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Demystifying skin types

Think you know your skin type? Our experts reveal that it’s not always as clear cut as you might think

To meet the specific needs of your skin and help you choose the right products, it’s essential to identify your skin type. Most camps would deem that skin usually falls into one of four ‘types’ – dry, oily, combination or normal – however, that’s not always the case.

“You can absolutely be more than one skin type,” says Zoe Myers, Owner and Director of Authentic Aesthetics. “Combination skin types are very common with people suffering from an oily t-zone and dry cheeks – but you can also be oily and sensitive or dry and sensitive.

“Many people can also misdiagnose themselves as their lifestyle and misuse of products can cause the skin to feel a certain way when it is not,” she explains. “For example, using cheap high street moisturisers can make the skin feel drier than it really is, as it becomes dependent on the moisturiser for its hydration.”

Skin is an organ and reacts to both our external and internal environments – its condition can change over time due to environmental factors, age, hormones and other health-related issues, as well as the skincare choices you make. “Sensitive skin can be a condition of lifestyle if someone, for example, has had a lot of sun exposure or used very perfumed products,” adds Myers.

The best way to determine your own skin type is to consult a skin specialist who can assess your skin and medical history to help inform which formulas, textures and ingredients will suit you best.

Alternatively, there are two simple and effective methods you can try at home. Dina Patel, Lead Clinical Practitioner at The Dorchester Clinic suggests the ‘Cleanse and Wait method.’ “Simply wash your face with a gentle cleanser and wait 30 minutes. Do not apply any products,” she explains.

“Then examine your forehead, nose, chin and cheeks for any shine. If you see no shine you could wait another hour or so and see if your skin feels tight when trying to do any facial expressions. If it does and also easily wrinkles after pressure is applied, you have dry or combination skin. Oily skin will feel smooth.”

Another method is to use a blotting sheet throughout the day, blotting it against different areas of your face especially your t-zone. “Hold the paper to the light to assess. You have oily skin if the sheet is completely saturated, normal skin if there is some oil when you hold the blotting paper to the light, and finally, if there is slight or no oil you have dry skin,” adds Patel.  

With a number of different skin types as well as very specific and individual skin concerns, finding the right regime can be overwhelming. What every skincare routine should have in common, however, is that it should be simple yet very effective, focusing on providing hydration, nourishment and repair and including active ingredients that cover every skin type’s essential needs.

A pH-balanced, gentle and hydrating cleanser, moisturiser and sunscreen are staples for any solid skincare routine, no matter your skin type.

Normal skin

‘Normal’ skin refers to skin that is healthy and well-balanced and looks smooth, soft and radiant. The t-zone may be a little oily, but overall sebum and moisture is balanced and the skin is neither too oily, too dry or easily sensitised. The best possible way to care for normal skin is to follow the basics every skin type needs, including daily use of a gentle cleanser, a non-irritating exfoliant, an antioxidant-rich sunscreen with SPF30 or greater and a moisturiser with skin-nourishing and soothing ingredients. If it leans towards being slightly dry, you can choose a creamier formula of moisturiser for night-time or if it’s occasionally oily, a lighter formulation of cleanser could work too.  

Dry skin

‘Dry’ skin produces less sebum than normal skin and therefore lacks lipids such as ceramides and fatty acids that it needs to retain moisture and to build and maintain a healthy skin barrier. “It can look dull in appearance, feel rough to touch and tight, (especially after cleansing) and lack elasticity,” says Patel. Severely dry skin can develop flakiness, a blotchy appearance, redness and irritation. If you’re prone to dry skin, the most important thing you can do is keep it hydrated. Choose creamier, lipid-rich formulations, and gentle pH balanced cleansers with ingredients such as shea butter and panthenol which help boost hydration. Avoid products containing sulphates and detergents which can dry out the skin even further.

Oily skin

‘Oily’ is used to describe a skin type with heightened sebum production. “It’s usually characterised by a noticeable shine on the face, large or visible pores and skin that’s glossy to touch. Oily skin is also more prone to acne and can also suffer from congestion such as whiteheads or blackheads,” says Patel. It’s a common misconception that you need to ‘dry out’ oily skin to help take away excess oil but in the long run, this can actually strip your skin of moisture and cause glands to overproduce oil, making your skin more oily in the long run. Instead, look for products that gently cleanse and rebalance the skin’s sebum levels and help retain moisture and hydration, with anti-bacterial and pore refining ingredients such as tea tree oil and zinc.  

Combination skin 

Beauty company Helena Rubinstein first used the term combination skin in the 1940s, while Clinique used the terms 'dry combination skin' and 'oily combination skin' in the 1960s when they launched the Clinique Skin Types. ‘Combination’ skin is actually one of the most common skin types, although scientifically there is no such thing. It’s usually characterised in two ways: by an oily t-zone with dry or normal cheeks, or feels oilier in summer and drier in winter. The secret to combination skin is in finding a balance between treating any oily and dry areas. Remove excess oil with a good cleanser and gentle exfoliation is recommended 2-3 times a week to help remove excess oil or flakiness. A good non-comedogenic moisturiser is also an essential.