What is My Skin Type?

When it comes to finding out your skin type, the first thing you need to do is forget everything you've heard before! What you've been taught by cosmetics salespeople, aestheticians, fashion magazines, and even some dermatologists, is likely incorrect, confusing, or designed to simply keep you buying more and more products—it all ends here!
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Rethink What 'Skin Type' Means

When it comes to finding out your skin type, the first thing you need to do is forget everything you've heard before! What you've been taught by cosmetics salespeople, aestheticians, fashion magazines, and even some dermatologists, is likely incorrect, confusing, or designed to simply keep you buying more and more products—it all ends here!

While the typical categories of oily, dry, and combination skin are good basics, they don't address the wide variety of other problems or nuances that can affect skin type. If you have rosacea, acne, sun damage, or eczema, then these categories don't strictly apply. Plus, your skin type can change with everything from the weather to your stress levels (even your period). Why is recognizing all these factors so important? Because different skin types require different product formulations. Even more important is to realize that you can have more than one skin type: sensitive and dry, oily and blemish-prone, sun damaged with acne. The more you know about everything that affects skin type, the more you'll be able to help your skin finally look and feel as normal as possible!

What Influences Your Skin Type

Almost everything can influence skin type—both external and internal elements can and do impact the way your skin looks and feels. To effectively evaluate your skin type here are some of the factors that need to be considered, because it's possible that your skin is simply reacting to influences that are easily isolated or are within your control.

  • Hormones
  • Skin Disorders
  • Genetic Predisposition
  • Smoking & Secondhand Smoke
  • Medications
  • Diet
  • Your Skin-Care Routine
  • Stress
  • Unprotected/Prolonged Sun Exposure
  • Pollution
  • Climate

Problem Ingredients Can Make Skin Worse

What many people don't realize is that the products they use can be worsening or even creating the very skin issue they are trying to resolve. For example, many products for treating acne contain high amounts of alcohol or other irritating ingredients (peppermint, menthol, citrus) which dry and irritate your skin, triggering more oil production!

You can never know your real skin type if you are using products containing ingredients that create problems. For example, if you are using products that contain irritants you can create dry skin and still make your oily skin worse (think dry skin on top, oily underneath). If you use overly-emollient or thick-textured products you can clog pores, potentially cause or worsen milia, and prevent skin cells from exfoliating, which makes your skin look dull. If you overly scrub your skin you can damage the barrier of skin causing more wrinkles and dry skin...and on and on. In order to know for sure how your skin really behaves, you have to figure out if your products are to blame. Here are some frequent offenders found in all types of skin-care products:

  • Alcohol
  • Menthol
  • Thick Emollients
  • Pore-Clogging Waxes
  • Fragrance (even those derived from essential oils)
  • Abrasive Scrubbing Agents
  • Harsh/Drying Cleansing Agents
  • Irritants (organic & synthetic)

How to Identify Your Real Skin Type

Once you've ruled out controllable factors and rid your routine of problematic ingredients, you're getting closer to being able to determine your actual skin type. A good thing to keep in mind is that almost everyone at some time or another has combination skin. That's because the center area of your face naturally has more oil glands, so you are more likely to be oily or have clogged pores in the "T-Zone." Likewise, it is typical for some areas of your face (the eye area, around the nose) to be more sensitive.

Before you get out your mirror and have a close look, it's best to wash your face with a gentle cleanser, apply a state-of-the-art toner (loaded with antioxidants and skin-repairing ingredients), then wait two hours to see what your skin does without additional products or makeup. The chart below is a general guide to how skin behaves for that skin type—you may see any combination of the descriptions below happening on your face. It bears repeating that anyone's skin can have multiple "types," and that these types can change due to hormonal cycle, season, stress levels, etc.

Skin BehaviorSkin Type
 OilyCombinationAcne or Blemish- ProneDry to Very DrySensitive/
Rosacea
EczemaSun-DamagedAging/
Wrinkles
Normal
Some areas are oily & some areas are dry  ✔       
Most areas appear dry, flaky, matte or feel tight        
Redness w/ or w/o bumps (but not pimples)        
Moderate breakouts around hormone cycles   ✔      
Lines evident around eyes, mouth, and/or cheeks        ✔ 
Persistent breakouts (some scarring)        
Some fine lines and/or skin discolorations       ✔  
Some areas have red, dry, flaky patches that swell, burn or itch      ✔   
4 hours after cleansing, skin has excess oil        
No signs of oiliness or dryness, can be sensitive.        

How to Choose the Right Formula

When you finally discover what your skin type(s) really is/are, you can make better decisions about the products in your skin-care routine. While all skin types can benefit from ingredients such as broad-spectrum sunscreens and antioxidants, there are skin type-specific ingredients, such as benzoyl peroxide for acne, or medications for rosacea that also come in a range of textures. The base that these (or any) products are formulated in (lotion, cream, gel, serum, or liquid) should match the needs of your skin type in the area that has that concern.

As a general rule, traditional lotions or creams are best for dry to very dry skin, gels and liquids for oily or blemish-prone skin, and lighter lotions and serums are best for combination or normal skin. You may need separate products to deal with the different skin types on your face because you can't treat all skin types with the same products. Here's a general guide to follow while selecting your products.

Product Texture/Base Skin Type 
 OilyCombinationAcne or Blemish- ProneDrySensitive/
Rosacea
EczemaSun-DamagedAging/
Wrinkles
Normal
Lotion  ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔
Cream    ✔  ✔
Gel ✔ ✔ ✔  ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔
Serum ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔ ✔
Liquid ✔ ✔  ✔   ✔
Powder ✔  ✔      ✔

Learn More about What Works

Remember, no matter your skin type or what kind of products you use, if they lack broad-spectrum sun protection, are inappropriately-packaged or are just poorly-formulated, all the work you've put into making sure your routine suits your skin type will be for nothing. Check out our reviews on Beautypedia to gain extra peace of mind knowing you're treating your skin right by selecting products that are thoroughly researched and recommended by the Paula's Choice Research Team!

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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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