Defining Your Skin Type [A complete guide]

Reading hundreds of product reviews, comparing different brands and finally choosing your next skincare investment does not guarantee you anything. Even if the formula you have purchased is really good, it may not be as effective for your unique skin.

Starting a skincare routine without synchronizing it with your skin type is a common mistake. Even if you have spent thousands of dollars or hours doing thorough research on luxury products, you may end up feeling disappointed, as they are just not suitable for your skin type.

Since everyone’s skin is different, the best thing you can do for yours is to keep it as healthy as possible. This doesn’t mean you have to buy the most expensive products. What you need to do is determine the type of your skin and carefully choose solutions, specifically developed for your skin needs. Understanding them and avoiding ingredients fighting its natural characteristics is the most appropriate way to obtain the flawless skin you always wanted.

The different skin types have relevant proclivities and conditions and they all should be taken into account before deciding on your next routine!

 Depending on the moisture content in the cells, the production of sebum and the way it reacts to the environment, the skin can be normal, dry, oily, combined or sensitive.

The proclivity and the condition of your skin depend on both your diet regimen and the lifestyle you have chosen.

The skin type

This is the fundamental state of the skin you live in. And (after puberty, ) your skin type remains a constant magnitude, just like its’ color. Rarely, different factors can lead to changes (such as age, hormones, illness, medication etc) but most people spend their lives with the skin type they are genetically predisposed to.

The basic, constant state of your skin should be carefully investigated and adapted to your routine. Remember that the solutions you apply topically won’t by no means change your skin type – the goal is to provide the most proper care for it so that it is healthy, youthful and radiant.

How to define your skin type?

Wash your face. Don’t apply moisturizers, creams, lotions, toners and the like, just let it breathe.

2 hours after washing your face check the condition of your skin:

  • If you feel your skin tight, itchy or there are noticeable patches, covering it, your skin is dry
  • The cheeks are dry, but the T-zone (nose, forehead, and jawline) is oily, then you are dealing with combination skin
  • If your entire face looks greasy and you can easily see your pores, you have an oily skin type
  • If the skin is a bit itchy, reddened and inflamed, and causes you discomfort, your skin type is sensitive
  • In case your skin is even and smooth to the touch, there is noo excessive oil secretion nor dryness, congrats, you have a normal skin type – a mysterious and unexplainable phenomenon for today’s world

Dry Skin

Dry skin is determined by sensation. The individual senses the skin dry because he sees it as something uncomfortable, stretched, even rough, and because it is relieved after being hydrated with a suitable product. The symptoms can be accompanied by itching and burning. You can determine if the skin is dry (we talk about xerosis) according to objective criteria: a saggy appearance, visible clinical epidermal scarring, cracking, sometimes inflammation and loss of elasticity.

Skin dryness


The drier the skin, the greater the lack of smoothness. Dry skins are a suitable terrain for the appearance of eczema in the form of eczématides achromiantes- hypochromia. They appear on the cheeks and hands of children whose skin is dry in structure (usually, atopic dermatitis). In the group of dry skins we can distinguish several stages:

  • Dry skin: temporary discomfort, slight strain, slight scaling,
  • Very dry skin: noticeable, constant discomfort and stretching, significant flaking, fissures, bumps.
  • Pre-atopic xerosis: hard, rough skin (hypochromia), mild irritation.

Causes of dry skin

Healthy skin is naturally protected by a hydro-lipid layer formed mainly of water and lipids (sebum). It is waterproof and therefore protects the skin from the outside world and loss of water. When in the upper layer of the epidermis the balance between water and lipids is impaired, it can no longer play the role of a barrier and creates discomfort in different aspects, as explained above.


Unlike dehydrated skin, dry to the very dry skin is a chronic condition due to genetic dysfunction. But besides the inherent dryness of the skin (or structural), there are other types of dryness caused by external factors – climate, the environment, skin pathologies (atopic eczema, psoriasis …), common diseases – thyroid gland, diabetes, / or medical treatment.

How to differ the dry and the dehydrated skin?

Dry skin is a permanent condition marked by stretching all over the face and body caused by abnormalities in the skin barrier. Very fine, scaling and reddened, it lacks water and lipids.

Dehydration is another thing, which can affect all types of skin at different stages of its existence. This is a temporary and reversible process characterized by a feeling of tension in certain areas due to poor care and water loss. Unpleasant, rough, and sometimes squamous, this skin lacks water.

Who can suffer skin dryness?

Some individuals are born with dry skin, part of their genetic heritage. It is well known that with age, the skin is changing: the skin is drier in children (except in newborns), during teenage years, the skin becomes more oily, during adulthood, it is again dry (oily and sweat glands reduce their functions).

The natural aging of the skin leads to thinning of the epidermis as the cells are not renewed and the corneal layer thickens.

How to take care of dry skin?

If you have drier skin, these are the product features you should be looking for:

  • Use gentle, non-foaming cleansers to keep the little sebum your pores have produced
  • Natural oils (intended for the facial area) are a must for you
  • Heavier, deep penetrating creams and ointments will help your skin feel and look better. Creating a moisturizing barrier on the skin surface is important, so you can use formulas, containing Dimethicone, Hyaluronic acid, Ceramides, Glycerin, Urea, Antioxidants.

Oily skin

In oily skin, the main problem is the excessive amount and degraded quality of sebum, which is the main cause of the appearance of pimples and blackheads. But imperfections may also be associated with other diseases such as eczema, making them more difficult to treat.

Excessive sebum secretion

Acne is very common in teens as it affects 80% of young people but may also affect adult men and women and develop in specific forms. The psychological effect of acne is also important and it is necessary to take a proper approach to acne patients and to prescribe adequate treatment.

How to recognize oily skin?

Oily skin is typically characterized by a thicker structure, enlarged pores, and a greasy appearance. This is due to excess sebum, which is the cause of the appearance of skin imperfections such as blackheads or red pimples.

In oily skin, imperfections are localized mainly in the middle of the face: the forehead, nose, chin, better known as the T-zone. The rest of the face and body can be with normal or even dry skin. Oily skin is unbalanced and often irritated.

Causes of oily skin

Oily skin is the consequence of excessive oil production (sebum) in the sebaceous glands. Typically, the quantity of sebum secreted is determined by many factors. Depending on the season, changes in climatic conditions, longer periods of stress, hormonal disorders, heredity, improper skin care, bad eating habits and many other factors, the skin can become oily.

In other cases, oily skin can be the external expression of an endocrine disorder. This skin type can be commonly observed in dark-skinned individuals – you can easily notice that the T-zone is more greasy than the rest of the face.

Usually, the problem of oily skin first appears during puberty. This is when there is increased activity of the glands with internal secretion and especially the gonads (sexual glands). In pregnant women, a similar problem may also occur. Causes of oily skin can be associated with dysfunction of the digestive system, liver problems, abdominal obesity, inappropriate choice of cosmetic products.

The activity of sebaceous glands is also enhanced by certain foods – mostly due to the consumption of foods rich in carbohydrates and fats. The unnecessary oil is distributed over the face and makes it look shiny and as if it is smeared with a thin layer of oil. This skin type is often associated with very large pores (they can also be determined by your genetics or by the natural aging process).

How to take care of oily skin?

Having oily skin is not very pleasant but, hey, you should appreciate the fact that fine lines and wrinkles will be less visible and the skin will still have a youthful appearance even in your 40s!

Oily skin has a lower transepidermal water loss, which keeps your skin cells well hydrated and nourished.

  • Use low-pH cleansers, as higher pH may irritate the skin and lead to the appearance of acne breakouts
  • Water-based serums and gels to hydrate your skin, avoid oil-based formulas, as they can make the skin surface even more greasy
  • You can also improve the condition of your skin (or at least make it less visible) by applying translucent powders that soak up the oil accumulated throughout the day. This way, you will reduce the typical oily ‘shine’
  • The following ingredients: Glycolic Acid, Hyaluronic Acid, Niacinamide, Retinol, Salicylic Acid, Bentonite, Kaolin, Benzoyl Peroxide will keep the sebum secretion under control

Combination skin

Combination skin is the mixture of two skin types – dry and oily. Oily skin is located in the so-called T-zone – the central areas of the forehead, nose, and chin.

The skin of the cheeks, on the contrary, is very dry. The difference between the two types of skin is obvious.

Greasy T-zone, dry cheeks

How to recognize combination skin?

It is not hard to recognize the mixed skin type. If you notice greasy residue in the T zone (forehead, nose, chin), dry or normal cheeks. This is the most common skin type and the condition of your skin may fluctuate between seasons. The typical features of combination skin type are as follows:

  • Shiny, greasy skin: Your skin appears shiny at a particular area of your face. This is usually the T-Zone, where excessive oil secretion can be observed
  • Skin imperfections: Blackheads and whiteheads appear when oil becomes trapped in the skin pores. Then, it can easily mix with dead skin cells and other debris, causing a plug. When this plug of contaminants is open to the air, it causes a blackhead; when it’s closed, it results in the formation of a whitehead.
  • Dandruff: This is another manifestation of combo skin type – if you notice dry, flaky patches on your scalp but your hair is oily and itchy, this could be another indicator for this skin type
  • If you notice dry patches on the cheeks, while the rest of the facial area is covered with acne, you might be dealing with combo skin

Note that the skin condition of dehydration is often mistaken with combination skin type. When the skin is dehydrated, the moisture barrier is impaired, which can make it simultaneously excessively dry an and oily.

Causes of combo skin

Genetic predisposition is the most common reason for having this skin type. The sebaceous glands in the T-zone are more active than usual, this is why excessive sebum is secreted, making the area look shiny.

However, there are contributing factors, which may be worsening the condition. Such include basic lifestyle habits (smoking, drinking, junk food consumption, water intake, environmental pollution etc).

And let’s not forget cosmetics! If you think that the best thing you can do is drying out the ‘shiny area’, this might actually be your worst option. If your glands are overproducing sebum, drying the skin will make them even more active so to compensate for the sebum lost.

How to take care of combination skin?

Most cosmetics manufacturers will tell you to use different products for the different zones but that would be an unnecessary waste of money and efforts. In fact, it is not so complicated to care for a face with combination skin type.

  • You only need a light, water-based gel or serum and a rich cream formula, you can apply all over your face. You don’t need to use different products for the cheeks and the T-zone just because marketing campaigns tell you so
  • In order to remove the dead skin cells, makeup residue and other contaminants that may clog your pores and provoke acne breakouts, you can use a BHA on your nose and forehead and an AHA on your chin and jawline. Both BHA and AHA can be used on a daily basis
  • Sun protection is very important in the combined skin. Use sunscreen throughout the year with any of the following UVA-protective ingredients: titanium dioxide, zinc oxide or avobenzone. Foundation and/or powder should also have a sun protection factor
  • Avoid heavy products. They will cause an additional pore clogging, which will result in even more imperfections. Petroleum-based moisturizers are a suitable option for the dry skin type but they are the most inappropriate for oily and combo skin.

Normal skin

Normal skin is something very few people can brag about. Unfortunately, the world we live in (the polluted air, unhealthy food, and habits, lack of adequate hydration, aggressive skin care products, and other aspects) are all factors, worsening our skin health.

Normal is when our skin produces just the right amount of sebum, it is evenly distributed, the skin does not feel stretched, dry, greasy, it doesn’t flake off, it is not affected by acne or blackheads.

How to recognize normal skin?

If you have a normal skin type, you will know it!

Most people are constantly seeking solutions, aiming to reduce the appearance of imperfections. But you don’t need such products – your skin looks good and feels good.

With this skin type, the five essential functions – breathing, regenerating, feeding, moisturizing and protecting are done properly. One in 25,000 women has a 100% normal skin and this is the main goal of any cosmetic product is trying to obtain.

Recommended care for normal skin

Caring for the normal skin is a must. You should not rely solely on the given or the gene.

  • You can use products for normal or for dry skin. Choose a light formula without harsh active ingredients to keep our skin from potential irritations. The good configuration is a good gentle cleansing with toilet milk combined with toner, good hydration with daily moisturizers and night care with nourishing and hydrating products which are well absorbed by the skin and won’t clog the pores.
  • You can prepare homemade masks 2 times per month for additional nourishing effect and hydration.
  • Use a good sun protection factor during all seasons

Sensitive skin

Sensitive skin is a frequent issue in modern life. In fact, the term “sensitive skin” is a collective concept that expresses an intolerance to the use of cosmetic preparations due to various reasons.

Flaking redness and discomfort, related to sensitive skin

The term sensitive skin is used when the skin is intolerant to cosmetic products – decorative and white cosmetics, cleaners, skin care products. In the sensitive skin, the barrier function is impaired, making it permeable for many allergens, and the increased transepidermal water loss dries it further, resulting in a vicious circle.

How to recognize sensitive skin?

Symptoms are mostly subjective – burning, itching, pain, discomfort. Subjective symptoms often dominate and even lead to depressive mood changes. Patients often visit multiple doctors, but the condition remains undiagnosed.

Objective complaints are discrete – fine desquamation, dry skin, slight flushing. These symptoms occur with the use of any cosmetic solution, but gradually patients become intolerant to many formulas for topical application.

Sensitive skin is often fragile and thin. It easily responds to temperature fluctuations with severe redness and increased discomfort, hives, itching. Sensitive skin is usually delicate, prone to allergies and drying.

Symptoms of sensitive skin are subtle and biased, so detailed history and patience are needed to properly address the causes. Patients with sensitive skin may experience irritative dermatitis, congestive allergic contact dermatitis, contact urticaria or a combination, and the cause can be detected by careful clinical observation and testing.

Causes of sensitive skin

The main reason for the occurrence of skin sensitivity is the excessive use of various cosmetic preparations.

Another common cause is the presence of dermatological diseases such as rosacea, seborrheic dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, and even the presence of acne. These conditions make the skin is particularly sensitive to the misuse of detergents and decorative cosmetics.

After 50 years of age, the skin can become sensitive due to excessive drying and altered skin structure.

The condition is also genetically predisposed. It can affect individuals from early childhood and the clinical expression is pruritus and redness.

This problem can affect both women and men, but women are more prone to developing it due to constant cosmetics application.

Recommended care for sensitive skin

Depending on the initial cause of increased skin sensitivity, there are different methods you can try. Here’s a list of potential triggers of the increased skin sensitivity:

  • Avoid dehydration – it makes your skin more vulnerable because its natural defenses aren’t working properly
  • Treat the rosacea symptoms – increased redness and flushing (especially on the cheeks); this is the response of particular triggers, such as spicy, sugary and processed foods – the best you can do is try to avoid them
  • Your sensitive skin needs to be pampered: as general sensitivity is triggered by various irritants, you need to find gentle, soothing skincare products, which won’t worsen the condition of your skin. This means a regular application of facial creams and lotions to keep the area well hydrated, no physical exfoliants, avoid AHAs, BHAs, no harsh cosmetics, make sure your pores are not clogged. Note that homemade some beauty recipes can also provoke increased skin sensitivity, so make sure your skin tolerates the ingredients you are using
  • If you have noticed your skin reacts after applying a certain product, check the ingredients it contains. Usually, the active ingredients are the ones to blame, so you should avoid them. There are particular compounds that will help maintain your skin health. Such include Honey, Bisabolol, Calendula Extract, Colloidal Oatmeal, Panthenol, Goat milk. 
Defining Your Skin Type [A complete guide]
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Defining Your Skin Type [A complete guide]
The different skin types have relevant proclivities and conditions and they all should be taken into account before deciding on your next routine! Depending on the moisture content in the cells, the production of sebum and the way it reacts to the environment, the skin can be normal, dry, oily, combined or sensitive.
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About the author

Monika Hristova

Monika is the Editor-in-Chief at SkinPractice. She is a skin care addict and researcher, who feels strongly about helping people with different dermatology conditions from alopecia to warts.

You can read her recommendations and advice both here at SkinPractice or at Quora where she answers skincare-related questions frequently and is the most viewed author in the Skincare category with more than 3 million views or follow her on LinkedIn.

She is also a certified skin care specialist with certification from the Medical College in Sofia.

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