How to determine and understand your skin type

If you’re looking to get flawless skin, then it’s crucial to understand your skin type. Whether your skin is oily, dry, or combination will determine what kind of care it needs.

To help your skincare products go the whole nine yards, it pays to know what your skin actually needs. Discovering your skin type, however, can prove to be challenging. Generally, skin can be categorised into five basic categories and genetics, environment, sex, age and diet all play a part in where you fall on that spectrum.

What are the five main skin types?

Four of the five main skin types can be attributed to your skin’s sebum production. This naturally produced oil helps the skin to lock in moisture and protects it against the elements. Sebum is produced by sebaceous glands everywhere except the palms and soles, but the highest concentration of these glands exists on the face and scalp. That’s why your face and hair tends to get greasier than the rest of your body. Knowing how much oil your skin naturally produces will help you determine whether you need to add moisture and oils into your routine or take them away.

Normal skin

Don’t be fooled by this categorisation; having a ‘normal’ skin type isn’t necessarily the norm. I’d go so far as to argue that it’s much more normal for people to fall under the other four skin types. Nevertheless, those with normal skin should consider themselves lucky. This skin type tends not to be overly oily nor overly dry. People with normal skin also don’t often suffer from many ‘imperfections’ or skin sensitivity. In other words, their skin is relatively balanced.

Dry skin

Dry skintends to produce less sebum leading to less water retention. Those who suffer from dry skin might find their skin:

  • Feels rough or dull in terms of complexion.
  • Has tiny pores.
  • Has red patches.
  • Is prone to fine lines.

On other parts of the body, dry skin is also prone to inflammation, itchiness, flakiness and scaling.

When caring for dry skin, it’s best to avoid long, hot showers and opt for gentle cleansers, rich moisturisers and hydrating serums or oils. Switching to mild dish soaps and household cleaning agents (or using gloves) will also help protect the skin on your hands.

Oily skin

Oily skin is the complete opposite to dry skin and experiences an overproduction of sebum. This is common in those who are living in humid environments or are going through hormonal changes and often presents itself as:

  • Skin that has a shiny complexion.
  • Skin with larger pores.
  • Skin that is acne, blackhead or blemish-prone.

Those with oily skin may find themselves reaching for exfoliating scrubs and astringents, but these products may damage the skin barrier and make the problem worse. Instead, opt for gentle foaming cleansers and chemical exfoliants like salicylic acid, which will help gently remove oil and dead skin cells and ultimately fight off acne.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but those with oily skin should not neglect to moisturise. Sometimes, excessive oil production can actually be caused by having dehydrated skin. Dehydrated skin will then go overboard with oil production in a desperate attempt to retain water. By using a light moisturiser packed with emollients, you can help hydrate the skin and reduce overall oiliness - drinking water also helps!

Combination skin

If you find that your skin is dry in some areas and oily in others, you most likely have combination skin.

Caring for combination skin effectively may require you to use different treatment products in the T-zone than on your cheeks. Unfortunately, this means that people with combination skin often need to invest more time and money to find what products work best for them and in which areas.

For some, it is better to find a routine that’s in between and works for both areas of your skin. As with both dry and oily skin, gentle cleansers and chemical exfoliants are key, but with combination skin, it’s worth adding a pH balancing toner to the mix to absorb excess oil and add hydration. Light water-based moisturisers are also crucial for combination skin as they hydrate without being too heavy.

Sensitive skin

Out of all skin types, sensitive skin is the one not determined by sebum production. Sensitive skin is also largely different to sensitised skin. People with sensitive skin are born that way and find that their skin:

  • Reacts easily to touch and responds with redness.
  • Flushes easily.
  • Is prone to irritation, burning or inflammation.

Sensitivity can occur for people with oily skin but is more frequent in dry skin and coupled with conditions like rosacea and eczema.

When looking after sensitive skin, a less is more approach is best. Gentle cleansers and rich moisturisers are a standard. Those with sensitive skin may also want to ensure the products they use are free of any harsh ingredients such as foaming agents, astringents, fragrance and essential oils.

As a whole range of factors influences your skin’s sebum production, your skin type may change over time. Those going through puberty may have oilier skin, while people in their mid and later stages of life may experience drier skin. These changes are expected, and adjusting our skincare routines during these periods will ensure our skin stays healthier for longer.

How to determine your skin type

Now we know each skin type’s characteristics and how to care for them, but how do we determine which category we fall into?

First, remove all traces of makeup and skincare. Then, wash your face with just water or a very light, gentle cleanser. Once your face is clean, delicately pat it dry with a towel.

If you have dry skin, you should notice a feeling of tightness straight after washing. After a few hours, you may also see a dullness in complexion and a rougher skin texture. Sensitive skin types will see many of these same effects but will most likely suffer some redness and flushing.

On the other hand, oily skin tends to feel fresher after being cleaned, or you may notice that there is some remaining residue still. In two to three hours, oily skin will start to feel shiny, and you may need to blot off that extra grease.

Combination skin will see similar effects of dry and oily skin, both straight after washing and hours later, but on different parts of the face. For example, your cheeks may feel tight, but your nose and forehead are shiny.

As normal skin doesn’t tend to suffer from excessive dryness or oils, no changes are expected to occur with a gentle wash or rinse.

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