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Walk down the skincare aisle at any drugstore, Sephora, or department store and you’ll see that choosing the right product is complicated enough. That is, without having to think about the specifics of your type of skin. Choose the wrong product and your skin can’t function at its best.
Dr. Rachel Nazarian of Schweiger Dermatology Group explains, “Basic skin types to consider when evaluating your skin are: dry, sensitive, and acne prone. Of course, there are variations of these types, but this is a great place to start when looking for the right products. At the very least, focus on finding a great cleanser, moisturizer, and sunscreen.” In addition to tips from dermatologists, I chatted with knowledgeable editors and celebrity estheticians to find out the beauty routine that really works for each specific need. To say this is detailed is an understatement: Keep scrolling for every product you need, based on your skin type.
Meet the Expert
Rachel Nazarian, MD, is a board-certified dermatologist and fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. She specializes in cosmetic treatments, skin cancer, and dermatologic surgery.
If You Have Dry Skin
Dr. Rachel Nazarian has seen her fair share of dry skin. She explains, “This skin type tends to look dull, lacking the glow that healthy skin exudes. Most people find that no matter how much coconut oil they slather on, their skin drinks it up and is still left feeling tight. The key is to use products that promote a functional skin barrier and prevent what dermatologists call trans-epidermal water loss—or hydration leaving the skin.”
Nazarian recommends, “Cetaphil's Gentle Skin Cleanser ($9) [which] is not a soap and will remove impurities and dirt (even makeup!) from skin without stripping the moisture barrier. Scrubs and foaming cleansers are not recommended for this skin type. Follow-up with Neutrogena's Hydro Boost Gel-Cream ($17), which contains hyaluronic acid, an ingredient that can hold many times its weight in water and will help maintain moisture within the skin.”
My skin tends to run dry and the best product to remedy that is Clinique’s Dramatically Different Moisturizing Cream ($28). It provides all-day moisture and boasts barrier-strengthening properties for very dry, irritated skin. In fact, 97% of women (tested during a Siberian winter) sang its praises. How’s that for effective? Follow it up with Clinique’s Moisture Surge Sleep Mask ($36).
Nazarian adds, “As a sunscreen, apply La Roche-Posay's Anthelios Cooling Water Lotion ($36), which applies like water with a hydrating lotion base so it can protect from broad-spectrum UVA/UVB radiation without drying out skin.”
For the all-natural option, I turned to Byrdie’s associate editor, Victoria Hoff, who boasts an extensive knowledge of really effective, totally organic products. She suggests Using May Lindstrom’s The Problem Solver Mask ($100) followed by The Blue Cocoon Beauty Balm Concentrate ($180).
If You Have Oily Skin
Faith Xue, Byrdie's editorial director, gave me the lowdown on how to best take care of oily skin. It’s important to find a good oil cleanser, sulfate-free cleanser, toner, brightening serum, and light moisturizer. Xue explains, "I was never into oil cleansers until I realized I just wasn't using the right ones. My current favorites are BareMinerals Oil Obsessed Cleansing Oil ($30) and Tom Ford's Cleansing Oil ($87). I like cleansing oils because they gently remove my makeup and leave my skin feeling softly cleansed—never dry or tight. I realized over the years that my skin was oily because it was overcompensating for all the harsh acidic and sulfate-filled cleansers I was using; oil-cleansing has been my solution."
She continued, "Ever since becoming a beauty editor and just becoming more knowledgeable about skincare in general, I never let anything with sulfates touch my face—they're simply too harsh and drying, and my oily skin will freak out and get even oilier by midday. I always follow my oil cleanser with a gentle, sulfate-free cleanser, like Sulwhasoo's Gentle Foaming Cleanser ($38) or Consonant's Foaming Face Wash ($17). Don't be fooled—though both of these have the word ‘foaming’ in their name, which usually means they contain harsh detergents, they're actually incredibly gentle. Consonant's version is made mostly with aloe and uses a coconut oil-derived surfactant to cleanse without stripping. This step usually removes any leftover makeup, and my skin always feels soft and balanced. Renée Rouleau's Mint Cleansing Gel ($34) is another one that's always on rotation (also natural and sulfate-free).
After cleansing, Xue says a good toner is essential in her skincare regimen, especially for anyone with skin that’s oily. "I like S.W. Basics' Toner ($14) because it contains apple cider vinegar and witch hazel, both of which balance an oiliness. Pixi's Glow Tonic ($15) is another favorite of mine—it's made with 5% glycolic acid, so it actually gently exfoliates while it balances your skin's pH.
"Oily skin often comes with another set of issues: uneven skin tone. To keep my complexion smooth, I use a serum that contains either fruit acids or lactic acids—two acids that very gently smooth roughness over time (I like Renee Rouleau's BHA Clarifying Serum, $50, which also works when I'm breaking out). For a more even tone overall, I always lean toward brightening serums that also have anti-aging properties, like Algenist's Genius White Brightening Essence ($65).
"Jennifer Aniston's dermatologist, Dr. Zein Obagi, believes moisturizer is completely unnecessary. I don't know if I'm completely on that train yet, but I do believe that a moisturizer should be light and preferably dimethicone-free (or have it toward the end of the ingredients list). This silicone gives your skincare products that slippery, luxurious feeling, but doesn't actually serve any skin-benefiting purpose—and can actually clog up your pores if used in excess. I like light moisturizers like Algenist's Genius White Brightening Moisture Softener ($30), [Ed. note: This product is no longer available. Try Algenist Hydrating Essence Toner instead] which feels almost like straight liquid—I pat it onto my face like I would an essence and skip any moisturizer afterward. On days when I want something a bit more hydrating, I like Cremorlab's Triple Bright White Bloom ($39) or Tula's Probiotic Hydrating Day & Night Cream ($52)."
If You Have Sensitive Skin
"This group needs to choose their products most carefully, because overly aggressive products can rapidly inflame and irritate your delicate skin. To cleanse, stick with the classic Dove Sensitive Skin Beauty Bar ($9), which is always unscented—people with sensitive skin should avoid harsh, perfumed cleansers. Next, apply Vanicream ($13). This product has been around for a while and is a fantastic drugstore find! It’s an emollient based, ceramide-rich lotion that absorbs quickly into skin and moisturizers without any additives: no perfumes, no lanolin, no parabens, no formaldehyde. It’s even gluten-free. Lastly, follow-up with a sunscreen that’s geared toward calming the redness and irritation that you may regularly endure: Elta MD UV Clear ($33) is a great choice. The SPF 46 sunscreen has the broad-spectrum UV coverage that’s recommended but also includes high-purity niacinamide for neutralizing redness and inflammations."
Lindsey Metrus, Byrdie’s associate editor, usually finds toners to be too drying or irritating for her sensitive skin. But InstaNatural’s Morrocan Rose Water ($14) has been the solution to all her problems: "The smell is heavenly, and it's all natural, so I feel like I'm really treating my skin with care each time I use it. It also hydrates while it removes my makeup—a win-win."
She adds, "At first, I was afraid Murad’s Essential-C Day Moisture ($65) would make my skin super red and give it that tingly sensation (not the good kind), but turns out it’s very gentle and delivers immediate results—my skin always glows when I use it. Plus, it's heavy enough where it really hydrates the dry areas, but it's not greasy, so it doesn't cause me to break out. I can't get enough of it."
If You Have Combination Skin
"The key to making combination skin happy," says Byrdie’s associate features editor Amanda Montell, “is to strike that delicate balance between keeping it adequately moisturized without overloading it with pore-clogging oils. I used to be a cleansing oil junkie, until I realized they were not good for my pores, so now I'm all about simple cream cleansers like Acure’s Sensitive Facial Cleanser ($10). The gentle, sulfate-free formula doesn't strip my skin of moisture or leave my skin feeling greased-up either. It may not be as showy as a foaming or oil cleanser, but it cleans my face without freaking out my skin, and that's really all that matters.
In terms of balancing, Montell knows that harsh astringents and alcohol-laden toners aren't the answer for combination skin. So, after cleansing, she uses Erborian’s Eau Ginseng ($39). “It’s a nourishing lotion with a light, watery texture and is formulated with ginseng, which hydrates and refreshes the skin. I pat this into my skin with my fingers and always feel instantly glowier.”
"Glycolic acid is a must for the combo gal's nighttime skincare routine. It chemically nixes of the cell buildup that leads to clogged pores and blemishes, and it's also an anti-aging mainstay. At my facialist's recommendation, I like to use Renée Rouleau’s AHA Smoothing Serum 10% ($49) three nights in a row each week. The relatively low 10% concentration is what I'm most comfortable using on my skin, but you can check out our helpful guide to using acid serums to learn more about what percentage might be right for yours."
"A lightweight, hydrating, no-frills moisturizer like Kiehl's Ultra Facial Cream ($32) is the way to go for combination skin. Heavy oils and night creams will clog your pores, but going moisturizer-free is definitely not the answer. This cream sits happily in the middle. It has nourishing plant extracts and hydrating ingredients like squalene but a lightweight texture. It leaves skin feeling moisturized and protected but not oily.”
If you don’t want to make a huge commitment (and you’re not totally sure if "combination" is the proper diagnosis for your skin type), senior editor Deven Hopp suggests trying a trial-size collection like Sonya Dakar Skin’s Beauty Box Clarifying Detox System ($59). "It has everything you need for oily-combination skin: a good balancing serum, a spot treatment, and a gentle cleanser, scrub, and moisturizer. It’s much kinder to your skin than the aggressively anti-oil treatments out there."
If You Have Acne-Prone Skin
"These products are the easiest to find," Nazarian says, "because the labeling is typically clear that it contains ingredients with acne-fighting properties." But it can be confusing to know which ones are best.
Nazarian instructs, "Wash your skin using a cleanser with anti-bacterial ingredients to help minimize breakouts, such as PanOxyl Acne Foaming Wash ($11) which contains acne-fighting 10% benzoyl peroxide. A moisturizer, like all products for acne-affected people, needs to be labeled as non-comedogenic—which means it won’t clog your pores. Aveeno makes a good product called Active Naturals Clear Complexion Daily Moisturizer ($13), which is non-comedogenic, oil-free, and contains salicylic acid (another great ingredient for clearing blackheads and whiteheads and preventing future breakouts). Acne-prone skin tends to be slightly oilier, and Cetaphil's Dermacontrol Moisturizer ($19) has an SPF 30 sunscreen but goes on matte and helps control oil without triggering pimples."
I’ve also had really great results from VMV Hypoallergenics Id Anti-Acne Oil-Free Lotion ($28), as it’s a light, hydrating lotion that controls acne while exfoliating and moisturizing well enough to smooth rough patches of skin—all without clogging pores or adding shine. Another lightweight option is Belif’s Hydra Sebum Control Essence ($42). It infuses refreshing hydration into your skin upon application, then instantly transforms into a matte finish to minimize oil and shine. The essence is clinically tested to decrease surface sebum by 20% and is formulated with green clay and tangerine peel—natural ingredients known to refine skin texture and minimize the appearance of pores.
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