"Normal skin is abnormal." - Dr. Mark Lees
It's actually pretty easy to figure out your skin type once you know what to look for! Once you know your skin type and recognize any conditions you might have, finding the correct skin care is much simpler.
Dry skin types have very few visible pores, usually only on the nose. Your skin might feel "tight" after a shower, you might flake, and dry skin left to its own devices for a long time can look dull and lifeless.
Dry skin does not produce enough natural oils to keep the oil-to-water ratio balanced, so it has to be lubricated with heavier moisturizers. Exfoliation is crucial. Moisturizers that sit on top of dead skin cells can't penetrate into the live skin underneath, both making the moisturizer less effective and wasting expensive product. Dry skin also ages more quickly. It tends to be a little bit thinner. Expression lines are a little more noticeable. Deep moisture, exfoliation, and sunscreen are the most important products.
Combination Dry skin types have visible pores a little further out from the nose extending between the brows and under the eye. This skin type produces not quite enough oil, but more than dry skin. It needs the same exfoliation, deep moisture and sunscreen as dry skin, but with slightly lighter moisture.
As Dr. Mark Lees says, "Normal skin is abnormal."
Balanced skin has a good mixture of oil and water, which creates a barrier on the surface of the skin called the acid mantle. It doesn't feel tight or greasy, breakouts are less common, and usually maintenance is basic. Pores usually extend a little further up the forehead and out onto the cheeks than Combination Dry.
The term "normal" in skin care has always really bothered me. Too dry or too oily skin is far more common than what the skin care industry considers "normal skin". Is there such a thing as a "normal" skin color? Of course not. Normal skin colors range from glow-in-the-dark light (yours truly) to midnight dark. Normal skin ranges from extremely dry to extremely oily.
Since getting the oil-to-water ratio balanced is the ultimate goal of all skin types, if you fall in this category where your skin naturally produces the ideal amount of oil, you simply hit the genetic jackpot. Basic cleansing, exfoliation, light moisture, and sunscreen are simple.
Visible pores for the Combination Oily skin type generally extend onto the cheeks. Skin tends to look shiny, makeup doesn't stay on quite as easily, and skin rarely feels tight or dry on its own.
Combination Oily skin needs gentle deep cleansing on a regular basis to keep pores clean. Most people with Combination Oily or Oily skin types are concerned with "shrinking" their pores. You can't really shrink your pores, but you can make them appear smaller by keeping them clear of dead skin cells, dirt, excess oil, and makeup residue.
When I'm talking to clients to learn more about their skin, I ask if their face ever feels tight. This type sometimes has a momentary look of confusion, as if the concept is so foreign that they can't imagine what it would feel like. Oily skin has larger, visible pores around most of the face, sometimes even extending onto the jaw and neck.
Oily skin needs regular, deep cleansing to control oil, but often people with oily skin who are concerned about surface oil over-cleanse, either by using very astringent products or by cleansing too many times a day.
Another common problem is that people with oily skin often don't own a moisturizer and have never used one. Before I went to school for Esthetics, believing I was an acneic oily skin type, I had never put moisturizer on my face. I was cleansing with a terrible, harsh, astringent scrub (wrong!), rinsing with hot water (wrong!), and drying my face with a towel (wrong!). All this did to my skin (which is acneic and combination dry, it turned out) was strip it of all oils and then remove all of the water, making the skin panic and produce extra oil to try to balance and protect itself from environmental damage- wind, sun, pollution, and high or low temperatures. Oily skin needs a gentle gel cleanser that doesn't strip the skin bare, followed by a hydrating lotion to promote a healthy balance of oil and water and sunscreen.
Again, pores can not be shrunk! It can be very frustrating for clients who are self conscious about the size of their pores. Using a clay mask twice a week will draw excess oil, dead skin and impurities out of the pores, keeping them from accumulating which can stretch pores even larger.
Technically, acne prone skin isn't truly a skin type. Acneic skin can be dry or oily. The tendency towards surface acne depends on the tendency to clog. Dead cells and sebum start clogging pores (a 'microcomedo'), trapping bacteria inside, which leads to an oxygen free environment where acne bacteria thrives. This bacteria's waste causes inflammation, which causes swelling, which closes off the pore even further. The pore becomes a battleground between white blood cells and bacteria, which results in pus.
I'm listing this as its own type because it acts differently than clear skin. Acneic skin needs more specific treatment. Deep pore cleanses, chemical exfoliation (no scrubs!), antioxidants, anti inflammatory ingredients, and sunscreen are vital. Don't ever use ProActiv!
Keeping pores as clean and unclogged as possible is key to preventing breakouts.
This is another debate- is Sensitive really a skin type? Yes. Sensitive skin tends to be dry (but not always), inflamed, hot to the touch, and pink or red. Sensitive skin flushes easily. Treating sensitive skin like dry skin is not always effective, since the underlying problem needs to be treated as well. Use a very gentle creamy cleanser, lukewarm water only, and a cooling, calming moisturizer.. Anti inflammatory ingredients and sunscreen are vital. Searching for a skin care regimen that doesn't further irritate skin can be a challenge and should be customized precisely to your skin. Never use a physical exfoliant such as a scrub, washcloth, or loofah on sensitive skin. This will only irritate it further. Exfoliation needs to be a gentle chemical or enzyme peel and over exfoliation needs to be avoided at all costs.
Skin Conditions & Disorders
Sensitive vs Reactive
Reactive skin is allergic to many ingredients. Reactive skin can be anywhere from very dry to very oily, and isn't necessarily red, warm, or raw, but trying a new product often causes an allergic reaction, such as burning, stinging, onset redness, hives, rash, swelling, etc. Reactive skin responds as if it's being attacked. Often times people with sensitive skin also have reactive skin, and vice versa.
Dry vs Dehydrated
Dry skin lacks oil. Dehydrated skin lacks water. All skin types can be and often are dehydrated. The skin is the last organ to receive any of the water that we drink, so it's nearly impossible to drink enough water that skin remains consistently hydrated. Skin should be wet, either with water or an appropriate toner, when moisturizer is applied. Moisturizer doesn't always add water to the skin, but rather keeps the water already in the skin from evaporating.
Rosacea is a condition that only your doctor or dermatologist can diagnose. It's characterized by flushing, heat, sensitivity, reactivity, and in severe cases, very angry acne. The real cause of rosacea is still debated, but one of the most popular theories point to genetic disposition. Another possibility is an excess of microscopic mites that most people carry on their skin. When the mites die, they release bacteria, causing inflammation, which causes a cascade of problems for the skin.
Rosacea skin needs the care that sensitive and acneic skin both require. Very gentle cleansing and chemical exfoliation, calming anti-inflammatory ingredients, deep, cooling moisture, sunscreen, and patience.
The Bottom Line
What did you think your skin type was? Do you now think you're a different skin type than before? Ask any questions in the comments below!