You may think you have oily skin in some places of your face or dry skin in others, but it could be a combination of both. As with most skin types, there is more than one factor at play, and it’s totally normal to have different skin types at the same time.
We asked dermatologists to give us the down low on what combination skin means. They answered questions on how to tell if you have this skin type, the best ways to care for it with it, as well as essential information on what causes combination skin.
Meet the Expert
- Dr. Neal Schultz is a board-certified dermatologist at Park Avenue Skincare in NYC and the founder of BeautyRx.
- Dr. Michele Farber is a board-certified dermatologist at the Schweiger Dermatology Group. Her expertise includes general, cosmetic, and skin cancer-related concerns.
Keep scrolling for all the essential info straight from the experts themselves.
Common Characteristics of Combination Skin
Skin never stays exactly the same as it may easily be affected by seasonal and hormonal changes. While these are factors to take into consideration, there are also some more definitive signs that you may have combination skin. According to our experts, the signs are as follows:
- Your t-zone (forehead, down the nose to the chin) is oily, while your cheeks are dry.
- Your skin is oilier in summer and dry in winter. In spring and fall, your T-zone is oily while your cheeks are dry.
- When you are on your period, your skin might experience breakouts causing you to think your skin is oily. But once your period is over, the breakouts may clear right up and your skin may become flaky.
What Causes Combination Skin?
There are many factors that lead to your skin type. Genetics is one of the main factors and can even determine the amount of oil your skin produces because they regulate cell production. People often have varying sizes of sebaceous glands—which produce sebum (one component of our important hydrolipidic film). Overactive sebaceous glands cause more oil production.
Hormones are another factor to consider and might cause your skin to overproduce oil in some areas while drying out in others. Schultz says that the root cause of oil secretion is “directly related to male hormone content” and that your body reacts to this hormone, or the perceived imbalance of this hormone, by making too much oil. You can thank your parents and your age for that. Once you hit menopause, however, your skin will produce much less oil and you'll likely be left with dry skin only.
Another big thing is your environmental factors like heat and humidity, as Farber says that your skin is naturally more oily in these kinds of temperatures. Prolonged humid conditions cause sweat glands to produce more sweat, leaving the skin moist and shiny, whereas, low humidity causes the skin to dehydrate and increases sensitivity and irritation.
This is also why in winter when the furnace heat kicks in and the cold starts to strip your skin of its natural oils, Farber says your skin will often compensate as your oily spots may become more normal and your cheeks become dry and flaky.
How to Take Care of Your Combination Skin
The secret to combination skin is in finding a balance between treating any oily and dry areas. One of the biggest issues is that often, people with combination skin are afraid of moisturizer and sunscreen, as they’re generally associated with creating more oiliness. This is not, in fact, true, and choosing the right products, and using them properly might actually help control oil production.
This is why following a proper skincare regime can be so essential to keeping skin happy. Oftentimes, it’s best to keep everything as basic as possible and always account for sensitivity when building a skincare regimen—with products in your routine that are as gentle as possible.
Start With A Cleanser And Moisturizer
First, Schultz recommends removing excess oil with a good cleanser. Look for one that has salicylic acid to help reduce oil build-up and clogging, Farber says. You’ll still need to use a moisturizer no matter your skin type. Also, finding a good water-based oil-free non-comedogenic moisturizer which is probably your best option.
For cleansers, Farber says that the Neutrogena Oil-Free Salicylic Acid Acne Wash ($8) is a great option, and recommends CeraVe PM Facial Moisturizing Lotion ($21) as a gentle nighttime moisturizer. In warmer seasons, she advises looking for a gel-based moisturizer like Neutrogena’s HydroBoost ($20) saying it’s a fabulous hydrator that absorbs easily.
Gently Exfoliate With AHA and BHA
While some products can help hydrate, others can dry your skin out so be careful when it comes to trying something new. Gentle exfoliation is recommended to help with excess oil or flakiness, but this also depends on what product you’re using, the season, and your personal needs.
Try using Alpha and Beta Hydroxy acid pads or masks meant to help get rid of excess dirt and oil build-up.
“People with any oiliness may feel that more exfoliation is better, but over-drying skin can cause irritation and lead to worsening skin problems as the skin tries to compensate when it's dried out,” Farber says.
Typically exfoliate 2-3 times per week using an AHA/BHA wash or exfoliant pad, which is Farber’s preference as she finds it to be “more gentle than physical exfoliation.”
If you suffer from breakouts, a gentle toner with AHAs and BHAs may help but only use it on your problem spots, avoiding dry areas. As they may be too high in alcohol content and can dry skin out, Farber recommends using an alcohol-free toner as a gentler, better option.
Treat Your Skin With Retinols
Retinols are also great for reducing oil production, treating associated acne, and other skin concerns like dark marks and fine wrinkling, Farber says.
"Differin Gel ($14) is an excellent choice for a retinoid, as it is one of the strongest options available without a prescription," she mentions.
The Best Makeup For Combination Skin
It’s best to stick to lightweight products to prevent clogging. Always prep skin with a moisturizer before smoothing on an oil-free foundation, tinted moisturizer, or mineral-based foundations. Mineral-based products may help prevent irritation and also provide a mattifying effect.
“It may also be useful to use a mattifying primer,” Farber says. “And to prevent breakouts, choose products that are oil-free and non-comedogenic.”
Isn't it the worst when your carefully crafted eye-look smudges and melts due to the weather? You can use a mattifying primer to keep your eyeshadow from melting into your crease.
In your oilier moments, blotting papers usually do the trick and Schultz says they’re a good way to remove excess oils without messing up makeup. Keep them in your purse for when you’re on the go. Though he notes a cleanser and toner will always be a superior choice when removing oils, he says blotting papers still work in a pinch.
Other Skincare Tips You Can Try For Combination Skin
Depending on how sensitive your skin is, you may want to use different masks in different areas of your face. Use a clay mask—meant to help discourage the formation of blackheads—on your t-zone every now and then, or opt for a gentler kaolin clay mask which promises to prevent dryness, and manage excess t-zone oiliness.
Bentonite clay is best for oily areas only, Farber says, but if you go with this option, she recommends also choosing a hydrating mask with non-comedogenic oils and "ceramides for drier areas of the face.”
Overall, the choice is yours when it comes to masking, and makeup, but as the dermatologists said above, it really comes down to using proper skincare twice a day. If you experience any adverse reactions or have more prominent skin conditions or areas of concern, we recommend talking with a dermatologist as it could be more than just normal combination skin issues at play.
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