Apart from ‘moody’, ‘unpredictable’ or ‘breaks out at the mere sight of a bag of gummy bears’, that is. If you’re not exactly sure what category your skin falls into, it might mean you’re not getting the most out of your skincare. Just like you know what cut of necklines suits you best, skincare is made with certain properties in mind. And if you’ve got dry skin but you’re using oil-free moisturiser, or you’ve got oily skin and you’re stripping it with harsh ingredients, then you may even be doing more harm than good.
Before you panic, rest assured, learning about different skin types is easy. It’s a relatively simple process to discover your skin type. Once you know that, you can tailor your skincare routine accordingly, and voilà – problem solved. Let’s break down the five skin types.
All the different skin types
Everyone’s skin is unique and our skin can change depending on a range of factors: the season, the weather, our age, hormonal fluctuations and environmental factors like sun damage and pollution can all play a part. Having chapped lips in winter doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve got dry skin, just as reacting to a new product won’t always mean that yours is sensitive. Most people fall into one of five skin type categories: dry, oily, normal, combination and sensitive.
So far, so good. But if you’re scratching your head and asking ‘but what skin type do I have?’, well, that’s what we’re here for. There are a number of simple tricks you can use to identify your skin type. We’ll take you through how to find your skin type, as well as the main features of each skin type and how best to care for them, below.
‘Normal’ is one of those vague terms that can mean different things to different people. But when it comes to skin, having relatively normal skin is definitely a bonus! While most of the skin types are defined by the appearance of certain issues, normal skin is defined by what it isn’t. It isn’t oily, shiny or slick. It isn’t dry or flaky. It isn’t red or irritated. Normal skin is an absence of any notable flare-ups or problems, and it’s generally balanced, healthy and happy.
You can safely assume you have normal skin if you don’t experience frequent breakouts, your skin tends to tolerate your products without becoming inflamed and you don’t get to the end of the day feeling like your products are sliding off your face. That said, normal skin still needs care to stay that way. Skincare for normal skin is mostly preventative, and we’ve got an entire Edit of what you need to keep it at its best. Your routine should include regular cleansing to prevent dirt and bacteria build-up, exfoliation to resurface and smooth, serums and oils to maximise any benefits such as radiance and glow, and moisturiser to keep skin hydrated. As with all skin types, SPF protection is essential.
If you have oily skin, you’ll usually know. By the afternoon you can probably feel your skin becoming a little greasy – ringing a bell? Common solutions include regular, gentle exfoliation, the use of a daily toner and incorporating some deep-cleansing masks into your routine to flush out pores.
But if you’ve waged a war on slick skin and feel like you never get ahead, you may be surprised to find that sometimes oily skin can be a symptom of a lack of oil. If you’re exclusively using oil-free products or highly astringent cleansers and toners to scrub away the shine, your skin can react by doubling down on the oil production, leaving you stuck in a vicious cycle.
So, oily skin types, hear us out; you might want to try layering in some nourishing, balancing products to your routine. You could try incorporating a gentle face oil or a richer night cream to bring some balance back. The good news? Oily skin types are generally less prone to fine lines and wrinkles, since all that hydration keeps skin plump. Bonus!
While some combinations are iconic (cheese and wine? Britney and Christina?), combination skin can be a little problematic. If you find you struggle to control an oily T-zone (that’s your forehead and nose) while the rest of your face leans on the dry, flaky side, then you may have combination skin. It’s a best of both worlds situation, well, kind of.
Thankfully, there’s plenty you can do to solve this riddle. Since combination skin types often suffer from dry cheeks, make sure you’re not depriving your skin of moisture in an attempt to balance out the oil-prone areas. Using an oil-free moisturiser can be a good idea, since these tend to be less likely to clog pores and cause breakouts, while still delivering much-needed hydration. Sticking to a consistent, gentle routine for combination skin is important so that you’re not going too hard on one problem while exacerbating another.
You can also try spot-treatments which enable you to zone in on particular areas. If your oily areas are causing breakouts and clogged pores, try zeroing in on those areas with treatments designed to calm inflammation and dry out spots. You could apply a clay mask exclusively to your T-zone, while using a deep hydration mask on flaky areas. Also remember that combination skin can be a sign of your skin being out of balance. Focusing on nourishing products like gentle serums and face oils can help to bring your skin back to harmony.
Face feeling tight, cracked or flaky? It’s probably dry. Luckily, this is one of the easiest skin types to problem-solve.
While dry skin can be a simple luck of the draw genetics issue, there are also other factors at play. Sebum production tends to slow with age, which means even if you’ve previously had oily or combination skin, you may find it becomes dry as you get older. Other contributing factors include weather (cold climates and a lack of humidity can lead to dry skin) and lifestyle factors (love a shower so hot it burns? Sadly, your skin doesn’t – this can really dry out your face).
Before we get into solutions, it’s worth noting the difference between dry and dehydrated skin. Though the two terms are often used interchangeably, the simple summary is that dry skin lacks oil, while dehydrated skin lacks moisture. Dehydrated skin is a symptom, rather than dry skin which is a skin type.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, let’s talk about the best skincare regime for dry skin. Opt for gentle cleansers in a balm, oil or milk form, rather than harsher gel or foaming styles. Invest in rich and nourishing moisturisers featuring ceramides, butters and oils. Try also incorporating hydration heavy-hitters like hyaluronic acid serums or masks (go for an overnight option to supercharge results). Hot tip: if you’re using humectant products to draw moisture to the skin, remember to always apply to damp skin (spray a mist if you’re not applying straight out of the shower).
The fifth and final skin type actually isn’t a skin type at all – in fact, all the previous skin types we’ve discussed can simultaneously be considered sensitive. Sensitive skin can occur in reaction to a product or treatment, or flare ups can be attributed to lifestyle factors or allergies. But some of us are more sensitive than others, so if you think you may be on the sensitive side, look for skincare products designed for sensitive skin.
If you have red or irritated skin that looks inflamed or stings and burns, or is itchy, raised or particularly flaky, these can all be hallmarks of sensitive skin. It may be possible to narrow down a particular ingredient or product that causes a reaction.
Best practice with sensitive skin is to always introduce new products gently and gradually. Rather than debuting a new 12-step routine all in one sitting and then trying to work out what irritates your skin, bring each new product into your routine over a week or two, so you can see how your skin reacts. Always patch test on an inconspicuous area first, and focus on gentle, nourishing ingredients that have soothing properties. Plant-derived products or those containing ceramides, niacinamide or vitamin E can be a good place to start.
How to identify your skin type with the bare-faced method
You probably have a hunch about what your skin type may be. But if you’re totally lost, or you’d like to check you’re on the right track, the bare-faced method is a simple way to test your skin type.
Simply cleanse your skin using your preferred method, pat it dry, and wait thirty minutes. After half an hour, have a look at your skin and notice how it’s feeling.
If your skin is shiny all over, it’s most likely oily. If your skin feels tight or flaky (and you’ve been counting down the thirty minutes until you can apply moisturiser), it’s most likely dry.If your skin is shiny across your T-zone but feels tight or flaky in other areas, it’s probably a combination. And, if your skin is feeling pretty comfortable, then lucky you – you likely have normal skin.
How to identify your skin type with the blotting sheet method
Another common test used to determine your skin type is the blotting sheet method. To try this test, wash your face with your cleanser and again pat dry before waiting thirty minutes. Then take a sheet of blotting paper (these are thin, absorbent sheets of paper used to mop up excess oil), and press it to your face. This will allow you to see how much oil your skin is naturally producing.
If the blotting paper soaks up oil from all over your face, particularly in excess, you most likely have oily skin. If it picks up little to no oil, you probably have dry skin. If you only absorb oil from around your T-zone, you likely have combination skin. And if the blotting sheet picks up a small amount of oil from all over your face, then you probably have normal skin.
Remember also that skin types are not permanent! While genetics do play a part, they can also be influenced by your products and your circumstances. So, if something’s not working, try switching up your skincare routine and looking at other factors at play.