Combination Skin: How it Works


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Combination skin seems to be a mystery for lots of people. It can be hard to identify and even trickier to treat. But The Paula's Choice Research Team can help you unlock the mystery to achieving clearer, more balanced skin.
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Recommended Products for Combination Skin

What is Combination Skin?

Combination skin occurs when two or more different skin types occur on your face at the same time. Typically, combination skin is when some parts of your face are dry or flaky, while the center part of your face, nose, chin, and forehead (called the T-zone) is oily. Combination skin can also describe conditions where wrinkles and breakouts or rosacea and dry skin are present at the same time.

What Causes Combination Skin?

A variety of factors contribute to combination skin—sometimes it is just genetics. When it comes to combination skin, the causes and combinations are a little bit different for everyone.

Generally, the areas around the nose, chin, and forehead have more active oil glands than other parts of the face. Some people have rosacea and dry skin and others have blemish-prone, flaky, inflamed skin. Another common cause of combination skin can be a result of the very skin-care products you are using. For example, if you are using products that contain irritating ingredients, they can stimulate oil production in the T-zone area and at the same time create more dry skin and redness on the rest of the face. Voila: You have taken your relatively normal skin and made it combination!

You may also be using moisturizers that are too emollient, making your skin feel oilier and clogging up pores. All the products you use have to be appropriate for the different skin types you are experiencing—even if that means using different products on different parts of your face.

Which Products Work for Combination Skin?

Basically, those with combination skin need products that don’t make matters worse. It is critical to only use well-formulated products designed for the mix of skin types you’re dealing with.

In some cases that can mean using different products on different parts of your face. For example, you may need lighter-weight gels, liquids, or oil-absorbing products for your T-zone and lotions or creams for the drier parts of your face. Or it could mean using an acne treatment over areas where you breakout and moisturizers only over drier areas, including around the eyes.

Many people will find that their combination skin becomes more balanced when they stop using products that are either wrong for their skin type (too emollient for the T-zone or too absorbent for the dry areas) or contain problem ingredients that are causing their skin more harm than good. Whatever your skin needs, Beautypedia can help you find the right products recommended by Paula's Choice Research Team.

How to Take Care of Your Combination Skin

   Start with a gentle cleanser:

  • Always wash your face with a gentle, water-soluble cleanser to prevent irritation and dryness. If you have oily and dry combination skin, a gel-based or mild foaming cleanser will be perfect. If you have dry skin and rosacea with sun damage, a lightweight lotion cleanser is ideal. Regardless of the texture it must always be gentle! A good cleanser never contains any irritants or fragrance and is the first step towards controlling combination skin.
  • Avoid bar soaps or bar cleansers of any kind, regardless of their claims. The ingredients that put bar cleansers in their bar form can clog pores and are always too drying and irritating for any skin type.

   Use a toner to repair skin:

   Protect from sun damage:

  • Sunscreen must be used every day, year-round if you want to prevent and stop wrinkles and other signs of aging skin! If you have oily skin prone to breakouts, your foundation and pressed powder can provide the sun protection you need. If you have sensitive skin and rosacea, choose sunscreens with only titanium dioxide or/and zinc oxide as the active ingredients.

   Exfoliate to remove built-up skin cells:

  • With regular use of a beta hydroxy acid (BHA/salicylic acid) product or an alpha hydroxy acid (AHAs, such as glycolic acid) product in a texture appropriate for your skin type (gel or liquid for oily, blemish-prone skin, or lotion for normal or dry skin), you will uncover the normal, healthy skin hiding underneath.
  • BHA is especially helpful for normal, oily or blemish-prone skin because it not only exfoliates the surface of skin, it also exfoliates inside the pore to reduce pore size, unclog pores, and kill acne-causing bacteria. BHA is also a must for anyone struggling with blackheads and enlarged pores!

   Special concerns require special products:

  • If you are prone to blemishes, besides using a BHA exfoliant, applying a product with benzoyl peroxide will target and kill acne-causing bacteria. For mild to moderate acne begin with a 2% strength and then depending on how your skin does, you can increase to a 5% strength.

   Spot-treat the different skin types on your face:

  • Apply moisturizers in lotion or cream form to dry areas.
  • If you have oily and dry skin apply a matte finish foundation, but apply a hydrating primer/serum to the dry areas first.
  • If your eye area is the driest part of your face, then you can use a rich, creamy moisturizer or serum around that area of your face. For the less-dry areas of your face, you can use a lotion-textured moisturizer, and for the oily areas your toner will be enough to keep skin healthy in those areas.
  • Be sure to avoid getting lotion and cream moisturizers on the oily parts of your face because it will absolutely make them look and feel greasier.

   Choose only the best products:

  • Purchase products loaded with antioxidants, cell-communicating ingredients, emollients, and ingredients that mimic the structure and function of healthy skin. (Learn more about how to choose products here.)
  • Make sure products are packaged in an opaque, airtight container (no jars) to keep the antioxidants and other air-sensitive ingredients stable and bacteria-free.
  • For many skin types, if the products you use are well formulated you may find lighter-weight serums, lotions, or gels may be all your skin needs to look and feel radiant, smooth, and younger.
  • If you have very dry skin in some areas and dry skin in others, then an antioxidant-rich serum paired with an emollient moisturizer will work great.

The Best Skin of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare products. You’ll find products for all skin types and a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, and sun damage. With Paula’s Choice Skincare, you can get (and keep) the best skin of your life! See Paula's Choice Products for Combination Skin.

(Sources: American Journal of Clinical Dermatology, April 2010, pages 95–102; Skin Research & Technology, February 2010, pages 38–54; Journal of Cosmetic Science, June 2008, pages 175–182; Archives of Dermatological Research, August 2006, pages 113–119; Skin Research & Technology August 2005, pages 189–195; Skin Research & Technology, August 2002, pages 168–172.)

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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