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Figuring out the best skin care routine for combination skin can feel a bit like you’re going in circles. What happens when your skin decides it’s going to be oily and dry?
There’s no need to worry. It might not be easy, but it’s definitely possible to find a routine that softens dry patches and combats shininess. It doesn’t matter what percentage of your skin is oily and dry, or if your dry and oily patches aren’t in the most common areas — the approach is the same.
According to board certified dermatologist and aesthetic expert Kavita Mariwalla, MD, FAAD, combination skin is normal, just like other skin types.
The difference is that combination skin is oily in some places and dry in others. For example, “It’s common to have an oily T-zone and dry cheeks.”
What causes it?
Nothing causes combination skin per se (it’s genetically pre-determined), but it can change with hormonal and seasonal shifts, Mariwalla explains.
Occasionally, as we age, skin becomes drier and less oily as it reacts to hormonal changes. Other hormone-driven factors that can cause changes in skin are periods and contraceptives.
What are the signs?
A combination of oily and dry skin can appear in different ways and in different amounts.
There’s no hard and fast rule to how it looks and feels, and it’s not as if your skin is going to be exactly 5 percent dry and 50 percent oily all the time.
You’ll need to pay attention to figure out exactly how your combination presents itself.
Signs of oiliness may include:
- shiny skin
- larger-looking pores
Signs of dryness may include:
- feelings of tightness or roughness
How is it different from routines for other skin types?
It’s a good idea to think conservatively when figuring out your skin care routine for combination skin.
Go for gentle products that can moisturize dry areas without creating more oiliness. And only apply treatments to the needed areas for specific issues.
Use products in this order to help create more balanced skin.
- Cleanser. It’s important to remove any buildup that occurs overnight.
- Toner. Toner removes any oil that your cleanser didn’t and balances your skin’s pH levels. Make sure to grab an alcohol-free toner.
- Serum. Serums, or treatments, hydrate and protect your skin. It’s best to opt for a serum with hyaluronic acid.
- Moisturizer. With combination skin, you’ll want two moisturizers. For dry areas, choose a creamy formula. For oily parts, choose a lightweight, water-based formula.
- Sunscreen. Choose a lightweight formula with at least SPF 30.
- Makeup. If desired, use lightweight products. Foundation and concealer should have oil-free formulas.
In the evening, try applying products in this order:
- Makeup remover. If you wear makeup, makeup remover helps keep pores unclogged and gives your skin a chance to breathe. Micellar water is one of the gentlest products to use for this.
- Cleanser. A nighttime cleanser should remove any makeup remnants and natural buildup.
- Exfoliant. Once per week, exfoliants are great for removing dead skin cells, which keeps pores clear and relieves dry areas.
- Facial mask. Once per week, try multi-masking, which is when you apply different masks to different areas of the face.
- Serum, treatment, or moisturizer. Evenings are for stronger products, so choose an emollient-rich moisturizer for dry areas.
- Use a cleanser that contains salicylic acid.
- Double-cleanse at night if you wear makeup.
- Use a toner to remove excess oil and help fight blackheads and blemishes.
When creating a skin care routine for more mature-looking skin, you’ll want to plump fine lines, banish dark spots, and lift sagging skin. A few tips:
- Don’t forget about your neck when it comes to cleansing, treating, and using sunscreen.
- Choose a gentler exfoliant, as your skin may be more sensitive.
For dry skin
- Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Drinking plenty of water and using a super-hydrating moisturizer on dry patches will help hydrate skin.
There are never-ending skin care products available that promise every benefit under the sun. But finding the right ones for your skin type is important.
Mariwalla suggests staying away from products that overlap (or do the same thing), like putting acids and retinoids on the skin together. This will make your skin go from combo to dry.
However, do continue to use sunscreen and antioxidants together.
With combination skin, you can separate your routine by day and night. Remember: You don’t have to apply everything everywhere or every time.
For example, if your T-zone is oily and the rest of your face is dry, apply the acids only to the T-zone and only at night.
Mariwalla also suggests a few specific types of products she prefers for combination skin.
“I like hydrating cleansers [and] micellar water for makeup removal and washing. I also like lightweight sunscreens that can double as moisturizers or even makeup,” she says.
Some ingredients to consider:
- Hyaluronic acid is ideal for your face, as it hydrates your skin without the greasiness that could aggravate oiliness.
- Salicylic acid may regulate oil production and help keep pores unclogged.
- Lactic acid acts as a mild exfoliant that removes dead skin cells from dry areas and gently clears pores.
- Emollients are things like shea butter and coconut oils that soften dry skin.
- Antioxidants protect you from environmental damage. Make sure to choose a product with vitamin C for general skin health.
General skin care products for combination skin
La Roche-Posay Effaclar Purifying Foaming Gel is an oil-free and soap-free cleanser that gently removes dirt and oil while respecting the skin’s pH.
Honest Clearing Cleanser deeply cleans, refines pores, and keeps future acne breakouts at bay.
Neutrogena Hydro Boost Hydrating Serum is an oil-free, noncomedogenic serum with hyaluronic acid that provides a glowing complexion.
The Ordinary Hyaluronic Acid 2% + B5 is formulated for multi-depth hydration in a water-based formula.
Sunday Riley Good Genes All-In-One Lactic Acid Treatment exfoliates the skin for instant glow and radiance. And it visibly brightens the appearance of dark spots and discoloration.
REN Clean Skincare Vita Mineral Emollient Rescue Cream is formulated to provide instant relief to dryness, dehydration, skin roughness, and sensitivity.
Supergoop! Unseen Sunscreen SPF 40 is an invisible, weightless, and scentless sunscreen with a strong SPF.
Bioderma Sébium H2O Purifying Cleansing Micelle Solution cleanses, removes makeup, and purifies the skin for combination-to-oily skin.
Glossier Mega Greens Galaxy Pack is a detoxifying face mask that helps manage excess oil, minimize the appearance of pores, and nourish the skin.
Korean skin care products for combination skin
If you deal with oily skin, enlarged pores, and dry patches, you may consider a Korean skin care routine.
Ohlolly Korean Skincare Kit for Combination Skin Types is a specially curated kit for combination skin that includes nine hand-picked products.
Natural skin care products for combination skin
Herbivore Natural Jasmine Green Tea Balancing Toner contains ingredients that are plant-based, organic, and food-grade. The toner is also cruelty-free and free of parabens and sulfates. It’s made in small batches through cold-pressed or steam-distilled methods.
bareMinerals Original Loose Powder Foundation SPF 15 is a clean, natural, loose mineral foundation that’s lightweight and helps improve skin.
TruSkin Vitamin C Facial Serum blends vitamin C with botanical hyaluronic acid, vitamin E, witch hazel, and jojoba oil. The serum doesn’t contain synthetic colors, fragrances, parabens, phthalates, sulfates, PEGs, or GMOs. This formula helps fight signs of aging, like wrinkles and dark spots, and it’s certified cruelty-free.
Toner for oily skin
The green tea in this toner fights redness and acne while the apple cider vinegar works on balancing the pH level of your skin.
- one part green tea
- one part apple cider vinegar
- Mix the ingredients together.
- Spritz onto skin using a spray bottle or apply with a reusable cotton pad.
- Pat with fingertips to aid absorption.
Hydrating face mask
This DIY face mask helps hydrate dry patches. Honey is an excellent humectant, which means it retains moisture without feeling oily.
- 1/2 avocado
- 1 tbsp. honey
- handful of oats
- On a clean face, apply a few tablespoons of the mixture.
- Let it sit for 15 minutes.
- Rinse with warm water.
Don’t skip moisturizer
Every skin type needs moisture. However, it’s best to find formulas for your skin type. You may want to use moisturizer sparingly on oily areas and apply more to dry areas.
Don’t forget to exfoliate
Healthy skin has dead skin cells removed via exfoliation. Use a gentle exfoliant once per week.
If your dry areas are causing sensitivity issues, you can exfoliate only in the needed areas.
Don’t get stuck in one routine or get discouraged
Combination skin can change!
Make sure your routine keeps up with your skin’s changes. Switch up your products and regimen accordingly.
When it comes to combination skin, finding the right skin care routine can be tricky. It may take a bit of time to find the right combination.
However, using the best products in the right areas should create the best possible outcome for your skin.
You should always consult a dermatologist if you have any questions or concerns.
Ashley Hubbard is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tennessee, focusing on sustainability, travel, veganism, mental health, social justice, and more. Passionate about animal rights, sustainable travel, and social impact, she seeks out ethical experiences whether at home or on the road. Visit her website.