What Is My Skin Type?
Everyone’s skin has a personality, just like us. Similar to how some speak with a Southern drawl or have curly locks like their sister’s, our genetics, age, and even where we live can all impact how our skin looks and feels. Plus, part of our appearance (like our hairstyles and, thankfully, fashion choices) can shift over time—including our skin’s.
Because every one of us is so unique, this can make shopping for a particular complexion, well, complex (which is precisely why we developed our handy icon system). The bright side is that, despite our differences, experts have been able to identify a few skin types that cover the commonalities some of us share: Dry, Oily, Combination, Normal, and Sensitive.
We talked to clinical dermatologists Dr. Ailynne Marie Vergara-Wijangco and Dr. Enrizza P. Factor about how to know what skin type you are and the products that work best for each. Read their advice below.
How to Determine Your Skin Type
The first step to building an effective skincare regimen is to understand what your skin needs. From there, you can note the ingredients that will work best for your complexion and actually deliver those visible results. “The best way to gauge your skin is to know it!”, Dr. Vergara-Wijangco agrees. “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.” Because the skin types are pretty self-explanatory (dry is dry and oily is oily, after all), most of us can easily determine which one we are. If it isn’t so intuitive to you, however, Dr. Vergara-Wijangco suggests performing the following ‘blot test’ to test sebum production:
- Wash your face and pat it dry. Wait 30 minutes.
- Gently press an oil blotting paper or tissue on your face. Press the paper on different areas of your skin, such as your forehead, nose, cheeks, and chin.
- Hold the sheet to the light to see how transparent the paper is. If it’s:
- Soaked through all over, you have an oily skin type
- Oily in some areas, but not everywhere, you have a combination skin type
- Not oily, but your skin feels flaky or tight, you have a dry skin type
- Not oily but also not tight or flaky, you have a normal skin type
You can have a sensitive skin type along with any of the above (read our guide to knowing whether you have sensitive skin). Still uncertain? Chat with your dermatologist.
Skin Type vs. Skin Concern
Feel like we’re missing a few? You may be thinking about skin concerns, such as dullness. The main differentiator between a skin type and a skin concern is that a skin type is based on genetics, while a skin concern is not. You were born with a skin type that will likely never change. A skin concern, however, can fluctuate throughout your lifetime. Aging, for example, is a skin concern. You didn’t have fine lines and crepey texture when you were born, right? The same goes for sensitized and dehydrated skin, which can be fleeting conditions.
You may hear some experts refer to a sixth skin type for those who are breakout-prone, known as acneic. There is no gene for acne and therefore, it isn’t technically a skin type. There is, however, evidence that some immune systems (determined by genetics) are better than others at fighting off the acne-causing bacteria p. acnes. If you’re prone to constant breakouts and have been throughout your life, you may consider your skin acneic.
The 5 Skin Types
Now that you understand your skin type, learn how to shop for it. Read on below or head over to our Skin Decoder quiz where, after a few quick questions, we’ll recommend a regimen customized just for you.
Note: Because skin types are based on genetics, there is no ‘cure’. You can, however, opt for ingredients and products that will help alleviate symptoms.
If you have dry skin (not to be confused with dehydrated skin, which is a concern), your skin lacks enough oil to keep itself moisturized. Skin all over the body (not just your face) may be red, flaky, itchy, and ashy. Dry skin can also “appear dull, have less visible pores, present [more apparent] fine lines, and be prone to sensitivity”, adds Dr. Factor.
Oil-prone skin types consider blotting sheets and the term ‘non-comedogenic’ to be their best friends since these complexions naturally produce excess sebum. Their pores may be more visible and breakouts more frequent than others.
If you’re oily, you want to keep things, especially moisturizers, lightweight (don’t skip this skincare step though—that could encourage your skin to keep producing oil to compensate for the lack of moisturization). Dew Point is a great jelly-like option that won’t weigh down the skin. Exfoliating and using clay masks is also especially beneficial for these skin types to clear out any excess sebum that gets trapped in pores, minimizing their appearance and limiting acne. Incorporate ingredients like rosewater, tea tree oil, berry leaf extract, witch hazel, salicylic acid, and sulfur into your routine to control oil and excess shine.
If you’ve ever asked yourself ‘why am I dry in one area and oily in another’, congrats! You’ve got combo skin. This mix of oiliness and dryness can happen anywhere, but more often than not you’ll notice “an oily T-zone area, [while] the cheeks and the rest of the face may be dry or normal”, says Dr. Factor.
Not too oily, not too dry, but just right—you have a ‘normal’ skin type (that term is, of course, relative, referring to the stable level of sebum produced). If your complexion is normal, the skincare shelf is your oyster. Focus on targeting any specific skin concerns using ingredients like retinol, AHAs, and vitamin C, and feel free to explore advanced treatments like facial peels and dermaplaning.
Remember: Because this skin type is the only one not directly related to sebum production, you can be any of the above and sensitive, too. Sensitive skin is usually a result of a hyperactive immune system or a genetically reduced barrier function, experiencing inflammation, stinging, tingling, itchiness, and the like, often after introducing a new product or using a more potent formula.