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Knowing your skin type is the first and most important step in building an effective skincare routine. If you’ve ever tested a product that a friend or influencer raves about, only to discover that it doesn’t do anything for you, that may be because it was designed for a different skin type.
As you’ll see below, each skin type has its own “personality”, quirks, and requirements and, if you want to create a good regimen, first, you have to understand your skin’s behaviour and key concerns.
Skin types, at a glance
The most coveted skin type, normal skin is basically skin that doesn’t have any special requirements. It’s neither dry nor oily, it doesn’t show signs of sensitivity, and it’s relatively easy to look after. If you have normal skin, your goal should be to maintain it by cleansing it twice a day, moisturizing, and avoiding premature ageing by applying SPF and antioxidants.
Combination skin means that your skin is dry in some areas and oily in others. Usually, the T-zone (forehead, nose, chin) is oily, and the cheeks are dry. Since you’re dealing with two different skin types, you may need to include products for each one (for example, a gentle non-foaming cleanser for the morning and a stronger one for the evening), or invest in products that can tackle both.
If you have oily skin, the glands under your skin’s surface produce more oil than normal – this means that your face is often shiny, especially around the T-zone, and your pores may also appear larger. Oily skin is also likely to be acne-prone, but that’s not a rule. Contrary to common belief, oily skin needs hydration as much as the other skin types, so you should avoid using harsh products that strip the skin because these only make it secrete even more oil. Instead, use lightweight products that don’t clog the skin.
Dry skin can be caused by conditions such as eczema, by living in a harsh climate, or it can be a side-effect of certain medications. Dry skin is more prone to tightness, cracking, flakiness, and inflammation. It can also lean towards the sensitive side, which means that certain fragrances and actives can cause a reaction. The key to caring for dry skin is to focus on gentle, calming, non-irritating ingredients. That doesn’t mean you can’t use active ingredients like retinol or chemical exfoliants; you can, but you have to find products with gentler actives and ingredients that help repair the skin barrier.
How to find out your real skin type:
Buying skincare products without knowing what your skin type is can be challenging. It’s the first question store assistants ask you when going to the skincare counter, and finding out what skin type you have is the first step in understanding how to help your skin – because, like it or not, all skin types need help.
Here’s how you can find out:
- The bare-faced method: For this method, all you have to do is wait it out. Wash your face with a gentle cleanser and pat dry. Then, wait for 30 minutes and look in the mirror and observe how your skin is feeling. If your face feels nice and hydrated, without tightness or oiliness, you have normal skin. If you notice some shine around the T-zone, you have combination skin. If you’re oily all over, including the cheeks, you have oily skin. And lastly, if your skin is flaky and feels tight, then you have dry skin.
- The blotting sheet method: Just like with the previous method, wash your face with a gentle cleanser and pat dry. After 30 minutes, take a few blotting sheets and blot them on all the areas of your face. If you can’t see any oil at all, your skin is dry. If you see just a tiny bit of oil, you have normal skin. If the blotting sheets you pressed on your cheeks are dry, but the ones for the T-zone absorbed a lot of oil, then that’s combination skin. Lastly, if the blotting sheets are all filled with sebum, you have oily skin.
So, is it that simple? Well… not really. While this test is a good indicator of your general skin type, there can be variations, and sometimes, two skin types can overlap. Researchers even argue that there are over 25 different skin types! For example, dry skin is associated with high sensitivity, but you can have oily and sensitive skin at the same time. There’s also a misconception that mature skin can only be dry, but your glands can continue to overproduce sebum even in your 40s. And yes, oily skin is more likely to be acne-prone, but people with dry skin often struggle with breakouts. Other factors, such as your ethnicity and the climate you live in, can also influence the way your skin behaves.
All these variations can make it harder to build a routine, which is where sites like Skinora come to help – here, you can answer a bespoke quiz about your skin concerns, and a team of medical experts will assess your skin type and recommend a regimen.
Learn the difference between dry and dehydrated skin
This is perhaps one of the biggest skincare misconceptions out there – that dry and dehydrated skin are one and the same. They’re not – and understanding the difference is key in addressing your skin’s concerns.
The main difference between dry and dehydrated skin is that dry skin lacks natural oils, while dehydrated skin lacks water. If dehydrated skin can be treated relatively quickly, by drinking more water, quitting smoking, and using water-based products, dry skin requires more emollient products that restore the moisture barrier. The two skin types manifest differently, too: while dehydrated skin can feel tight and present surface-level wrinkles, dry skin is also cracked, scaly, flaky, and irritated.
Your skin type can change throughout your life.
One final tip you should consider when building a routine that’s right for your skin is that your skin type can change depending on factors such as age, underlying health conditions, lifestyle, and weather. For example, it’s quite common for skin to be oilier in summer and combination/dry in winter, or for skin to become dry after taking some medication. If a product worked for you when you had dry skin, it could end up clogging your pores once your skin becomes oily. This is why you should always pay attention to how your skin is feeling and adjust the routine if you no longer “get along” with some ingredients.