that skin is oily.
Mixed reactions. If you are one of the chosen ones who see oil in certain areas like the t-zone but experience dryness or tightness in your cheeks – you have combination skin.
Essential tip: before you do the skin type test, stop using all harsh or aggressive ingredients and products for a couple of days. This gives your skin time to adjust back to its normal state and allows you to really see what that skin is doing under all of those products and treatments.
Let’s break down the most common skin types
Jump to your skin type:
Skin type: Normal
Normal skin is considered to be well balanced and not too dry or too oily. It is characterized by an overall smooth appearance with very few breakouts and balanced sebum production.
Normal skin is not really sensitive or reactive, so you generally do not have to worry about redness and irritation. It is truly a gift from the gods.
Caring for normal skin
Normal skin really benefits from a simple routine (all skin types do). Having normal skin allows you to focus on one main concern which is health. Work to maintain a healthy and strong skin barrier by staying hydrated and using products targeted towards normal skin that contain gentle ingredients, like hyaluronic acid or the occasional hydrating BHA or AHA.
Aging still happens to normal skin, so utilize a simple anti-aging routine that includes regular light exfoliation, your favorite antioxidant serum (shout out to vitamin C), a great creamy moisturizer, and sunscreen.
Keep in mind that just because you have naturally great skin, does not mean you will not get clogged pores from makeup or environmental stresses. The good news is, your skin likely won’t develop reactions like irritation or blemishes quickly, but you are still prone to damage over time. Remember to remove makeup and wash your face each night to keep your skin clean and strong.
Skin type: Dry
All my dry skin girls raise your hand (me me me!). Dry skin can sometimes feel dry (duh) or even tight like that stripped feeling you get after using a bad cleanser. It can also be flaky at times when your skin is going through an especially dry phase like a change in season or being in a new extra dry climate.
Dry skin has minimal sebum production, which means your skin will not be as naturally hydrated as you want it to be. The texture of dry skin can vary from person to person, but often those with dry skin experience mostly clear skin that is prone to redness and feels a bit rough and even itchy at times.
Caring for dry skin
Dry skin can be more prone to sensitivity if not cared for properly. The skin barrier is critical to maintaining for all skin types, but dry skin may experience an especially difficult time depending on products and ingredients used.
Hydration is first and foremost the most important element to caring for dry skin. A nice thick moisturizer will work wonders on your dry skin, especially at night or during a cold winter day. Look for a creamy moisturizer suitable for dry skin types that contains ingredients that contribute to a strong skin barrier like ceramides and fatty acids.
Cleansers and serums are also key to a great dry skincare routine. Avoid foaming cleansers as these tend to be drying and can strip already dry skin. Look for a gentle and creamy cleanser that will soothe skin without depleting it of any precious moisture. (CereVe Hydrating Facial Wash will do the trick).
Hyaluronic acid serum is another great way to keep your skin hydrated. HA really saved my dry flaky skin before I learned how to properly care for it. This is a real skincare gem that can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water (!!). Don’t let the word acid scare you! HA is naturally occurring in our bodies, but its production depletes as we age, making it an essential boost for all skin types.
Essential tip: apply HA to damp, not dry, skin as HA relies on moisture from the face and air to sink into the skin and pull in that moisture with it. Try spraying a water facial mist directly before or after applying your HA.
Skin type: Oily
Oily skin – a real tough b**ch. Oily skin is marked by a greasy or shiny appearance as a result of excess sebum production. The excess oil often results in clogged and enlarged pores that lead to breakouts, acne, and accumulation of dead skin.
Some good news for oily skin – you are less prone to wrinkles than your dry skin friends. All that moisture keeps your skin plump and slows the aging process, compared to dry skin that lacks essential moisture and shows lines faster.
Caring for oily skin
Oily skincare can be difficult to master, so it is important to understand how to treat concerns oily skin comes with without stripping your skin barrier. Understanding the right types of products and ingredients is essential to make sure you do not increase the sebum production even more or use ingredients that will not work to cleanse your pores and reduce blemishes and irritation. After all, we don’t want to achieve dry skin, we want to find a healthy glow!
Stick to a routine. Washing and treating your oily skin morning and night (but not more than that) is step 1 in oily skincare. It is important to remove excess oil or acne causing bacteria from the skin regularly to maintain a clear and glowing complexion. Use a gentle gel based cleanser as this works well to remove excess oil without stripping skin dry. My all time favorite cleanser is the Olehenriksen Find your Balance Cleanser.
Exfoliation. In addition to your gentle toner or favorite anti-aging serum, exfoliation is an important part of caring for oily skin. Incorporating BHA (salicylic acid) into your routine a few nights a week will help clean out your pores, remove surface skin buildup, and reduce inflammation. Be sure to avoid over exfoliation on oily skin by using too strong of a concentration of exfoliants or by exfoliating too often. Over exfoliation can lead to stripped skin and increased oil production, which is exactly what we are working to avoid.
Moisturize oily skin
I am sure anybody who has dealt with oily skin can recall wanting to avoid avoid avoid when it came to applying moisturizing products. Avoiding moisturizer and hydration is the number one skincare mistake in caring for oily skin as naturally oily skin that is lacking moisture will cause those oil glands to work harder and produce more oil. Not great.
Look for a moisturizer suitable for oily skin that contains emollients (like squalane) and avoid moisturizers that contain occlusives (like petroleum). A lightweight or gel based moisturizer is great for the daytime and summer months, while something a little thicker is great for nighttime, especially in dry climates and winter.
Essential tip: be cautious of “oil-free” products. “Oil Free” is a marketing term with loose restrictions so it is best to look straight to the ingredients when making your product decisions. As a moisturizer, focus on emollients as these will keep your skin barrier strong and happy.
Skin type: Combination
Combination skin – because who doesn’t love working twice as hard? Combination skin is characterized by both dry and oily skin. Typically, this means an oily T-zone with dry areas in the cheeks and jawline. You may notice enlarged pores or rough skin texture in oily areas, making you more prone to whiteheads and blackheads.
You may be surprised, but combination skin is actually the most common skin type. A lot of people do not realize they have combination skin and work hard to treat the concern that comes through the most, whether that is dry or oily, and mischaracterize their skin type. Knowing you have combination skin and learning how to address these concerns will help you achieve your best glow yet.
Caring for combination skin
It can be overwhelming to feel like you are battling multiple skincare concerns at once, but it is easier than you think!
As with all skin types, combination skin benefits from a gentle routine. Start with a gentle, gel based cleanser that works to remove dirt and buildup from the skin without stripping it down. Two of my absolute favorite cleansers on the planet: Olehenriksen Find Your Balance cleanser or Tula Purifying Cleanser.
Don’t skip the toner. I’m not talking the drying astringent loving toner of our teens, I am talking big girl toner. For me, toner is an essential part of any skincare routine and is especially important for combination skin. The right toner performs the perfect balancing act by absorbing oil AND hydrating your skin at the same time. Look for a toner with hydrating ingredients like hyaluronic acid or ceramides and oil fighting and brightening ingredients like niacinamide or chemical exfoliants (like BHA and glycolic acid).
Essential tip: if you choose a toner with exfoliating AHAs or BHAs, be sure to ease it into your skincare routine to avoid irritation. If your toner boasts AHA or BHA concentrations of 5% or more, be sure to alternate use with a more soothing toner at least 3 times a week.
Moisturize Combination Skin
The name of the game for combination skin is balance, and that includes hydration! Opt for a lightweight gel or water based moisturizer in the daytime that contains ingredients that will not clog pores or cause more dryness in your dry zones. In your nighttime routine, go for a moisturizer that is a bit creamier to take advantage of hydration and repair while you sleep. Look for non-comedogenic ingredients like Squalane and natural humectants like hyaluronic acid to steer clear of clogged pores and maintain healthy hydration.
Skin Type: Sensitive
Things get a little confusing when we start talking sensitive skin. Many of us may be under the impression that we have sensitive skin, but we really aren’t sure. Sensitive skin is characterized by persistent redness, rashes, or irritation. It can include some ailments like eczema or rosacea or other bad allergies.
There is a difference between skin that is reactive and skin that is sensitive. Many of us have reacted to skincare or to the environment, but the key for sensitive skin is that irritation is persistent. Skin sensitivity can vary from person to person, but no matter the degree of sensitivity it’s important to pay attention to what ingredients or allergens cause the most flare ups.
Caring for sensitive skin
Sensitive skincare is, well, sensitive! With any skin type, but especially for sensitive skin, it is best to maintain a gentle routine. What products you use will be driven by your degree of sensitivity and what other skin concerns you have. Someone who is sensitive and dry will likely maintain a different routine from someone who is sensitive and acne prone.
Understanding ingredients that are good for sensitive skin vs. ingredients to avoid will help you curate the best skincare routine for your sensitive skin.
Ingredients to avoid for sensitive skin
Alcohol should be at the top of your list for ingredients to avoid in your sensitive skincare routine. Review the ingredient list and pass on using if you see SD alcohol, isopropyl alcohol, or denatured alcohol. These types of alcohol will strip down your skin barrier and leave skin exposed, leading to redness and dryness.
Essential tip: certain alcohols like stearyl, cetyl, and cetearyl alcohols are not the enemy, so look out for the type of alcohol listed on that label.
Fragrance and essential oils
Fragrance can be such an indulgent, fun part of a skincare ritual, but it can also be quite harmful. According to dermatological studies, fragrance is a leading cause of allergies and negative reactions to the skin. While some skin types can easily tolerate fragranced ingredients in skincare products, those with sensitive skin should steer clear.
Sensitive skin and especially those with other inflammatory conditions like rosacea or eczema should look out for fragrance on the skincare label. While fragrance in a wash off product (cleanser) may be relatively safe, aim to avoid fragrance in your leave on serums and moisturizers. Here are a few ways you can identify potentially sensitizing fragrance on your skincare label:
- essential oils
Harsh physical or chemical exfoliants
Exfoliation is important for any skin type, but knowing which exfoliants are right for you is key to glowing skin. In general, I like to avoid all physical exfoliants, aka scrubs. Many scrubs are made with large and uneven kernels (think teen fave apricot scrubs) that do not dissolve as you rub and can cause skin damage through micro-tears and skin stripping.
For chemical exfoliants, this is all dependent on your sensitivity level and strength of formulation. In general, AHAs are very safe for all skin types, but some are more intense than others. Glycolic acid is the strongest AHA and may be too much for sensitive skin. Lactic acid in a lower strength may be better suited for those with slight to moderate sensitivity. For the most sensitive skin types, it’s best to avoid AHAs and opt for the most gentle of exfoliants, PHAs. Look for PHAs like gluconolactone and lactobionic acids that gently exfoliate and get you glowing.
Ingredients to use for sensitive skin
It is not all about avoiding when it comes to sensitive skincare. There are so many great products and ingredients out there that will solve your skin concerns and keep you glowing!
You know how important it is to keep sensitive skin hydrated, and squalane will make that happen! Squalane is another ingredient that is actually produced by our bodies, but as squalene. Squalene in our bodies depletes over time which is a bummer because it’s a key contributor to skin’s hydration levels. Using squalane in your routine will keep skin hydrated AND protected from irritation from other actives used in your routine.
I have been using Biossance Squalane + Vitamin C Rose Oil for two months and am loving it. It is also free of sulfates and synthetic ingredients – sensitive skin bonus.
For those who are sensitive and acne-prone, you know how hard it is to find a topical that won’t strip your skin. Queue: azelaic acid.
Azelaic acid is a gentle exfoliant that works hard to clear out your pores, reduce blemishes, and reduce inflammation. This is touted by many as a favorite ingredient in skincare because it is backed by research with proven effectiveness. Azelaic acid will work to clear skin and keep it that way, fade dark spots, and smooth out skin’s texture. It does all of this while keeping redness and inflammation down, what more can you ask for? My current favorite is The Ordinary Azelaic Acid Suspension 10%. I use this every night as the last treatment before my moisturizer.
Green tea is a total powerhouse when it comes to body and skin. It is safe for all skin types and is especially attractive to those with sensitive or dry skin. Green tea soothes your skin and reduces inflammation, including inflammation from eczema and psoriasis. It is an antioxidant so it will protect your skin from harsh environmental stressors and fight aging skin. What’s not to love about green tea?
These are just 3 of so many other incredible ingredients for sensitive skin. Be on the look out for a blog post soon breaking down all the goods for sensitive skincare!
Are you feeling confident to care for your skin type?
With a breakdown of the basic skin types and essential care tips, are you ready to curate your routine? Let us know your favorite way to care for your skin type in the comments!