What Is My Skin Type? Guide to Oily, Dry, or Combination Skin

In order to really take care of your skin, you have to know it — and we’re not just talking about recognizing that beauty mark on your cheek or that one eyebrow hair that grows in a different direction. 

Your skin is a huge part of you. In fact, it’s the largest organ in your body, and you should get to know it. One of the best ways to get to know your skin is by understanding your skin type. Today, we’ll build out a complete guide to skin types: what they are, why they matter, and how to choose the best skincare products based on yours. 

How Can You Find Your Skin Type?

While there are a million Buzzfeed-style quizzes out there to figure out your skin type, these online questionnaires aren’t necessary. When you decide to get to know your skin, you start to spend more time with it and notice things you might not have before. These new discoveries — and the re-discoveries you make along the way — will help you identify your skin type. 

Before you can decide which skin type you have, you have to know what skin types are out there. 

While the American Academy of Dermatology recognizes five official skin types, dermatologists typically categorize skin type s into one of three main categories: 

  1. Oily skin
  2. Dry skin
  3. Combination skin

Let’s take a look at each of these different skin types in turn. 

What Is Oily Skin?

If you find that your skin gets greasy quickly or is always a little bit shiny, then you might have oily skin. 

Oily skin is caused by overactive sebaceous glands in the skin. These glands are responsible for producing sebum — your skin’s natural lubricant that locks in moisture and keeps your skin soft. These glands sit right next to hair follicles and release sebum through the same pore. Though this may seem like an efficient system, for people with oily skin, this can become problematic very quickly. 

If your skin produces more sebum than your skin can handle, the excess oil can become trapped in your pores , leading to skin impurities like breakouts and blemishes.

Though it can feel like there is something wrong with your skin when this excess oil makes your skin feel like it’s never quite clean, oily skin is not a cause for concern. In fact, it’s a very common skin type. So don’t worry: you’re not alone in your need for a mid-day blotting sheet. 

What Is Dry Skin?

If you find that your skin is noticeably rough and scaly instead, then you might have dry skin. 

Dry skin is caused by not having enough moisture in your skin. There are several factors that can contribute to dry skin , including: 

  • Harsh soaps that strip away your skin’s natural oils 
  • Natural drying as your skin ages 
  • Hot air or other heat sources that strip the air of its humidity
  • Dry and/or cold weather conditions 
  • Existing skin conditions, like eczema

Like oily skin types, dry skin is an extremely common skin type. Though it can feel like you’re the only one in the world who has to deal with flaking skin, we promise you’re not alone. So don’t be ashamed of your dry skin type. 

What Is Combination Skin?

If you find that certain parts of your face seem to have an oily skin type while others are more in line with dry skin, then you might have combination skin. 

Combination skin is just what it sounds like: skin that is a combination of oily and dry in different areas of the face. Typically, people with this combination skin type experience oily skin in their T-zone (the part of your face that stretches across your brow bone and down your nose) and dry skin on their cheeks and hairline. 

Unlike other skin types, which are pretty consistent year-round, combination skin can fluctuate dramatically with the seasons. You might notice this type of skin is drier in the winter but switches to oily in the summertime. While this isn’t a cause for concern, it does mean you have to monitor your skin a lot more and be ready to switch up your skincare regimen as the needs of your skin change throughout the year. 

Why Is It Important To Know Your Skin Type?

Getting to know your skin is not just about building an emotional connection with it (though that never hurts). It’s important to know what type of skin you have so that you can better take care of it. 

Choosing the Right Skincare Products

One of the most obvious ways that you take care of your skin based on your skin type is through selecting the best skincare products for you. 

Once you understand how your skin operates and what its strengths and weaknesses are, you can use that information to fine-tune your skincare routine. 

For example, if you have oily skin, it’s a good idea during the summer months to swap your heavy moisturizer for something more breathable, like Augustinus Bader’s The Light Cream . And if you have dry skin prone to cracking in the summer, you know that harsh acids might not be the best idea for you in the middle of July. Instead, opt for gentle, hydrating products like the SkinCeuticals Hydrating B5 Gel .

Not only does understanding your skin type help you refine your current skincare routine, but it also helps you expand it. As you search for new products and read ingredient labels, you can look for benefits that will suit your specific skin type and help you maintain healthy skin. 

Avoiding Irritation

Knowing your skin type also helps you avoid choosing new products that will irritate your skin. 

Dry skin types, and the dry patches on combination skin types, are especially sensitive to new products that are made with ingredients with which the skin isn’t familiar. This is because dry skin doesn’t have as strong of a skin barrier. 

In normal skin types, a layer of protective moisture coats the skin to keep out external irritants that can disrupt function. But because dry skin lacks this baseline hydration, it’s not able to keep out dirt and debris as well as normal skin or even oily skin. 

By understanding your skin’s natural dryness, you can support your moisture barrier with skincare products that are designed to hydrate your skin and reintroduce key oils for your skin. 

Addressing Skin Concerns

As with choosing the right skincare products for your skin’s needs, understanding the different skin types and which one you are gives you a better understanding of how to address different skin concerns. 

For example, if you know you have oily and acne-prone skin, you’ll want to look for a cleanser with powerful ingredients that will cut through all that oil production and actually help your skin — like the Tata Harper Clarifying Cleanser

How Can You Find the Right Products for Your Skin Type?

Once you know what type of skin you have and what the benefits of it are, you can start using that knowledge to your advantage. 

You should always be choosing your skincare products based on your skin type. And the best way to do this is by taking a close look at what’s printed on the ingredient label. 

What Are the Best Ingredients for Oily Skin?

When it comes to choosing skincare ingredients for oily skin, things fall into one of two categories: 

  1. Ingredients that prevent clogged pores
  2. Ingredients that unclog pores

When looking to prevent clogged pores, it’s vital that you’re using non-comedogenic products on your skin. These skincare products are specifically formulated to not clog your pores — making them a great option for this acne-prone skin type. 

When looking to unclog pores, exfoliants are your best friend. Strong acids like alpha hydroxy acid (AHA) and beta hydroxy acid (BHA) are great options to clear away dead skin cells, and retinol and other retinoids are helpful ways to support cell turnover. “Retinols can help with reduction of fine lines and uneven skin texture,” notes Johannah Gregg, Certified Family Nurse Practitioner.

What Are the Best Ingredients for Dry Skin?

When choosing skincare ingredients, you instead want to focus on hydration. Some great ingredient options are: 

  • Hyaluronic acid 
  • Glycerin 
  • Squalene 
  • Niacinamide 
  • Ceramides

With dry skin, it’s also important to choose products that are gentle on skin. Dry skin types are often sensitive skin types , and acidic or otherwise chemically strong skincare ingredients can be too much for them if introduced all at once. If you’re trying a new product on your dry skin, consider doing so gradually so your skin can adjust accordingly. “Working with a dermatologist can help optimize products and treatment plans to reduce side effects to medications,” notes Gregg.

What Are the Best Ingredients for Combination Skin?

Choosing skincare ingredients for combination skin is a bit trickier because your skin isn’t the same everywhere. This means that you might have to get creative when it comes to building your skincare routine. 

Typically, you want to choose skincare products that walk the line of neutrality — not too moisturizing, but something that will still nourish your skin. Strong acids with naturally hydrating properties are popular among people with combination skin types for this reason: they’re powerful enough to work, but still come with the necessary hydration support the skin needs. 

Lactic acid is a particularly popular skincare ingredient for combination skin. “That helps provide cellular turnover and protection,” Gregg adds. 

The Bottom Line

There is a lot about you that makes you unique — including your skin type. Skincare isn’t one size fits all, so in order to make the most of the wide variety of products available, you need to know which ones your skin will like best. 

By knowing your skin type, you’re able to make smarter and more informed decisions about your skin: what skincare products are must-haves, how to tackle different skin concerns, and what ingredients are best for your needs. And though it might sound cliche, when it comes to supporting your skin, knowledge really is power. 

Sources:

Skin care tips dermatologists use | American Academy of Dermatology Association

Oily skin: an overview | National Library of Medicine

Sebaceous Glands: Function, Location & Secretion | Cleveland Clinic

Dry skin - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

T-zone definition | Cambridge English Dictionary

Sensitive Skin: Symptoms, Common Triggers & How It's Treated | Houston Methodist Leading Medicine