When it comes to your skin, dermatologists say it pays to know your “type.”
Think about it this way: While our skin is constantly evolving (it may feel oily in the summer or dry in the winter, for example) noticing general patterns can help you identify different health concerns and make it easier to pick out the products that will work best.
Here is how to identify your skin type, some reasons why you have it, and the best types of products for you. And do not be afraid to customize your skincare routine if you fit in multiple “types.”
Identifying your skin’s “type”
The four most common skin types include dry, oily, sensitive and combination. Your skin may fit into one of these categories or be a combination of one or more, explains Robin Evans, M.D., a Connecticut-based board-certified dermatologist.
Tends to be flaky and prone to peeling.
Dry skin symptoms include flaking, peeling and/or itchy skin. According to Joshua Zeichner, M.D., director of cosmetic and clinical research in dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, “dry skin is skin that cannot maintain adequate hydration. The skin may feel tight or itchy and commonly looks flaky or dull. The skin is affected by the environment, so it may be dry during colder weather, but not dry [during] warmer months.”
But dry skin is different from dehydrated skin, which means that your skin lacks water or moisture. “Dehydrated implies lack of water, and the skin appears to lack plumpness; whereas dry implies skin that is exfoliating or peeling. Overuse of cosmetic and skincare products can lead to both problems,” says Estee Williams, M.D., a board-certified dermatologist in New York. “Someone with dehydrated skin will often feel that their skin craves a moisturizer after showering or washing their face,” Evans adds.
Your skin can still feel dry or dehydrated if you sit in the air conditioning all day, even if it is warm outside. And hard water (or hot showers) can also remove water from the skin’s barrier. “When the water evaporates, the skin is left feeling dry and often tight. As you age, your skin tends to get drier; too, so mature skin tends to be dry (due to a slower cell turnover),” says Evans.
Advice: Use moisturizing, hydrating and richer emollient-type products.
Look out for large and/or clogged pores and breakthrough mid-day shine.
“Sebaceous glands are our skin’s natural source of oil — or sebum. Sebum helps lubricate the skin and may play a role in our immune system. Because of genetics, some people naturally make higher levels of oil than other people. If you have more active oil glands, then you may feel your skin is oily,” Zeichner says. Oily skin tends to look shiny or greasy, even after cleansing.
You may also have large pores or breakouts as a result of excess oil. And while genetics plays a role, your skin may also be oily due to climate (especially warm weather) or the products you are using. “If you have oily skin, it is recommended to use products that have a slight drying or mattifying effects, such as toners, gels and light lotions; not heavy creams,” says Williams. Those with oily skin can also benefit from using facial oils.
Advice: Avoid richer, dewier products and look for non-comedogenic products.
Usually has an oily T-zone but may feel dry around the cheeks
According to Williams, combination skin is the most common skin type, but it can look different for everyone. In general, Anna Guanche, M.D., a Los Angeles-based board-certified dermatologist, says that if you notice that the pores are largest and are concentrated on the mid-face and the T-zone, then you may have combination skin — especially if you have dry or normal cheeks. Evans adds that you may notice breakouts, too. “Many acne-prone individuals tend to have combination skin, which can dry out and peel when products designed for oily skin are used.”
Advice: Use a combination of products for dry and oily skin or a blend of both. Opt for toners throughout the mid-face and extra moisturizer, if needed, on the cheeks.
Tends to get dry, red or irritated easily
Sensitive skin is genetic. Some common characteristics include thinner, more delicate skin and blood vessels that are close to the skin’s surface, which means your skin may get red more often. “Sensitive skin can have a rosacea quality to it where you’ll blush and flush easily, especially with exposure to heat, cold, alcohol, spicy foods and other triggers,” Evans says. (Couperose skin, on the other hand, may stay visibly red for days or even months at a time. See your doctor for treatment.)
Sensitive skin is different than reactive skin, though, which is more vulnerable to external or internal changes. For example, when you use a new product, you may instantly notice irritation or tingling. These symptoms may go away after you no longer use the irritant if your skin is reactive, but with sensitive skin, your symptoms are likely ongoing.
Advice: You may use products made for dry or oily skin. Introduce acids and retinol into your routine slowly and gradually build to longer/more frequent use.
What does your skin type say about your health?
While your skin gives you some telltale signs about your health, some health concerns are less obvious. For example, Evans says that dry skin can sometimes be a symptom of thyroid disease, and sensitive skin may mean you are suffering from rosacea, which is a skin condition associated with sensitivity. Look out for symptoms including persistent redness, swollen red bumps, and sometimes swollen or irritated eyelids.
If you suspect your skin may be telling you something important about your health or are experiencing other symptoms, do not hesitate to bring them up at your next doctor or dermatologist appointment. They can recommend products that will not irritate your skin or prescribe medication if needed.