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Looking after your skin means finding a skin care regimen that works for your skin type.
But what happens if you have combination skin? In other words, your skin ticks both the oily and dry boxes.
Well, there’s no need to panic.
Although caring for combination skin isn’t always the easiest, it’s still possible to find a routine that simultaneously combats dry patches and shininess.
It doesn’t matter if your oiliness isn’t in the “usual” T-zone, if you experience dryness in random places, or if you have other issues like breakouts and larger-looking pores.
The approach is the same, no matter what your combination skin looks and feels like.
Whether it’s a tried-and-true skin care regimen, how often you wash your hair, or the cosmetics you’re curious about, beauty is personal.
That’s why we rely on a diverse group of writers, educators, and other experts to share their tips on everything from the way product application varies to the best sheet mask for your individual needs.
We only recommend something we genuinely love, so if you see a shop link to a specific product or brand, know that it’s been thoroughly researched by our team.
“Your skin type is genetically determined,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.
And, according to Tanya Kormeili, MD, a board certified dermatologist in Santa Monica, California, “we cannot actively change our skin type.”
But the aging process and hormonal fluctuations can cause skin changes.
As you age, skin usually becomes drier and less oily, notes Kormeili.
Hormone-driven factors, like periods and contraceptives, can also affect your skin.
As can your diet, the weather, and your current skin care routine — especially if you’re using harsh products.
There’s no set formula for combination skin. As Kormeili says: “Everyone is different.”
However, combination skin commonly refers to oiliness in the T-zone and dryness on the cheeks.
The shiny look is a result of “a high concentration of oil glands,” explains Zeichner.
But that doesn’t mean your face will be 50 percent oily and 50 percent dry. Some people may experience more oiliness than dryness and vice versa.
Pay attention to your skin to map out its various needs.
Signs of oiliness include:
- shiny skin
- larger-looking pores
Dryness, however, can mean:
- a rough or tight feeling
“Some people with combination skin may also have skin sensitivity,” says Zeichner. “This means they develop burning, stinging, or other reactions when they try to put on skin care products.”
When caring for your skin, it’s important to remember that you’re unique. What works for others may not work for you.
This is especially true when it comes to combination skin. It’s one of the trickiest skin types to look after, as different parts of the face tend to require different techniques.
But no matter what kind of combination skin you have, here are a few pointers to get you started.
Divide and conquer
Unfortunately, you may not be able to care for your entire face in one go.
Instead, split your face into its various types (oily, dry, etc.) and treat each accordingly.
Reserve oil-absorbing and matte-finish ingredients for oily areas
To reduce excessive oiliness, you’ll want to use skin care products that absorb oil and mattify skin.
The only problem is these kinds of products can irritate any dry areas, so make sure you’re precise in your application.
Dab them onto the needed areas, rather than rubbing them all over your face.
Reserve emollients for dry areas
Similarly, you’ll want to apply moisturizing products to dry areas only.
If they come into contact with oily patches, they can make them oilier.
Don’t be afraid to mix and match
“Assess your skin daily,” says Kormeili, and change your routine to fit.
For example, “if you’re having a day when your skin is irritated, cut back on skin care that is drying and apply moisturizers more,” says Kormeili.
You may also only use certain treatments once a week, or alternate between different serums.
Know when to layer — and when to skip it
When layering products, the general idea is to start with thinner, water-based formulas before moving on to thicker, oil-based ones.
However, certain areas of your face may not take too kindly to, or even need, this approach.
Some ingredients, like alpha hydroxy acids (AHAs) and beta hydroxy acids (BHAs), can benefit your entire face.
In those cases, it’s usually fine to layer a rich hydrating product on top of dry areas.
Oily parts of your face, however, will benefit from a more lightweight strategy.
And for sensitive skin: The less you apply, the better.
Avoid products with excessive fragrance or other irritants
Any product that includes harsh ingredients like fragrance or alcohol can irritate both dry and oily skin.
Dry areas may become drier, while oily parts may produce more oil, potentially leading to breakouts.
Opt for noncomedogenic products
So, you know that your products aren’t classed as irritants. Next, you need to check whether they’re likely to clog your pores.
To avoid aggravating oily and acne-prone skin, try sticking to noncomedogenic lotions and potions.
But don’t just go by the claims written on the bottle.
Check the ingredients list for
In addition to applying hydrating products to your skin, it’s important to ensure you’re drinking plenty of water each day.
Hydration can help prevent dry, flaky skin and stop skin from excessively producing oil.
When figuring out your new skin care regimen, think mild rather than attack mode.
Opt for gentle products that moisturize dry patches without promoting oiliness.
And when you need to target specific issues, only apply treatments to the needed areas.
Ingredients to look for
- Hyaluronic acid is ideal for your entire face. It hydrates your skin without weight or greasiness that could aggravate preexisting oiliness. Try The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 or CeraVe Hyaluronic Acid Serum.
- Salicylic acid can regulate oil production and unclog pores. Honest Beauty Clearing Cleanser and Philosophy Overnight Repair Acne Treatment Pads are popular options.
- Lactic acid, found in Sunday Riley Good Genes Lactic Acid Treatment, is a mild exfoliant that gently removes dead skin cells from dry areas and clears pores.
- Emollients range from butters like shea to oils like coconut. They soften and smooth dry skin by filling in the gaps between scaly cells. Try REN Vita Mineral Emollient Rescue Cream.
- Antioxidants protect skin against environmental damage, like UV exposure. Choose a product with vitamin C to maintain general skin health and provide anti-inflammatory effects. Choose a product with vitamin E for moisturizing and healing properties. SkinCeuticals C E Ferulic serum contains both.
- Cleanser. This vital morning product removes the grime and sweat that builds up overnight. La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel Cleanser is oil-free, while CeraVe Renewing SA Cleanser helps clear pores.
- Toner. This will remove any oil your cleanser missed and balance your skin’s pH levels. Skip alcohol-based toners in favor of soothing formulas like Herbivore Jasmine Green Tea Balancing Toner or SkinCeuticals Equalizing Toner.
- Serum or treatment. These focus on hydrating and protecting your skin in the morning. Try opting for a serum with hyaluronic acid, like Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Serum or L’Oreal Paris Revitalift 1.5% Pure Hyaluronic Acid.
- Moisturizer. Choose two different moisturizers to hydrate and nourish various parts of your face. A creamy formula, like Vanicream Moisturizing Lotion, is ideal for dry areas. For oily parts, try a lightweight, water-based product, like Simple Water Boost Hydrating Gel Cream.
- Sunscreen. This helps mattify skin and protects against UV damage — as long as the right product is used. Opt for a lightweight, SPF 30+ formula, like Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40 or EltaMD UV Pure Broad-Spectrum SPF 47.
- Makeup (if desired). If you want to wear makeup, opt for lightweight, mattifying products, like Estee Lauder The Mattifier Shine Control Perfecting Primer + Finisher. When it comes to foundation and concealer, look for oil-free, noncomedogenic formulas, like bareMinerals Original Loose Powder Foundation SPF 15 and Maybelline Fit Me Concealer.
- Makeup remover (if needed). Wore makeup? Then you’ll need to remove it to keep pores unclogged and allow your skin to breathe. Micellar water, like Bioderma Sébium H2O, is one of the gentlest ways to do this. Or try Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Cleanser for a foaming alternative.
- Cleanser. A good nighttime cleanser, like Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser or Ole Henriksen Find Your Balance Oil Control Cleanser, will remove any stubborn remnants of makeup as well as the day’s dirt and grime, helping combat congestion and soothe dry skin.
- Serum, treatment, or moisturizer. The evenings are the perfect time for stronger products. Choose an emollient-rich moisturizer for dry patches; a restorative vitamin C product, like TruSkin Vitamin C Serum; or even a nondrying retinol treatment, like Elizabeth Arden Retinol Ceramide Capsules, to improve skin texture.
- Exfoliant. Removing dead skin is crucial for clearing pores and relieving dry areas. Use a gentle chemical exfoliant, like Pixi Glow Peel Pads, or a soft scrub, like Kormeili’s Refine MicroDerm Scrub. Apply once a week, building up to two or three times a week if needed.
- Facial mask. Multi-masking was made for combination skin. Instead of slathering one mask all over your face, this method applies different masks to different areas of the face. Try a clay mask, like Glossier Mega Greens Galaxy Pack, to manage oiliness and a hydrating mask, like Summer Fridays Jet Lag Mask, for dry spots.
“If your over-the-counter skin care products aren’t accomplishing the goals you’re looking for, make an appointment with a board certified dermatologist for professional help,” Zeichner advises.
Kormeili also recommends seeing a dermatologist if you’re struggling to manage skin issues like acne.
A dermatologist will closely examine your skin, magnify certain areas, and gently touch them to see how they feel.
They also may ask you questions about your lifestyle and current skin care regimen. Your derm will use all of this to determine your skin type and recommend strategies for specific issues.
A number of prescription treatments can address dryness and oiliness.
Topical prescription retinoids or benzoyl peroxide can be used to unclog pores and manage breakouts. (It’s important to avoid applying these to dry areas.)
Meanwhile, corticosteroids are designed to relieve the itching and inflammation that often accompanies dry skin.
Remember that patience is key when caring for combination skin.
Finding the right routine can be tricky, and it can take a good month or two before you see any results.
But using the correct products in the right areas, both morning and night, should get your skin in the best possible shape.
If you feel like things aren’t going the way you hoped, and you have the means, you might consider booking an appointment with a dermatologist.
Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.