Maybe you know your type when it comes to your coffee order, but you’re a little less sure about what kind of skin you have.
Got parched cheeks that require constant hydration? Or a combination situation? Whatever it is, knowing your skin type can help you find the best care routine. And caring for your skin with products that work with it rather than against it will help you put your most magnificent mug forward.
We’ve got a few solutions for figuring out your skin’s personality.
1. Take the day test
“The easiest means to determine your skin type is to see how it performs from morning to evening on a typical day,” says Melanie Palm, MD, a board-certified dermatologist and cosmetic surgeon.
|Results (at the end of the day)||Skin type|
|Does your face feel oily and look shiny?||oily skin|
|Is your T-zone shimmering, but the rest of your face is mostly matte?||combination skin|
|Do you have minimal oil, flakiness, or redness, or none at all?||normal skin|
|Is your skin flaky or tight?||dry skin|
|Is your skin itchy, red, or inflamed?||sensitive skin|
Reminder: Dehydrated skin is not a type, it’s a separate condition. You can have dehydrated skin that’s also oily, combination, or all the above.
2. Try the wash test
A day-long test may not make sense if you shower midday after a quad-killing session of indoor cycling or if you’re exposed to irritants like wind, nasty weather, or raging sun on your evening commute. At any time, you can try this assessment and achieve similar results.
Wash your face with a mild cleanser and don’t apply any product or makeup. Wait 30 minutes and examine how your skin feels.
Try this test when your face feels relatively calm, meaning it’s not red hot after a run or stinging from a fruit-enzyme peel or feeling tight after shoveling snow off the walk.
3. Get your picture taken
Your dermatologist may have certain photographic methods for helping to evaluate your skin’s behavior further if necessary.
“Vascular filters can zero in on excess or unhealthy blood vessel distribution — indicating sensitive, irritated, or rosacea-prone skin,” Palm explains. “UV-like filters can demonstrate sun damage and pigmentation.”
Other methods can highlight subtle changes in skin texture or pore size or even indicate oil production.
Your skin type can change over the years
Pregnancy, diet, location, and many other factors can change your skin type. The best way to gauge your skin is to know it! That means touching it (with clean hands) and really feeling out the temperature, texture, and buoyancy. A soft pinch test every now and then can also help you evaluate its hydration levels.
Once you understand your type, add products or care techniques to your arsenal that help you work with your skin’s unique characteristics.
Keep in mind that none of these behaviors are bad or need to be changed. Understanding your skin is all about giving it what it needs, not combating it.
We’ve all got natural oils, called sebum, on our skin. It comes from our pores’ sebaceous glands and it provides moisture. But we all produce oil in varying amounts and types.
Although oil protects our skin, it sometimes gets a bad rap. That’s because an excess of it can grip dead skin cells and create a blocked pore, leading to a blackhead or pimple. The other oft-lamented issue of oily skin is shine.
Glossy skin is so in right now. Just check out any makeup shelf and you’ll see all the products designed to achieve just that. But if shine bothers you, Palm recommends blotting with regular tissue paper. “You don’t have to pay for expensive blotting papers,” she says.
If you’re managing blemishes with acne-fighting products that have a drying effect, you’ll crave a moisturizer. Never be afraid of moisture to combat flakiness and keep your skin smooth and soft.
“Oily skin is best served with moisturizers with oil-free occlusives, like dimethicone,” says Fayne Frey, MD, a board-certified dermatologist with expertise in skin care product ingredients and formulation.
If you think overproduction of oil is causing skin issues, Palm recommends talking to your dermatologist about the possibility of taking oral medications or using topical applications that might help keep oil production in check.
Just as some folks produce a little extra sebum, others have an underproduction of it, leaving them with dry skin. You may think drinking water is the answer but sometimes the solution is easier and more topical.
“Look for moisturizers with hyaluronic acid, ceramides, or free fatty acids,” Palm says. You’ll also want to make sure you layer on your serums and moisturizers from thinnest to thickest, allowing for maximum product penetration.
Exfoliation can sometimes help with flaking, but be wary of overexfoliating, especially with acids that claim to soften the skin. If your skin loves exfoliation, keep the process to one to two times a week instead of every day.
When to see a doctor
If dry, flaky, tight skin persists even after liberal moisturization, talk to your dermatologist to investigate whether you have conditions such as contact or atopic dermatitis and, if so, how to treat. Dry skin is also more prone to developing itchy skin conditions like eczema and psoriasis.
If your face can’t seem to make up its mind as to whether it’s dry or slick, then combo skin is probably your sitch.
“There is no way to formulate moisturizers for combination skin,” Frey says. The trick is to find what works for you.
You might need to switch between products, alternating days or morning and night, to keep your skin healthy and happy. Or amp up spot treatment and use one product on your T-zone and another on your cheeks.
If your skin tends to protest the products you place on it, you should proceed with caution when trying any new addition to your care routine.
“Carefully debut only one skin product at a time every two to four weeks and check for tolerance,” Palm says. She recommends dabbing a little on the jawline as a patch test and waiting a few hours — sometimes up to 24 — to see if you react before applying to your full face.
“If you are looking for a great alternative to retinols for anti-aging, try a bakuchiol product,” Palm recommends. “It has vitamin A derivative–like anti-aging effects without the redness and irritation.”
Normal skin is probably the lottery winner of types, but don’t go celebrating just yet.
“Make sure a great sunscreen and an anti-aging evening product with a retinoid is part of your skin routine,” Palm says.
And even if your skin is tame, that doesn’t mean it can’t occasionally go through a dry, oily, sensitive, or combination spell. Our skin can change over time, with the seasons, and for plenty of other reasons.
Skin type can be wishy-washy or exist on a continuum. It’s never set in stone.
Think of your skin’s personality like your own. Maybe you’re usually the outgoing, always-on-the-go type, but occasionally the only company you want is your pillow and your pooch. Your skin can be like that too. It might follow a pattern but then do something unpredictable.
Excessive heating or air conditioning during extreme temps can dry out skin, for example. And your skin type may change with fluctuating hormones, such as during the menstrual cycle. As we age, our skin also goes through changes.
Keep in mind that the skin types mentioned here are classified by the skin care industry. They’re not medical terms.
“In medical schools and dermatology residency programs both in the United States and abroad,” Frey says, “skin type refers to the color/tanning ability of skin. The actual name is Fitzpatrick skin types.”
Skin types mentioned in skin care product labeling, such as “for oily skin” or “for dry skin,” are not subject to any guidelines or standardization. That means products marketed to a particular type will produce a wide range of results — from product to product and from person to person.
What works on your friend’s dry skin may not work on yours. It’s up to you to find your skin’s go-to faves and be aware that it might sometimes change its mind.
Jennifer Chesak is a Nashville-based freelance book editor and writing instructor. She’s also an adventure, fitness, and health writer for several national publications. She earned her Master of Science in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill and is working on her first fiction novel, set in her native state of North Dakota.