courtesy of Dermalogica

Skin Type. It seems so simple, yet many people are still treating a skin type they don’t have. The unknown factor being that there are skin types, but there are also skin conditions. Proper understanding of skin types and skin conditions will allow you to not only better understand your skin, but also take care of it more effectively.

Skin type is unchangeable. You are born with it, for better or for worse, until death do you part. Essentially your skin type is related to how much oil your skin produces. Skin types are dry, oily, combination, normal, acne prone and sensitive. Skin types dictate primarily what kind of cleanser and moisturizer you will use, while skin conditions (which we’ll touch on later) will dictate your serums and specialty products.

Dry Skin

If your skin is dry, it simply means your skin does not produce enough oil. If you never notice shine during the day, and instead feel like your skin looks wrinkled and feels tight, you probably have dry skin. This will never change, so you will always want to use products that will add back necessary oils such as cream cleansers and oil-based moisturizers. For example, essential fatty acids can help put back crucial lipids, diminish any wrinkly appearance, and help with any sensitivity brought on by lack of oil. Dry skin can be tricky, because it is often confused with dehydrated skin, which is lacking water. The two are very different, and while I will go into dehydrated skin more later, it is important to distinguish the two. You cannot be both oily and dry in the same spot on your face, so if you notice shine during the day, but your skin feels tight, you are probably dehydrated not dry. Your skin is lacking water not oil.

Oily Skin

If 12:00pm rolls around and you are already an oil slick with the sun’s glare shining off your face, you have oily skin. For oily skin, you would want to use a clay based cleanser and moisturizers. Oily skin simply means that your skin produces more oil than “normal.” You may see shine on your face as early as late morning, or even sooner. You are addicted to oil blotting sheets and feel like most moisturizers are too heavy and make your skin even oiler. Using clay-based products will help absorb some of this excess. If you have oily skin, you would never want to use oil-based moisturizers. Humectants like hyaluronic and lactic acid are great, and help bind water to the skin to ensure your skin cells maintained hydration, but no further oil should ever be added.

Combination Skin

Combination skin is more common and simply means that your skin produces more oil in some areas, and not as much in others. To clarify, if your t-zone (nose and forehead) gets oily in the early afternoon, but your cheeks are always dry, you have combination skin. Depending on the severity, you may have to use different moisturizers on different parts of your face, or you may be able to get away with one moisturizer all over while using oil blotting serums or creams on your oily areas. Sometimes silicone-based moisturizers are good for combination skin because it adds moisturizing ingredients to the skin without adding too much oil to areas that already have enough. Humectants are also a great option to bind moisture to the skin but not add any excess oil.

Acne Prone Skin

For acne prone skin, let me make something very clear. If you have acne prone skin, you constantly battle congestion in your skin. You always have breakouts, and clear skin is something you really have to work for. Occasional breakouts due to hormone fluctuations or not properly washing your face are entirely different and not due to the acne prone skin type. If you have battled acne your whole life, I’m sorry but you’ll need special attention. Often acne prone skin is dehydrated (lacking water, remember?) which makes matters even worse, so drink your water! Ensuring that the face is cleansed thoroughly with a salicylic cleanser or even an oil cleanser is very important. I know an oil cleanser sounds counterintuitive, but read this and you will understand. Humectant moisturizers to bind water and ensure hydration are also important so that the cells may operate at their highest level. You definitely do not want to add extra oil to this skin type when you moisturize, so make sure your moisturizers are not oil-based. Many hyaluronic acids are suspended in oil solutions, so make sure yours is not. Use of anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial products is important as well to deal with the constantly inflamed infection of the skin. Keep in mind that when dealing with acne prone skin, your skin care routine will be important and probably somewhat complicated. You will be dealing with congestion, excess oil production, and an inherently higher levels of bacterial present in your skin. My darlings, if this is you I feel for you, but there is hope.

Sensitive Skin

Sensitive skin is another skin type that many people think they have but don’t. If you have sensitive skin, your skin is always pink or red. You have a family history of rosacea, eczema, or psoriasis and it reacts to just about everything. If you don’t typically have pink, red, or uncomfortable skin but you have reactions to certain products, you have a skin condition called sensitized skin. I’ll tell you more about that later. Treatment for sensitive skin is very important because it only gets worse with age. You want to always use anti-inflammatory, calming ingredients. Silicone-based moisturizers with vitamins and soothing humectans will properly care for this skin type. Pay very close attention to what your skin is telling you so as to not make matters worse. Preventative treatment is key, as mistreatment of this skin type can lead to the appearance of veins and premature aging. Avoid any irritants and use a physical sunblock to protect your precious epidermis!

Normal Skin

Normal skin is exceedingly rare and chances are you don’t have it. However, if you are one of the lucky fraction of a percent to have this skin type, moisturize, protect from the sun, and drink plenty of water.

Skin Conditions

Now skin conditions are an entirely different beast than skin types. While you are born with your skin type, you are not born with a skin condition. Skin conditions are caused by external factors like not drinking enough water, using a product that you are allergic to, too much sun exposure or pollution. The main skin conditions are dehydrated, sensitized, acne, aging and pigmented. You will deal with these conditions with specialty products or changes in behavior.

Dehydrated Skin

Dehydrated skin throws many people for a loop. They think they have dry skin, so they use oil-based moisturizers or other products meant for people with dry skin, yet they don’t experience relief. The reason their skin continues to be flaky despite adding oil to it is that lack of oil is not the problem. Dehydrated skin is lacking water. You could have very oily skin, but if you don’t have enough water, it will still feel tight and look flaky. In order for the cells in the skin to function properly, they must have water. Having dehydrated skin can make skin type issues worse. For instance, if you have acne prone skin and you add dehydration to it, your cells’ ability to fight the constant infection of the acne is greatly diminished leaving you with more pimples. A good rule of thumb is that before you deal with any skin issues you may think you have, drink more water. After two weeks of mindfully drinking enough water, the problems you previously had may disappear.

Sensitized Skin

Sensitized skin is another skin condition that people mistake for their skin type. Sensitized skin can be caused by products that are too harsh for your skin, allergies, harsh weather conditions, pollution, hormones and medications. If you feel like your skin always reacts to certain products, it could be that they all have an ingredient in common that you are allergic to. Cold and dry environments can lead to sensitized skin as well, and pollution can wreak havoc on otherwise healthy skin cells. Changes in hormone levels can also cause sensitivity as well as many medications. Whenever I travel, my skin becomes sensitized and products that I use frequently at home can become irritating and uncomfortable. Chances are that you don’t have sensitive skin. It is far more likely that you have another skin type that has become sensitized because of an external factor.


Acne, the skin condition, is caused my numerous things. It could be caused by not washing your face properly, hormone fluctuations, using the wrong product for your skin type (treating dry skin instead of dehydrated) or changes in environment. The important thing to realize is that while you may have to bump up your skin regimen while you have breakouts, you do not, and should not be treating your skin like you are always breaking out. If you have occasional breakouts, keep your skin clean and try to not wear makeup. If you do wear makeup, remove it thoroughly by washing your face morning and night. Use anti-inflammatory ingredients and moisturize with humectants. Drink water! (Hmm, notice a theme?)

Aging and Pigmented Skin

Aging and pigmented skin are also skin conditions for which people everywhere seek the antidote. Aging skin cannot be reversed, but it can be prevented. Using sunscreen and products with retinol and glycolic acid are great ways of preventing and even minimizing appearance of fine lines. Have I told you to drink water yet? That helps as well in keeping those cells plump, producing collagen, and regenerating. Pigmented skin can be addressed with products but many are aggressive and are only available through a dermatologist. While pigmentation is difficult to deal with, it can be minimized, but remember that sunscreen is a great preventative measure.

So, we have covered the difference between skin type and skin conditions, and I even touched on how to deal with each one. Are you still with me? I’ll be going more into depth on each one of these issues in the future, but for now, hopefully you all have a better understanding of what’s going on on your face. Now, go get a glass of water!

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