Extreme Combination Skin: Cracking the Code

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Combination skin is like the "odd couple" of skin types. You have a somewhat oily T-zone (the nose, forehead, and chin), while the sides of the face (cheek and jaw area) are somewhat dry. Combination skin is the most common skin type because everyone has more oil glands in the central part of their face. Some people struggle with a sub-type of combination skin, referred to as "extreme combination skin"—and, like any odd couple, it can be very tricky to manage.

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Extreme Combination Skin vs. Classic Combination Skin

How different is "extreme combination skin" from regular combination skin? Those struggling with extreme combination skin experience an exceptionally oily T-zone, while the sides of the face remain very dry and may also be flaky. Cracking the code to deal with extreme combination skin requires a well-tailored routine that balances your complexion and (finally) gets your skin under control.

Cracking the Code of Extreme Combination Skin

Not surprisingly, finding the right routine for extreme combination skin is extremely difficult. Treating this frustrating skin type means approaching your skin-care routine strategically: You need to treat your dry and oily areas in distinctly different fashions or you won't see any improvement.

The complicated part is that products for very dry skin can make an oily T-zone worse (triggering breakouts), while formulas that are best for very oily skin are ineffective for very dry areas! This makes putting together a great skin-care routine daunting. Don't worry, the Paula's Choice Research Team will help you make sense of this confusing skin type!

Treating Extreme Combination Skin

Treating extreme combination skin requires a routine of gentle, fragrance-free products that contain ingredients proven to normalize skin. With the right products, extreme combination skin will become less oily and less dry!

Avoiding fragrance and other potentially irritating ingredients is best for any skin type, but it's essential for getting extreme combination skin in balance—even the slightest irritation exacerbates oily areas and, at the same time, makes dry areas worse.

The most effective approach is a skin-care routine that includes a product that isn't too heavy for your oily T-zone, a skin-repairing toner for all over use, and a richer cream or lotion-textured moisturizer to spot-treat your extra-dry areas. Just as you might spot-treat a breakout with benzoyl peroxide or a potent BHA exfoliant, the same approach works to soothe and replenish your tight, dry and flaky areas, too.

You may be worried that using a toner, exfoliant, or serum designed for oily skin will be drying—but not when you're using the right ones! A well-formulated toner, serum, or exfoliant isn't about drying oily areas out, but rather about delivering good ingredients that all skin types need without adding an emollient or heavy dose of moisture to the areas that don't need it.

With the above in mind, we've put together examples of ideal daytime and nighttime skin-care routines for those struggling with extreme combination skin.

Your daytime routine would look like this:

  1. Cleanse
  2. Apply a lightweight toner
  3. Apply a light, liquid BHA exfoliant or lotion BHA exfoliant
  4. Smooth on a weightless anti-aging serum
  5. Spot-apply an emollient moisturizer to dry areas only, including around the eyes
  6. Apply a super-light sunscreen all over the face and neck

Your nighttime routine would look like this:

  1. Cleanse
  2. Apply a lightweight toner
  3. Apply a light, liquid BHA exfoliant or lotion BHA exfoliant
  4. Smooth on a weightless anti-aging serum
  5. Spot-apply an emollient moisturizer to dry areas only, including around the eyes
  6. If needed, apply a silky gel moisturizer (think ultra-light) to oily areas

Those with extreme combination skin often find that foaming cleansers and liquid makeup removers work without bothering their dry areas. For your toner, BHA exfoliant, and serum, stick to lighter-weight, water-like formulas that feel comfortable over your oily T-zone and also hydrate the dry areas. Easy-breezy!

Next, spot-apply your emollient moisturizer to the dry and tight areas only, blending away from the oily areas. This will deliver critical repair and moisture without making your T-zone look or feel more oily.

For daytime, opt for an ultra-sheer sunscreen rated SPF 15 or greater—these will feel like nothing on your oily areas, while your dry areas stay comfortable courtesy of your emollient moisturizer underneath. Apply an SPF-rated liquid foundation and pressed powder with sunscreen for extra protection without adding extra weight.

You can find additional product recommendations in the Beautypedia Reviews section of this site. All of the products recommended above deliver anti-aging benefits, too!

What About Extreme Combination Skin with Breakouts?

Extreme combination skin may exist with or without breakouts. In this scenario, breakouts are very frustrating and difficult to treat because they can occur in the dry areas, too. Although it seems daunting, you can treat breakouts without making dry areas worse, and without shorting your dry areas of the extra moisture they need!

When breakouts are part of the mix, you need to tailor your extreme combination skin routine with the right treatments, but only with gentle products that won't cause redness or irritation. What key formulas should you add? If you follow the routine outlined above you're already using a BHA exfoliant, which is brilliant for treating breakouts and their resulting redness. All you need to add is a benzoyl peroxide product (applied only to the breakouts) to target and kill acne-causing bacteria.

For mild to moderate acne choose a product with 2.5% benzoyl peroxide; depending on how your skin responds, step up to a 5% strength if needed. Treat stubborn white bumps, acne breakouts, and blackheads on oily or dry areas with a potent yet gentle BHA spot treatment that complements the results from your regular BHA exfoliant.

Here's an example of a routine someone with extreme combination skin and breakouts can follow.

Your daytime routine would look like this:

  1. Cleanse
  2. Apply a lightweight toner
  3. Apply a light, liquid BHA exfoliant
  4. Apply a benzoyl peroxide treatment to breakouts and breakout-prone areas
  5. Smooth on a weightless anti-aging serum
  6. Target dry areas only with your emollient moisturizer (eye area, too!)
  7. Apply a super-light sunscreen

Your nighttime routine would look like this:

  1. Cleanse
  2. Apply a lightweight toner
  3. Apply a light, liquid BHA exfoliant
  4. Smooth on a weightless anti-aging serum
  5. Spot-apply an emollient moisturizer to dry areas only, including around the eyes
  6. Boost your regular BHA results with a potent yet gentle BHA spot treatment.
  7. If needed, apply a silky gel moisturizer (think ultra-light) to oily areas

Deciphering the code that unlocks extreme combination skin can be tricky, but following the right routine, you can bring your skin into balance. Doing so means you'll see smoother, younger-looking skin with fewer breakouts and no more dry, flaky patches—your facial skin won't act like an odd couple anymore!

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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 helping you find the absolute best products for your skin, using research-based criteria to review beauty products from an honest, balanced perspective. Each member of the team was personally trained by Paula herself.

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